It looks like we aren't so green here in the Bay Area after all.
The San Jose Mercury News reported on a recent study by the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association (BASMAA), revealing that about 1.36 million gallons of trash flows into the Bay every year.
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The study was the initial step in a five-year plan to reduce Bay Area trash pollution by 40 percent. The mandatory plan was set in motion in 2009 when state regulators required the Bay Area to reduce Bay pollution by 40 percent by 2014, 70 percent by 2017 and 100 percent by 2020 or face penalty fines -- ultimately from the taxpayers.
"We'll be forced to try everything we can think of to reach those goals," said BASMAA Executive Director Geoff Brosseau to The Huffington Post.
To study the current trash levels, BASMAA installed trash-catching screens in 149 storm drains around the Bay Area.
And the results were bad. Real bad. Like enough trash to fill 100,000 kitchen garbage bags bad, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Besides creating an eyesore, Bay pollution chokes the ecosystem, kills marine animals and increases the acidity of our water, eventually leading to smelly algae and prohibiting aquatic life. And according to Save the Bay, most of this trash can be prevented by simply eliminating littering.
"This is 100 percent preventable," said Brosseau to the Mercury News. "Trash doesn't happen by itself. If we can get people to modify their behavior, we'll make huge gains."
The study found that 49 percent of the trash came from plastics, 21 percent from paper, 9 percent from miscellaneous items (including cigarette butts and sports balls), 8 percent from single-use grocery bags, seven percent from polystyrene foam and six percent from beverage containers.
"The biggest source was definitely food and beverage containers," said Brosseau to the HuffPost. That includes Starbucks cups, restaurant to-go containers, chip bags and soda cans among other items. "The goal of the collection was both to establish a baseline on how much trash is entering the Bay, and to determine the biggest sources."
And on to the Bay Area's worst offenders: the small town of Colma in San Mateo County ranked most pollution per capita with 516 gallons of trash per resident. (In fairness, Colma claims only a population of 2,000 and is home to a Best Buy, two Home Depots and an auto row, as Colma Public Works Director Brad Donohue explained to the Mercury News.) Not far behind were the East Bay cities of Pittsburg, El Cerrito and Richmond. Concord, Antioch, Pleasanton, Hayward and Redwood City also reported alarmingly high pollution levels.
"Anywhere that showed a high-density population," said Brosseau. San Francisco was excluded from the data, as the city has an older sewer system that is incompatible with the study.
BASMAA plans to complete at least four more sample collections to finalize data, and then it's on to working towards the goals.
"I don't know if we'll ever get to our 100 percent goal," said Brosseau. "But we're going to give it the old college try."
Watch Save the Bay's video on single-use plastic bag pollution in the video below: