Orange County’s health, economy and wildlife depend heavily on our precious water resources. From Laguna’s sandy beaches to Fullerton’s creeks, these areas are priceless and require extra effort to protect from pollution – especially trash.

With an influx of tourists and beachgoers this Memorial Day weekend, more trash will collect on our beaches and waterways to be swept out into the ocean. As residents of Orange County, we must do everything in our power to stop this type of pollution from reaching our most precious recourse — water.

Trash reaches our waters through three main routes: carried by wind and rain, storm drains and illegal dumping. Once trash reaches our waters, it can travel long distances leaching toxic chemicals along the way and serving as a breeding ground for bacteria. Trash destroys habitat, harms wildlife and reduces recreational opportunities all throughout Orange County.

California Trash Policy

In April, the California State Water Resources Control Board implemented a new trash policy that plans to move California toward trash-free waters. The policy defines trash as a separate pollutant and is modeled after a similar program in Los Angeles that prevents over 1 million pounds of trash from reaching Southern California waters every year.

This statewide implementation program to control trash pollution gives cities and counties two paths of compliance to choose from – both aimed at “no trash in our waters”. The first path includes the installation of trash-catching devices on all storm drains in high-density residential areas, public transportation stations, industrial and commercial zones. The second path empowers municipalities to create a self-selected trash reduction program to include increased street sweeping, consumer education programs, installation of trash-catching devices on storm drains and enactment of local ordinances to ban sources of litter.

Types of Trash: Where is it All Coming From?

Trophy Trash

Trophy Trash describes bizarre items that end up polluting our waters via illegal dumping. Coastkeeper has pulled out hundreds of pounds of these items including armchairs, shopping carts, car tires and more. These items can potentially block entire creeks; meaning water quality is vastly improved once removed.


When you combine two carcinogens linked to Parkinson’s disease and leukemia you create Styrofoam – the plastic material taking up more than 25 percent of landfills. The high-profile fight against Styrofoam targets the huge environmental production costs (second worst in the United States) and its limitless decomposition rate. It takes a minimum of five hundred years for the material to decompose and it’s quite feasible that your Styrofoam take-out box could float around in the ocean until the end of time.

Plastic Bags

Several Orange County cities took a giant leap toward a healthier marine environment by banning single-use plastic bags in April 2013. One took a step backward when Huntington Beach repealed the ban in May 2015. Huntington Beach failed to review impacts on marine life, water quality and aesthetics from the reintroduction of 99 million single-use plastic bags into the environment. Like Styrofoam, plastic bags do not break down in ocean waters, effectively killing marine life that ingests or becomes tangled in the material.

Plastic Recyclables

Just because something is recyclable, doesn’t mean it gets recycled. In 2010, up to 12.7 million metric tons of recyclable plastic made its way to the ocean. Currents pick up the plastic debris and move it along their marine highway to locations like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The vast majority of the trash that makes up this floating vortex of garbage is non-biodegradable plastic.

Stopping Trash at the Source: Let’s Work Together

The most heartbreaking part of Orange County’s trash problem is that all of this debris is completely preventable. Every Orange County citizen has a responsibility to the safekeeping of our water resources. By taking one or more of the following steps this Memorial Day weekend and joining us in our crusade for clean water, we can ensure Orange County’s future.

Report Pollution

If you witness someone illegally dumping trash, report the violation right away. Holding your neighbors accountable for environmental law breaking is the best way to combat this serious issue.

Choose to Reuse

Small changes like packing your picnic lunch in a reusable container or using metal cutlery instead of plastic will cause a big impact.

Make your Voice Heard

To take your environmental influence beyond a personal level, encourage your local representative to adopt and utilize laws that make sense for your community, economy and environment.

Join a Cleanup

Coastkeeper organizes beach and creek cleanup events throughout Orange County and monitors the types and sources of trash during each event. Help us take out the trash and collect data to assist the statewide efforts to eliminate or capture trash before it reaches our creeks and beaches.

Sunny beach days for Memorial Day weekend shouldn’t produce more pollution in our ocean waters. With citizens, organizations and governments working together we can make the complete elimination of trash pollution a priority. Through a combination of storm drain capture, enforcement, education and outreach, this litter can and will be addressed – we owe it to our children and our community to do so.

Ray Hiemstra is Associate Director at Orange County Coastkeeper

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

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