Trash-Free Waters Projects
EPA has provided technical and financial support for a number of projects designed to prevent trash from entering waterways.
- San Francisco Bay Area Trash Capture Demonstration Project
Project Champion: San Francisco Estuary Partnership
EPA Funding: $ 735,000 Match Funding: $4,265,000
Funding Program: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through State Revolving Fund
Project Period: 2009-2014
The purpose of this project was to facilitate funding to Bay Area municipalities for trash capture devices to help fulfill stormwater permit trash requirements while helping municipal staff gain knowledge of different device types and their appropriateness to different land uses. Purchasing and installing trash capture devices was helpful to many municipalities in meeting trash reduction goals of 40% by 2014, 70% by 2017, and 100% by 2022 as called for in the San Francisco Regional Stormwater Permit.
The project also developed the Bay Area Trash Tracker, a password-protected online resource for municipalities, which maps device installations and allows local staff to upload and download maintenance data. This tool is being expanded for public use by the state grant-funded project Tracking California’s Trash. Exit
San Francisco Estuary Partnership is one of 28 National Estuary Programs authorized under Section 320 of the Clean Water Act. A more in-depth project description and final report is available on the San Francisco Esutary Partnership Exit website. The State Water Resource Control Board, Association of Bay Area Governments, and 60 local municipalities were involved in project implementation.
- Installed over 4,000 small to medium trash capture devices in more than 60 Bay Area jurisdictions
- Installed 42 large trash devices
- Created a password-protected online tool to assist municipalities in tracking maintenance of the trash capture devices
Examples of Devices Installed Under the San Francisco Bay Area Trash Capture Demonstration Project
The availability of a funding source to purchase and install trash capture devices was helpful to many municipalities in meeting their target trash reduction goals of 40% in 2014 and 70% in 2017.
- Proctor Creek Trash Removal and Prevention
Project Champions: West Atlanta Watershed Alliance and the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council
EPA Contribution: Financial, technical, and contractor support
Project Period: 2015- ongoing
EPA Point of Contact: Cynthia Edwards, U.S. EPA Region 4, Edwards.Cynthia@epa.gov
EPA Region 4 has been working to advance Trash Free Waters in the Proctor Creek watershed since 2015. Proctor Creek primarily serves disadvantaged communities disproportionately impacted by the public health effects associated with poor water quality. Trash was determined one of the top 10 community priority challenges identified in a public awareness campaign conducted by EPA and a subsequent study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology. Early work in the watershed focused on remediation and outreach around illegal dumping of trash and tires. After convening local community stakeholders, three areas for project work were identified: 1) Installation and maintenance of trash traps to collect litter in Proctor Creek and its tributaries; 2) Workforce development for the collection of thousands of illegally dumped tires within the watershed communities; and 3) An outreach and education messaging program that would address the sources of trash in Proctor Creek and utilize area athletes and celebrities. Since initial conversations, the Proctor Creek TFW Initiative has grown into an impressive example of a successful community-driven public-private-philanthropic partnership. The Trash Free Waters program refers to this as “P4” project.
An Urban Waters Federal Partnership (UWFP) grant was awarded to Groundwork Atlanta, who with EPA representatives worked with Georgia Tech students and professors and the City of Atlanta to complete a feasibility study on trash trap installations in Proctor Creek. The students examined data on flow conditions to determine where on the creek and tributaries trash traps would be most useful. In 2018, EPA hosted a Proctor Creek Stakeholder Investment Meeting of government, foundation, non-profit and business leaders to identify needs for source reduction projects and find funding resources for the installation and maintenance of trash traps in the watershed. The Coca-Cola Company, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), the City of Atlanta, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Groundwork Atlanta, Park Pride, and EPA Region 4 partnered to install several innovative trash-trap systems along Proctor Creek. Two catchment devises were selected: The “Bandalong” installed by Stormwater Systems of Cleveland, Georgia and “Litter Gitters” installed and maintained by Osprey Initiative of Fairhope, Alabama.
On September 19, 2019, partners held a kickoff event for the Coca-Cola World Without Waste Campaign, announcing their $350,000 donation to lease five additional litter gitters and one bandalong for installation in the watershed with a goal of collecting and reducing 80% of downstream litter.
As of March 31, 2020, EPA-supported trash capture devices within the Proctor Creek watershed have collected more than 900 pounds of trash.
With the use of the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP), project partners are able to identify what percentages of the collected waste fall into different material types. For example, as of December 2019, existing data collection efforts from the EPA-supported trash capture sites within the Proctor Creek Watershed suggest that on average, 82% of the collected material is plastic. Of the plastic gathered, 22% were plastic beverage bottles and containers, 18% were plastic water bottles, 15% were various Styrofoam products, and 10% were plastic bags/film. Significant volumes of “legacy trash” (e.g., “pop top” aluminum cans and bottles, cans and wrappers that have long since ceased production) have been found.
The community engagement and outreach components of this initiative are critical to addressing the root cause of litter in the watershed. Educational signage near the Proctor Creek trash traps inform visitors about the litter catchment systems and provide easy takeaways on how to reduce litter by recycling and disposing of trash in receptacles. The litter gitters and bandalongs are placed in accessible and highly visible areas close to elementary schools, greenways, and pedestrian walking bridges where people can view first-hand the amount of in-stream trash being collected to motivate behavior change. EPA and its Atlanta-based partners want to improve the water quality of Proctor Creek and assist in providing safe, clean, livable places where residents and businesses can thrive and take pride in their communities.
- A Comprehensive Strategy for Creating TFW in Three Mile Creek (Mobile Bay)
Project Champion: Mobile Bay National Estuary Program
EPA Contribution: $ 531,711 ($25,000 TFW, $488,711 EPA Gulf of Mexico Program)
Project Period: 2018- ongoing
EPA Points of Contact: Chris Plymale, U.S. EPA Region 4, Plymale.firstname.lastname@example.org; Calista Mills, U.S. EPA Gulf of Mexico Division, Mills.Calista@epa.gov
The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) is working on a Trash Free Waters (TFW) multi-phase litter abatement project in the Three Mile Creek Watershed. Stakeholders believe reductions in litter in this watershed require a comprehensive approach that includes changes to business practices to reduce waste streams, increases in community awareness to change personal behaviors, a concerted effort to remove legacy trash from streambanks, wetlands, and creek beds, and affordable installation and maintenance of devices.
The comprehensive strategy includes: (1) Deployment and maintenance of 10 "Litter Gitters," which are litter-trap devices for streams, (2) Development of litter profiles at each site using the EPA's Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP), (3) Conducting single-pass tactical cleanups of shorelines throughout the watershed, (4) Development of a web-based publicly available litter collection/ETAP reporting system, and (5) Creating an alternative packaging program in the Three Mile Creek Watershed.In 2018, EPA Headquarters and the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program provided funding to the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) for the installation of Litter Gitter trash collection devices in the Three Mile Creek Watershed in downtown Mobile. The goal of the initiative was to reduce the amount of stormwater-borne trash and litter in the watershed by at least 4,800 pounds. Various City of Mobile partners granted permission for installations of litter traps at strategic locations. The Osprey Initiative designed, installed, and maintains the litter traps. Members of Mobile Baykeeper continue to provide device maintenance and ETAP evaluations of trash collected to assess the condition of water quality and habitat and determine weight, volume and probable sources of the recovered debris. On March 21, 2019, EPA Region 4 staff and management, along with representatives from Mobile Bay NEP, the City of Atlanta, the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, and Groundworks Atlanta, toured several TFW projects in Mobile, including installation of a Litter Gitter on the campus of the University of South Alabama. The tour also included the observation of a Bandalong trash-collection system and how it operates in comparison to the Litter Gitter system, as well as demonstrations on how to use the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol tool.
As of October 2019, the Three Mile Creek Trash Free Waters Project has removed 8,882 lbs (5,435 cubic feet) of litter, greatly exceeding the overall project goal of 4,800 lbs. Of the 8,882 lbs of waste collected, 1,622 lbs (1,424 cubic feet) of the material has been recycled. Five waterways within the Three Mile Creek Watershed show water-quality improvements in reduction of trash: One Mile Creek, Maple Street Tributary, Twelve Mile Creek, Three Mile Creek, and Toulmins Spring Branch. These measures will have the greatest impact on Three Mile Creek’s downstream area, home to a large percentage of low-income, underserved, minority neighborhoods. Due to the project’s success, litter gitters have been exported and installed in other watersheds to improve water quality and promote trash-free communities.
View a video produced by the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program about the littering problem here: http://www.mobilebaynep.com/videos/the_problem_of_trash.
- Bronx River Alliance’s Project WASTE
Project Champion: Bronx River Alliance
EPA Contribution: $ 52,866 (EPA Region 2)
Project Period: 2016-ongoing
EPA Point of Contact: Josh Kogan, U.S. EPA Region 2, email@example.com Point of Contact:Michelle Luebke, Bronx River Alliance
The Bronx River Alliance serves as a coordinated voice for the Bronx River. It collaborates with over 100 partners to protect, improve, and restore the Bronx River corridor so that it can be a healthy ecological, recreational, educational, and economic resource for local communities. Project WASTE (Waterway and Street Trash Elimination) is the Alliance’s community science trash assessment and source reduction program which addresses trash pollution in the Bronx River watershed through volunteer engagement and hands-on trash collection. Since the summer of 2016, with a grant from EPA Region 2, volunteers have been assessing floatable trash that is collected from two trash booms at different points in the Bronx River. The upper boom in Muskrat Cove catches trash flowing downstream from Westchester County into the Bronx, and the lower boom in Concrete Plant Park catches additional debris before it can pollute the East River and Long Island Sound. Due to the project’s early successes, EPA provided additional funding for the continuation of Project WASTE in 2018.
By engaging more than 1,300 students, educators, and interested residents, the Bronx River Alliance has removed over 200,000 items (weighing over 3 tons) from the Bronx River. This citizen science stewardship project calls for volunteers to not only help count, assess and remove trash from the booms and tally what kind of floatable debris best categorizes it, but also take note of the quantity, toxicity, material, and brands of trash to help identify the sources of pollution and to inform communities, businesses and municipal officials. Almost 70% of the trash collected through Project WASTE as of 2019 is Styrofoam, with plastic making up an additional 22% (see pie chart figure below). The map located below is complemented with graphs depicting the total amount of trash removed and the total number of clean-ups that took place at each site within the Project WASTE initiative between 2016 and 2019. Information was compiled from over 200 cleanup events which took place along the river within the past 4 years.
During a related Bronx River Alliance outreach activity in the summer of 2019, students from Bronxville High helped collect and categorize litter along two local streets and found that tobacco products were the most common waste material collected. After this analysis, the students created a map of Bronxville litter and cigarette butt hotspots to inform more strategic placement of disposal infrastructure. They also hosted a storm drain art competition to raise awareness about the connection between mismanaged trash, stormwater systems and marine litter.
On June 21, 2019, the Bronx River Alliance was honored with an Urban Waters Learning Network Award for their community science and environmental education programming associated with the Project WASTE initiative. Read more about the Bronx River Alliance’s Project WASTE here: http://bronxriver.org/?pg=content&p=aboutus&m1=1&m2=1&m3=128.
- Hayward Youth-Based Trash Capture, Reduction, and Watershed Education Project
Project Champion: City of Hayward
EPA Funding: $ 800,000 Match Funding: $ 800,000
Funding Program: San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund
Project Period: 2015-2018
This project will capture trash and prevent it from polluting local watersheds, characterize and quantify the trash collected, and implement actions to engage the public, specifically youth, to prevent littering. Under the Bay Area stormwater permit, Hayward is one of more than 60 municipalities responsible for achieving a 100% reduction in trash discharges into San Francisco Bay by 2022. Hayward is implementing a first-through-12th grade trash reduction curriculum in all Hayward schools during the project period in partnership with public and private schools and college interns. High school curriculum will include more sophisticated aspects of trash reduction, including trash capture design and attending trash capture device installation and/or clean-out. Hayward will use grant funding to install three new large capture devices treating over 1000 acres of the city’s watersheds and preventing over 20,000 gallons of trash from entering San Francisco Bay per year. Project partners included: City of Hayward Schools Districts, private schools, local park districts, and local college interns.
- Install 3 large capture devices
- Treat over 1,000 acres of high trash generating area
- Prevent over 20,000 gallons of trash from entering the San Francisco Bay per year
- Trash reduction curriculum to be taught in all schools in Hayward
City of Hayward Video - Saving the Bay: The Trash Capture Device Under Your Feet
- Coyote Creek Trash Reduction Project: Clean Creeks, Healthy Communities
Project Champion: City of San Jose, Environmental Services Department
EPA Funding: $680,000 Recipient Match: $382,417
Funding Program: San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund
Project Period: 2011- 2016
The City of San Jose is working with community partners like Downtown Streets Team, Destination Home, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and eBay to improve water quality in Coyote Creek by addressing trash at its source: litter, illegal encampments and illegal dumping. One of the most chronic and significant causes of trash impairment on Coyote Creek has been homeless encampments. San Jose staff have worked with the surrounding neighborhoods to prevent litter and eliminate illegal dumping sites through environmental education and outreach events which have developed local stewardship groups that maintain public accessibility of creekside trails. San Jose also worked with partners Downtown Street Team and Destination Home on peer to peer outreach to homeless individuals living along Coyote Creek. The project has resulted in permanent housing for 50 individuals who formerly lived in the targeted reach of the creek, and includes thousands of hours of community cleaning and monitoring of riparian areas, which enlisted many homeless individuals to form clean-up crews.
- 8 large scale illegal encampment cleanups
- Install surveillance camera and eliminate 4 chronic dumpsites
- 2 public art projects
- Create anti-dumping webpage
- Clean Streets Team Video
- 8 assessments to document change in trash
Clean Streets Team Video
- Hydration Refill Stations in New York and New Jersey State Parks
Project Champion: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
EPA Contribution: $ 115,514 (EPA Region 2)
Project Period: 2016-2019
EPA Point of Contact: Josh Kogan, U.S. EPA Region 2, firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2016, EPA Region 2 provided the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection with more than $115,000 in grant funds to implement projects that would reduce regional aquatic plastic pollution. They decided to tackle single-use plastic bottle pollution by installing reusable bottle refill water fountains in public parks. Their goal was to help reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles while visitors were recreating, therefore also reducing the potential for these items to escape into the local waterways as mishandled waste. This project highlights sustainable materials management education, drinking water infrastructure, and public health through clean water access – providing multiple benefits to the affected communities.
By mid-2019, a total of 16 fountains were installed in New Jersey State Parks. By the same time, 32 fountains were installed (11 indoor, 21 outdoor) in New York State Parks. In each case, NY parks were selected based on the number of visitors and the potential for the greatest reduction in disposable plastic bottle pollution. In New York, eleven parks spanning from Bear Mountain State Park on the Hudson River to Robert Moses State Park on Long Island were outfitted with at least one hydration refill station.
Niagara Falls State Park is estimated to have reduced the highest number of single use plastic bottles over the study period of September 2017 to June 2019. For example, within the yearlong span of June 2018 to June 2019, the two most utilized stations in Niagara Falls State Park (one located inside the visitor center and one located outside) saved an estimated total of 129,765 bottles from being consumed.
From installation through June 2019, a total of 349,189 bottles were saved by providing the 32 total hydration stations installed within the 11 selected New York State Parks. Due to this project, hydration stations have gained popularity in state parks and the NY Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) is now allocating more funding toward installing an additional 42 stations to meet the growing demand. New York’s Parks Department designed two signs to help advertise the hydration station initiative, seen below. The “Refill Your Water Bottle Here” poster was installed adjacent to stations to encourage their usage and the “Don’t Let Our Beaches Look Like This” poster was placed on bulletin boards around parks.
- The “Don’t Trash Long Island Sound” Campaign
Project Champions: Long Island Sound Study and the Peconic Estuary Program
Project Period: 2017-2019 (summers)
EPA Point of Contact: Josh Kogan, U.S. EPA Region 2, email@example.com
The third year of Long Island’s 2019 #DontTrashLISound social media campaign ran from August through September 20, 2019. The primary message of the campaign was to “Break the Single-Use Plastic Habit” in order to protect the watershed’s wildlife. The Long Island Sound Study, local environmental groups, and municipalities in the watershed worked to engage Long Island Sound residents in the plastic problem. Stickers depicting native species such as the harp seal, tautog, and American oyster catcher were distributed widely, and people were encouraged to post photos of their reusable water bottles displaying the stickers. The campaign not only worked to encourage behavior change but also highlight progress being done in the space to improve water quality and help protect native wildlife. The 2019 campaign sponsors included the Long Island Sound Study, Connecticut Sea Grant, Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut Fund for the Environment’s Save the Sound Program, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Connecticut, and Soundwaters.
The Summer 2019 campaign generated 135,000 Facebook and Twitter impressions. The campaign also worked with partners to hold beach cleanups along Long Island’s shores, with awareness boosted through creative local print, radio, and TV coverage. The campaign kickoff cleanup on August 8th, 2019 elicited the help of dozens of volunteers, ages 4 to 70, to collect over 100 pounds of litter from Lighthouse Point Park. The Long Island Sound Study, with the Peconic Estuary Program, South Shore Estuary Reserve and Friends of the Bay, and the Waterfront Center, hosted Estuary Day 2019, on Saturday, September 14 in Oyster Bay, NY which signified the end of the campaign. Estuary Day activities emphasized preventing marine debris and included a beach cleanup, beach seining, beach combing, children’s activities, and crafts. To view photos from the campaign, check out #DontTrashLISound on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or the Long Island Sound media center: https://longislandsoundstudy.net/category/media-center/dont-trash-li-sound/.
- Trash Free Piscataqua Watershed Planning
Project Champion: Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP)
EPA Contribution: In-kind support
Project Period: 2017-2018
EPA Point of Contact: Jean Brochi, U.S. EPA Region 1, Brochi.Jean@epa.gov EPA Point of Contact: Abigail Lyon, Community Technical Assistance Program Manager at PREP, Abigail.Lyon@unh.edu
The Piscataqua Region watershed encompasses 1,086 square miles and includes 42 communities in New Hampshire and 10 in Maine. Fortunately, there are many conservation and stewardship organizations actively engaged in reducing and removing debris in the watershed. Some groups, like the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, have been cleaning beaches in New Hampshire and southern Maine since 2001. At the time of this project, various river advisory committees, the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP), and the Conservation Law Foundation also expressed concern about the debris along our estuaries and freshwater tributaries.
Trash Free Piscataqua was born from a conversation between senior leadership from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Both organizations recognized a need to reduce the flow of trash in the Piscataqua River which separates New Hampshire and Maine. Thanks to support from the American Chemistry Council, a neutral facilitator was asked to design and guide a collaborative process to develop a short list of projects endorsed by the full range of area stakeholders.
Individuals and small groups were interviewed in late 2017 about policies, programs, technologies, and other efforts to control the flow of debris in the region. They represented government, conservation and stewardship groups, academia, and others well respected for their efforts to improve water quality. Through nearly 40 structured conversations, it became apparent that three waste streams were of greatest concern to local and regional leadership: 1) single use plastics, 2) derelict fishing gear, and 3) pet waste (in “disposable” baggies).
Trash Free Piscataqua served as an opportunity to better coordinate among existing partners and think creatively and strategically about how to move beyond trash cleanup and towards source reduction. This renewed interest in citizen action also refocused efforts from coastal remediation to an inland/upstream approach. Since those initial conversations, project partners have worked to ideate project ideas and develop action plans and funding prospectus’s for addressing the above-noted priority waste streams and to keep them from entering our inland and coastal waters. In an effort to reduce the presence of single-use plastics in the environment (which had been partially attributed to open recycling containers), the Recycling Partnership supported the transition of three nearby towns from using 18-gallon open-air bins toward wheeled and covered 64 and 96-gallon carts.
Food Service-Related Source Reduction Programs
- Maryland Coastal Bays “Protect Our Sand and Seas” Campaign
Project Champion: Maryland Coastal Bays Estuary Program
EPA Contribution: $ 20,000
Project Period: 2019-ongoing
EPA Point of Contact: Kelly Somers, U.S. EPA Region 3, firstname.lastname@example.org
In March 2019, Ocean City, MD launched a volunteer source reduction program to encourage businesses to making greener choices. The program was created by the Ocean City Green Team, which includes members from the Town of Ocean City, Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), Ocean City Surf Club, and the Ocean City Chapter of Surfrider Foundation. The Protect Our Sand and Sea campaign is an initiative to reduce the plastic waste stream in Ocean City. Businesses can choose to participate in any one of five source reduction pledges. Thanks to multiple sources of funding secured by MCBP and the Town of Ocean City, participants receive free social media promotion, newspaper advertisements, and marketing tools including recognition plaques and stickers.A related source reduction program, “The Butt Stops Here,” also launched in Ocean City in 2019, is a responsible cigarette butt disposal and recycling program. Most cigarette butts are not biodegradable and can remain in the environment for over a decade. Thanks to a grant from Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) and the Worcester County Health Department Prevention Services, any business willing to take the pledge to commit to recycling cigarette butts can receive a free “butt hut” and signage.
SuccessesAs of October 2019, thirty-three restaurants were signed up with the program. The Protect Our Sand and Sea pledge for businesses includes five tiers ranging from easier-to-adopt actions like phasing out plastic straws to more intensive actions such as eliminating all kinds of disposable plastic consumer products from business operations (cutlery, cups, plates, sauce packets, etc.). As of 2019, forty-eight of “The Butt Stops Here” cigarette disposal huts were placed in front of local restaurants. Cigarette butts taken from these huts are sent to TerraCycle to be recycled into park benches. As of October 2019, 259,650 cigarette butts have been shipped to TerraCycle and have been successfully kept out of Maryland Coastal Bays waterways. In addition, TerraCycle donates $1 to Keep America Beautiful for each pound of cigarette butts recycled. This is turn fosters the sustainability of further grant programs to fund additional source reduction initiatives in the future. Maryland Coastal Bays’ Protect Our Sand and Sea campaign and cigarette recycling program have received expansive local media coverage to help get the word out on the importance of these source reduction initiatives for protecting the local waterways.
- Long Island Product Stewardship Institute Restaurant Guide
Project Champion: Product Stewardship Institute
EPA Contribution: $ 56,425 (EPA Region 2)
Project Period: 2016-2018
EPA Point of Contact: Josh Kogan, U.S. EPA Region 2, email@example.com
Across the country, restaurants are becoming important partners in source reduction efforts. A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association finds that environmental sustainability is a top trend and chefs are paying close attention to sustainability, food waste reduction, and local sourcing. In Greenport, NY, four local eateries participated in the Product Stewardship Institute’s (PSI) plastics source reduction project. PSI is a national nonprofit that reduces the health, safety, and environmental impacts of consumer products with a strong focus on sustainable end-of-life management and was a critical partner in project implementation.
A significant amount of the global contributors to plastic pollution are single-use food service plastics like bottles and caps, straws and stirrers, carryout bags, and take-out containers. Partially funded by EPA Region 2, this project aimed to decrease the number of disposable plastic items that end up on Long Island’s beaches through partnering with waterfront businesses. Similar initiatives include the Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program and ReThink Disposable offer restaurants a set of criteria they can follow to reduce the amount of waste produced through daily operations – such as not using Styrofoam, plastic tableware, or plastic bags, and offering straws on request only; offering discounts for customers who bring in reusable cups and mugs; and using water and energy conservation appliances.
In 2018, PSI published “3 Steps to Reduce Plastic & Benefit Your Business: A Guide for Restaurants and Eateries,” which calls on food establishments to 1) Assess their company’s plastic footprint, 2) Create a reduction plan to reduce or eliminate disposables and educate customers about their transition, and 3) Update official company purchasing policies by adopting a disposable food-ware policy. The Long Island PSI Restaurant Guide serves as a technical assistance document that helps food business operators reduce waste and cut costs by minimizing disposable packaging items. The online Plastic Footprint Tool and a Foodware Cost Calculator can be used to help business owners estimate the costs of plastic items and project savings achievable with plastic reduction strategies. The four pilot restaurants offer tangible examples for other food service providers to emulate.
After adopting more sustainable products and operations through this initiative, one Central American restaurant, Tikal, now prevents an estimated 52,000 plastic items annually and has reduced the amount of plastic waste produced by business operations by over 2,000 lbs per year. In doing so, Tikal will also save $3,578 annually, plus an additional $90 in savings annually from reduced waste collection fees. These environmental and economic benefits came from simple management decision actions including: switching Styrofoam cups, cutlery, and containers to reusable alternatives, providing napkins and straws only after being asked, switching from plastic carryout bags to paper, and replacing disposable plastic table covers with handmade Guatemalan cloths. Read the Restaurant Guide here: https://www.productstewardship.us/page/RestaurantGuide
- ReThink Disposable: Packaging Waste Source Reduction Restaurant Program
Project Champion: Clean Water Fund
EPA Contribution: $257,293 Recipient Match: $85,764
Funding Program: San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund
Project Period: 2012 – 2015
Clean Water Fund created a pilot project called ReThink Disposable Exit to work with local governments and food establishments to develop cost-effective models to reduce takeout food disposable packaging. In earlier years the organization conducted a litter survey in the Bay Area finding that 67% of trash in storm drains or catch basins were food and beverage take-out related. ReThink Disposable is a free technical assistance program that helps food businesses implement best practices to reduce use of disposable food serviceware resulting in reduced waste and cutting costs by minimizing disposable product usage. The project is working with local municipalities to target reductions in takeout food packaging in restaurants by performing outreach, enrolling restaurants in the program and developing practical source reduction methods tailored for each local businesses.
- Enrolled over 46 Bay Area restaurants and 9 food trucks in the program
- Quantitative analysis of Source Reduction of disposables at 30 restaurants
- Reduced over 2.8 million disposable foodware packaging items annually
- Reduced 14.8 tons of waste annually
- Saved Businesses an average of $3000 annually
The ReThink Disposable program received the Governors Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2015 from the California EPA which recognizes individuals, organizations, and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made notable contributions in conserving our precious resources, protecting and enhancing our environment, and building public-private partnerships.
ReThink Disposable is a Three Step Process
- Conduct a baseline inventory of the quantity and costs of the disposable products used.
- Provide consultation on individually tailored recommendations for each business and provide resources and information on a variety of alternative products and reusable substitutions.
- Measure and report the annual amount of waste reduced and cost savings after implementation of selected changes.
Sample Best Management Practices to Reduce Disposable Food Serviceware
- Eliminate non-necessary disposable items or make available upon request only (i.e. straws, drink stirrers, toothpicks, etc.)
- Make optional disposable items self-serve (drink and container lids, hot cup sleeves, napkins in a one at a time dispenser)
- Use bulk condiments, seasonings and sweeteners – no packets
- Use reusable dishware for on-site dining (cups, plates, bowls, portion cups, cutlery, etc.)
- Offer and advertise reusable cup incentive
- Offer and advertise reusable container incentive
- Establish staff policies and training (always ask for here or to go, ask first for disposables such as bags and receipts)
- Implement customer education and engagement
- Eliminate excess packaging
Examples of Source Reduction Outputs
Sacred Wheel in Oakland
- Saved $3,768 total annually
- Eliminated 602 pounds of single-use disposable waste
By making these 4 recommendations
- Replace disposable tasting spoons, cups, bowls, cutlery and condiment cups with reusable dishware for on-site dining
- Offer napkins in a self-serve dispenser
- Make straws available upon request only
- Ask before giving customers disposable items like utensil and napkins for to-go orders
Previously, Sacred Wheel had switched to compostable disposable packaging, because they thought this was the best thing to do for the environment. However, the compostable plastics Sacred Wheel was using to serve food and beverages couldn’t be composted in Oakland and were instead being sent to the landfill and they were quite expensive. They realized that real dishes were the best option for Sacred Wheel and are also more eco-friendly. The Sacred Wheel team was able to split up the dish washing responsibilities without adding any extra staff time. This kept costs low and allowed Sacred Wheel to recover the full savings from reduced disposable purchases. For more information see the full case study.(2 pp, 1.5 MB, About PDF) Exit
- Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program’s ReThink Disposable Pilot Project
Project Champion: Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program
EPA Contribution: $ 25,000
Project Period: 2018-2019
EPA Point of Contact: Erica Yelensky, U.S. EPA Region 9, Yelensky.firstname.lastname@example.org
Across the country, restaurants are becoming important source reduction partners. The average restaurant uses 300,000 gallons of water per year and generates around 100,000 pounds of garbage per year! A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association found that environmental sustainability is a top trend and chefs are paying close attention to sustainability, food waste reduction, and local sourcing.
In 2018, with financial support from EPA’s Trash Free Waters Program, the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program (SMBNEP) implemented a one-year pilot project, ReThink Disposable, in partnership with Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund at four Los Angeles restaurants. The goal of ReThink Disposable is to work with food service establishments to minimize use of single use disposable packaging to conserve resources, prevent waste, and reduce marine debris. Through this program, SMBNEP provided technical assistance to food business operators to reduce waste and cut costs by transitioning to reusable food and beverage ware.
Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program staff completed pre-and post-implementation audits at the four ReThink Disposable participating restaurants to measure impact. These four restaurants eliminated 247,570 pieces of single-use disposables resulting in an annual waste reduction of 2,637 pounds. On average, restaurants were expected to have a 14-month payback period for investing in source reduction actions. In addition, annual total savings for the participating restaurants was $8,017. For video testimonials from participating restaurants, please visit: https://www.santamonicabay.org/explore/our-communities/rethink-disposable-l-a/. Looking forward, the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program is broadening the program to work with food service establishments at other facilities such as yacht clubs and boating facilities that have dining operations.
- Reducing Food Service Plastics on University of California Campuses
Project Champion: Product Stewardship Institute
EPA Contribution: $ 164,245 Recipient match: $83,218
Funding Program: West Coast Estuaries Initiative for the California Coast
Project Period: 2012 - 2015
The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) designed and implemented a project to promote plastic source reduction on three University of California (UC) campuses: UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), UC San Francisco (UCSF), and UC San Diego (UCSD).
PSI worked with these campuses to identify and implement strategies consistent with each campuses unique waste management infrastructure to eliminate or reduce the use of disposable plastics in food service settings, including replacing single-use plastics with durable, reusable products or those that have minimal environmental impact. Project partners included: Plastic Pollution Coalition, California Product Stewardship Council, Clean Water Fund California, and the University of California Office of the President.
During the project, PSI developed the Marine Debris & Plastic Source Reduction Toolkit for Colleges & Universities which outlines repeatable process to approach source reduction in an institutional setting such as university campuses complete with case studies and lessons learned from each participating campus.
- The toolkit identifies four steps in reducing packaging on campus:
- Determining the campus’s plastic footprint to identify reduction opportunities;
- Creating a source reduction plan to reduce or eliminate the use of disposable plastic items;
- Changing campus procurement practices by identifying less environmentally impactful products;
- Establishing municipal and/or campus-wide source reduction policies.
Full case studies for each campus can be found in the toolkit link above.
University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB)
Top 5 disposable plastic items at UCSB were lids, cutlery, straws, water bottles, and bags. UCSB targeted bottle and bags reduction.
- Elimination of 60,124 single-use plastic water bottles and a 54 percent decline in single-use water bottle sales by UCSB improved signage for their hydration stations and reusable water bottles were given to incoming freshman
- Elimination of 34,550 of the 35,000 plastic bags used on campus per year. UCSB convinced the Subway store on their campus to cease the purchase of plastic bags, the franchisee's decision resulted in a 97 percent decline in plastic bag use on campus.
University of California San Francisco (UCSF)
Top 5 disposable plastic items: cutlery, lids, soda and juice bottles, straws, and water bottles. UCSF targeted reduction of water bottles and switch to compostable cutlery and lids as this was compatible with their waste management infrastructure.
- Elimination of 50% of the campus’s purchase of single-use bottled water by 50 percent, saving $27,500 each year by retrofitting over 60 of its on-campus water fountains with gooseneck spouts allowing users to more easily refill reusable water bottles
- Use of compostable cutlery is known as substitution rather than source reduction since it does not actually eliminate the single-use disposable items.
Limited research is available on how compostable plastics behave in the marine environment as they are designed to degrade in the high temperatures of industrial composting facilities. There is currently no definition for marine degradable plastics.
- The Trash Free Texas Adopt-A-Spot Tool
Project Champion: The Meadows Center at Texas State University and local government leaders
EPA Contribution: $ 25,000 in contractor support
Project Period: 2016- ongoing
EPA Point of Contact: Doug Jacobson, U.S. EPA Region 6, email@example.com Point of Contact: Cody Whittenburg, City of Fort Worth,firstname.lastname@example.org
What began as Trash Free Trinity, an initiative in the Trinity River watershed in Texas, has now expanded to become a state-wide program called Trash Free Texas.The Trinity River supplies water to over 6 million people in the state of Texas. Starting near the Dallas- Fort Worth metroplex and flowing for 708 river miles, the Trinity River eventually meets the Gulf of Mexico just northeast of Houston and brings along with it an enormous amount of trash picked up along the way. Project champions include: The Meadows Center at Texas State University, City of Fort Worth, North Central Texas Council of Governments, Keep Texas Beautiful, Texas Department of Transportation/Don’t Mess With Texas, the Houston-Galveston Area Council and many others. With leadership from EPA Region 6 staff, the Trash Free Texas online mapping tool was formally launched in February 2017. After collaborating to refine the concept, the development of this groundbreaking tool was funded with support from the American Chemistry Council. Today, by accessing www.trashfreetexas.org, users can use point-and-click technology to adopt or foster a local litter hotspot plotted by state or local government officials. The goal of this Adopt-a-Spot tool is to foster a litter-free environment in the State of Texas by enabling community leaders to identify, promote, and track trash removal activities in their region, while maintaining a holistic watershed focus. Hear more about these efforts by watching the following video: https://h-gac.sharefile.com/share/view/sd0ef883ad204fa39.
Due to the project’s success, leaders across the state worked to systematically expand the program to every major watershed in Texas. The Core Team, noted above, was most recently augmented with representation from San Antonio, Waco and Austin in 2019 and 2020. Working together, partners have developed a five-year plan for expansion as well as a formal communications strategy. The initiative continues to expand across the state, with dozens of sites adopted and more than 50 communities engaged. In just a few clicks, users can now look up sites at a specific location or address, determine site adoption status, and immediately connect to a local community coordinator, such as a Keep Texas Beautiful affiliate, to begin the process of adopting or fostering a site as their own. Aside from improving site adoptions across Texas, the statewide network of partners gain valuable synergy by working together to achieve common missions in their specific communities. The initiative allows flexibility for each program coordinator to retain complete, independent control of their local site adoptions program requirements while maintaining alignment. In addition, smaller communities are able to gain access to geographic information (GIS) system technology that might have previously been unavailable.
In April, US EPA Headquarters hosted a webinar outlining the evolution and current use of the tool which can be accessed at: https://www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters/trash-free-waters-webinar-series.
- Greater Houston and Galveston Bay Annual "River, Lakes, Bays 'N Bayous Trash Bash”
Project Champion: The Conservation Fund, Houston Galveston Area Council, the Galveston Bay Estuary Program (GBEP)
EPA Contribution: In-kind support and partial sponsorship (GBEP)
Project Period: 2018- ongoing
EPA Point of Contact: Doug Jacobson, U.S. EPA Region 6, email@example.com
The "River, Lakes, Bays 'N Bayous Trash Bash" brings together volunteers along Texas’ waterways to do their part in cleaning up the environment by participating in the largest, single-day waterway cleanup in the state. The mission of the Trash Bash is to promote environmental stewardship of our watersheds through public outreach while utilizing hands-on educational tools and by developing partnerships between environmental, governmental, and private organizations.
The Galveston Bay Estuary Program (GBEP), a National Estuary Program location, plays an active role in funding and putting on this event. In doing so, GBEP also supports many of their organizational goals including: 1) Establish citizen involvement as an integral part of the program; 2) Develop and implement a long-range adult education and outreach program; 3) Continue to develop effective volunteer opportunities for citizens; and 4) Improve trash management near the shoreline. The Trash Bash also works to address goals outlined in the “Charting the Course to 2015: Galveston Bay Strategic Action Plan.”
Since the annual event started in 1994, more than 113,000 citizens of all ages have come out to help clean up Galveston Bay. In 1994, there were 5 cleanup sites, 5,000 volunteers, and 150 tons of trash were collected. In 2019, over 4,300 volunteers were spread out across 16 sites, collecting a total of 57 tons of trash. Lori Traweek from the Texas Conservation Fund suggests this reduction in debris collected is a reflection of effective environmental education and stewardship efforts. From 1994-2018, volunteers collected a cumulative total of 2,274 tons of trash, 17 tons of recycling, and 11,065 discarded tires from over 1,605 miles of Texas shoreline.
Half of the 2019 volunteers were under the age of 18, a quarter of which were involved in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. The 2019 cleanup event also involved interactive games to help further engage participants in the issue. Many of the educational displays and activities were funded by previous Galveston Bay Estuary Program funds. One of the greatest highlighted impacts of the event is its impact on children from inner-city environments to help them understand how upstream behaviors can impact Galveston Bay. The Texas Conservation Fund and the Houston/Galveston Area Council received the 2019 1st Place Gulf Guardian Award for their efforts on the initiative! In 2018, the event was awarded the Texas Environmental Excellent Award. A recap video of the 2019 event can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgH_IvmCXXc and a 2018 report on Trash Bash cleanup results can be found here: https://gbep.texas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/GBEP-Trash-Bash-2018-Annual-Report-REVISED121218.pdf. To volunteer and promote a healthy Galveston Bay watershed, visit The River, Lakes, Bays ‘N Bayous Trash Bash website at www.TrashBash.org.
- Salish Sea Hydrodynamic Modeling of Microplastic Hotspots
Project Champion: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
EPA Contribution: $ 25,000
Project Period: 2017-2018
EPA Point of Contact: Margaret McCauley, U.S. EPA Region 10, McCauley.Margaret@epa.gov
From 2017 to 2018, a preliminary analysis was conducted by the US EPA and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to investigate the transport and accumulation patterns of marine debris entering the Salish Sea. The increasing levels of marine debris accumulation in the Pacific Northwest has been identified as a significant concern to the health of the Salish Sea marine ecosystem. For the purposes of this project, marine debris transport was analyzed using a particle tracking model and the Salish Sea Model (SSM). The SSM was developed through a collaborative effort between PNNL and state and federal agencies and was used to model water circulation and transport throughout the Salish Sea watershed. The study sought to answer the 4 questions outlined below.
The first question this study sought to answer where microplastics would accumulate if they were uniformly entering the Salish Sea. Using the above listed models, researchers estimated that microplastic particle distribution could look like the below map. Using computed time averaged particle concentration (density) factors to account for different localized regions susceptible to debris accumulation, they found that specific parts of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound region would have higher residence times for these harmful particles.
Researchers then asked a question regarding fate and transport of microplastics which escape from wastewater outfalls: 2) How is the micro plastic load from wastewater treatment plants expected to travel in the Salish Sea? Using 7 wastewater outfalls within Puget Sound, the study estimated a high potential for microplastic accumulation in the region due to the slower circulation of water within the tidally influenced inter-basin.
The third question the study sought to investigate was 3) the potential for microplastics to accumulate in regions where shellfish beds are located. Using data collected by Puget Soundkeeper and the Washington State Department of Health, researchers predicted that certain shellfish sites will be more impacted by the continuous release of microplastics from wastewater outfalls and their expected long-term accumulation patterns.
The final task of the study was to investigate 4) where macro trash (greater than 5mm) would accumulate if it was uniformly entering the Salish Sea watershed. Simulations factored for closed, empty water bottles influenced by both wind and water drag as well as water bottles filled with water and partially submerged in the water column, therefore only influenced by water drag. Depending on wind magnitude and direction, larger quantities of macro trash were predicted to accumulate on shorelines.
Until this study, there was a shortage of information and data used to identify the potential sources of marine debris and predict the fate, transport, and accumulation of debris in the Salish Sea, particularly in the Puget Sound region over a longer timespan.
- Supporting the Development of a National Approach to Extracting Microplastics from Sediment
Project Champion: EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD)
EPA Contribution: $ 150,000 (ORD) and In-Kind Staff Support
Project Period: 2017- 2019
EPA Points of Contact: Kelly Somers, U.S. EPA Region 3, firstname.lastname@example.org; Dr. Kay Ho, Principal Investigator (ORD)
EPA Regions 1, 2, 3 and 9, along with EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) researchers from the Atlantic Ecology Division in Narragansett, Rhode Island, are collaborating on a Regional Applied Research Effort (RARE) project to quantify the recovery of microplastics in sediments with commonly-used methods published in the scientific literature. To support this RARE, Region 3’s Trash Free Waters coordinated partnered with ORD to support the development of a national approach to extracting microplastics from sediment through ORD’s Regional Research Partnership Program (R2P2). The R2P2 allows regional staff the opportunities to work directly with ORD labs on a regional issue.
Region 3 is an urbanized region with many working rivers vulnerable to plastic pollution situated in and around major port cities including Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Baltimore, MD; Norfolk, VA; Wilmington, DE; and Washington DC. The most threatened watersheds and estuaries are recognizing the emerging concerns of microplastics and its impact on the ecosystems they serve. There is concern that the presence of high concentrations of microplastics in benthic environments will have adverse ecological effects. To accurately quantify the risks associated with exposure to micro/nano plastic pollution in the aquatic environment, methods are needed to measure sediment microplastics. The goal of this RARE project was to help determine the strengths and weaknesses of some of the more common published methods.Currently, methods to isolate and extract microplastics from sediments differ vastly in their approach. For example, they use a range of filters, sieve sizes, aeration, physical mixing, chemical oxidation and density gradients to separate the microplastics from other sediment constituents (e.g., organic matter, inorganic particles). The Region wanted to gain hands-on experience in microplastic sampling, laboratory methods and identification to provide greater support to watershed partners and key external stakeholders. Project partners worked with researchers at ORD’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) Atlantic Ecology Division’s Population Ecology Branch to test a new hybrid methodology for isolation and extraction of microplastics from subtidal estuarine sediment in Region 3. According to NHEERL, this “hybrid methodology” takes the ‘best of the best’ procedural components of the five explored methodologies and creates a new method to isolate and extract microplastics.
The Regional Research Partnership Program (R2P2) project “Supporting the Development of a National Approach to Extracting Microplastics from Sediment” worked with researchers at ORD’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) Atlantic Ecology Division’s Population Ecology Branch to test the new hybrid methodology for isolation and extraction of microplastics from subtidal estuarine sediment in Region 3. This project included the collection, extraction, and isolation of microplastics from submerged estuarine sediments along the Tidal Delaware River, located within the study area of the Delaware Estuary National Estuary Program. Fifteen sites were selected for sampling near areas of interest along the Delaware River including sites near NPDES discharge facilities, Combined Sewer Overflows, major confluences and urban areas. Field sampling and laboratory work with Region 3 was completed in June of 2019. Samples are being analyzed and results will be shared broadly with stakeholders.
- CEC Stormdrain Litter Characterization in Washington & Vancouver
Project Champion: Ocean Wise
EPA Contribution: $ 150,000 (CEC)
Project Period: 2018- 2019
EPA Point of Contact: Margaret McCauley, U.S. EPA Region 10, McCauley.Margaret@epa.gov
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) supported this project as a part of a broader initiative to prevent and reduce land-based sources of litter from entering the Salish Sea watershed. The CEC played a critical role in the implementation of this pilot study to characterize debris entering stormdrains in the City of Vancouver, British Columbia and Bellingham, Washington. The project was selected based on a stakeholder meeting in Vancouver on May 7, 2018 which included representatives from local, provincial, state and national governments, industry, nonprofit organizations, and youth groups, indigenous leaders and academics. During this meeting, concerned parties outlined their hopes of identifying common litter items and informing solutions on potential sources and pathways of litter entering the Salish Sea watershed. One of the low-cost, low-technology strategies coming out of the meeting included conducting a stormdrain litter characterization study. In 2018, Ocean Wise, a non-profit ocean focused organization, worked with local partners in Metro Vancouver and Bellingham, WA to install filter devices in stormdrains at ten locations throughout the study areas (5 selected in each). These stormdrain catchment devices were equipped with permeable fabric and overflow ports to allow for the routine movement of water while also making sure to capture larger-sized debris.
Information was gathered on the amount, types and sources of litter entering local stormwater infrastructure. Debris was collected by city staff daily for a week at each filter and all litter over 0.5 cm was isolated and categorized according to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup data card. The results of the 70 samples of storm drain debris found that the most common types of litter found in both cities were cigarette butts, paper scraps and single-serving food packaging. Unsurprisingly, the study determined that litter associated with food-packaging was most commonly found in commercial areas near fast food establishments and other food service providers that offer takeout. This study provides further evidence that stormwater infrastructure can act as pathways for land-based litter to enter the Salish Sea watershed. Lessons learned from this study can be used to inform the use of similar stormdrain catchment devices and litter characterization analyses used to reduce the flow of litter into waterways in other regions.
Learn more about CEC marine litter work here: http://www.cec.org/our-work/projects/building-community-solutions-marine-litter.