First-of-its-kind Survey Pinpoints San Francisco Bay Trash to McDonalds, 7-Eleven & Other Culprits

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Photos by IngridTaylar via Flickr CC

In the energy industry we well know that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Well the same is true when it comes to dealing with garbage in waterways. If you know where the trash is coming from, it may be easier to manage it. A first-ever survey of trash in the San Francisco Bay Area of California worked specifically to identify where the trash found in the bay is from -- and now the surveyors are able to point fingers. Surveying Trash, Pointing Fingers
Clean Water Action worked to identify trash collected in the streets of San Jose, South San Francisco, Richmond and Oakland -- trash that often ends up in the bay after being blown there by the wind or traveling through storm drains during rainfall.

The group found that 19% of the trash was branded, and those brands include pillars of our disposable culture: McDonald's, Burger King, 7-Eleven, Starbucks, Wendy's, Taco Bell and Walgreens. Of the unbranded trash, the majority of it was more evidence of disposable lifestyle, from snack wrappers to paper napkins. In fact, 68% of unbranded trash was used for food and beverage packaging.

Mercury News reports, "The results shed light on where cities should concentrate their efforts as they race to comply with a strict regional directive to end all trash pollution to the bay by 2022, said Miriam Gordon, California director for Clean Water Action."

Fast Food Trash Highlights Bigger Issues
But this is more than just a focus point for complying with regulations for reducing trash -- it should also be a spotlight shining on what about our culture needs to change to reduce our impact on natural resources. We know that fast food culture is a major problem when it comes to human health and well-being, as well as when it comes to the problem of factory farmed animals. But now we're really seeing what a problem it poses for marine pollution.

If anything, the survey is a boon for companies like To-Go Ware and Reusies, which offer reusable alternatives for disposable cutlery and baggies. In fact, the survey notes that reusable containers could replace 66% of drink packaging and 39% of food packaging, greatly reducing how much trash ends up in waterways.

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Cleaning Up After Fast Food Consumers Is Expensive
According to the Mercury News, that's a major money saver for cities in the bay area. The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board is requiring cities to reduce their trash load to the bay by 40% by 2014, 70% by 2017 and 100% by 2022. San Jose has already spent over $2 million installing trash-capture devices, and several of the cities argue that they just don't have the funding to deal with these regulations.

The survey by Clean Water Action, however, can give the cities an edge on what companies they might need to work with to reduce trash without having to make expensive installations. The group notes that it would be less expensive to target the fast food chains and stores that are giving away disposable cutlery in excess, and making small changes like asking a customer if they want a fork or handing over just one napkin would make a big difference.

It seems only logical that simply making it more difficult to waste would cut down on the amount of trash flying around city streets and washing into the bay. This first survey pinpointing which companies play the largest role could help shake up business-as-usual in the fast food industry. It will be interesting to watch if the cities start pushing for these companies to play a role in helping meet the trash reduction goals.

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