Mapping a path to zero trash


Ever since trash was first regulated as a pollutant in the San Francisco Bay in 2009, cities have been trying to eliminate trash from their storm water systems. Now, 6 years into that process, we have gathered some data on their progress and created this map to see what progress towards zero trash looks like around the region.

Every city that is subject to the storm water permit must completely eliminate trash from its storm water by 2022. Cities on this map are shown as dots, the size and color of the dot represent how much progress that city has made towards zero trash. The smaller and greener the dot, the more progress they have made; cities indicated by large red or orange dots have a long way to go. The map represents how far a city has gone to reduce the trash flowing through its storm water system – for example, Oakland has reduced trash by 47% — not the actual amount of trash each city is contributing to the Bay.

You may be wondering why some communities, notably the city of San Francisco and most of the North Bay, are absent from this map. The reason is that those cities are not covered by the storm water permit. Smaller cities like those in the North Bay have a separate permit with a different timeline to reduce trash and San Francisco, unlike the rest of the region, operates a Combined Storm Sewer System where storm water is treated along with sewage.

All of our data is gleaned from reports each city files with the Regional Water Board on their storm water systems. Although these reports are a crucial resource for us, all of the data is entirely self-reported and we do not have a high degree of confidence that detailed on-the-ground observations support the data in all of these reports.  However, for the sake of clarity and ease of assessment, for our map we took the reductions claimed by each city in their storm water reports at face value.

Some cities are making good progress

Some cities that are doing a truly remarkable job are Walnut Creek and Sunnyvale. These cities have taken steps to install storm drain units that filter trash out of the water before it gets into the creeks in most of their very trashy areas.

Oakland faces problems that are unique in the region but has risen to the challenge, more proactively dealing with illegal dumping and increasing street sweeping activities, as well as installing trash capture devices. Another city that has done an impressive job is Richmond, which has a hugely successful block by block neighborhood beautification and cleanup program.

Trash capture units are expensive, and most cities are struggling to find ways to pay for them. But they may be the only way to comply with this permit and eliminate trash from storm water systems that drain directly to the Bay.

Most cities have a long way to go

Many cities that appear in yellow, like Berkeley, Oakland, South San Francisco and Richmond are actually in compliance with the permit, they managed to reduce their trash by 40% by 2014, however because the timeline for reductions is so tight and these cities need to reach a 70% reduction by 2017, there is serious uncertainty about how these cities will be able to keep up with increasing reductions. These cities need to find the resources to clean up more of their trash.

Some cities where we see big problems are Concord, Pittsburg, San Jose, and San Leandro. These cities have not yet made significant advances towards achieving zero trash, and that is a cause for concern. The next benchmark is a 70% reduction by 2017, and these cities have failed to meet the 40% requirement by 2015; they are in very serious danger of failing to meet the mandated standards. The Regional Water Board ought to be working with these cities already to help them avoid non-compliance, and to encourage local leaders to prioritize their storm water pollution.

Why did we make this map?

This map is the best visual representation of the region’s progress towards zero trash.

As I mentioned above, the map shows progress towards zero trash, rather than how much trash each city contributes to the Bay. If we had shown how much trash each city contributes to the bay, the map would show us what we already know – that larger, more urban cities generate more trash.

What we want to show is regional progress; as you can see on the map, the Bay is literally ringed with trash, and it is the responsibility of every city in the region to take the steps necessary to eliminate trash from its storm water system by 2022.

Call on your city to get to zero trash – Click here to take action.