Litter Prevention

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What is Litter?

Litter is waste (trash or recycling) that is not contained in a waste bin. Litter is a serious stormwater pollutant and it can easily end up in waterways and make its way to the ocean.


Understanding Problems with Litter

Rain can wash litter into gutters and storm drains, where it is carried to creeks, rivers, and eventually, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Some litter is blown or washed directly from land into waterways and some is illegally dumped there.

Litter in creeks, rivers, oceans, and other bodies of water can be harmful to aquatic plants and animals, and can harm humans as well.

  • Plastic pollution in water acts as a magnet for toxic chemicals and substances which contaminate our waterways.
  • Organic waste (such as yard clippings) removes oxygen from the water as it decomposes, harming fish and other aquatic life.
  • Water polluted with dirt, soap, fertilizers, oil, and other chemicals can harm fish and other aquatic animals.
  • Both aquatic and land animals mistake small pieces of plastic (something they cannot digest) as food and can become sick from the toxins attached to the plastics or die of starvation from plastic blocking their digestive tracts.
  • Plastic also poses entanglement risks for wildlife which can threaten behavior and overall health.

What Can I Do?

  • pick-up-litter-comboAlways pick up litter when you drop it.
  • Ensure that lids on trash, recycling and organics bins are closed to keep rainwater out and to prevent wind from blowing waste out of the bin.
  • Always pick up pet waste, seal it, and put it in the trash bin. Pet waste contains harmful bacteria that can kill fish and make other animals sick. Do not place pet waste in your organics bin (or in yard material piles on the street).
  • If you are transporting waste in a vehicle, make sure all materials are secured before driving away.  Placing waste in secure bags is the best practice.  Don’t place loose waste in the back of a pick-up truck where it can easily blow out when you start driving. Keep waste secured inside your vehicle so that it won’t blow out when a door or window is opened.
  • If you can’t find a trash or recycling bin, hold on to your waste until you find one.
  • If the nearest waste bin is overflowing, hold onto your waste until you find one that has space.
  • If your own trash bin is overflowing, take out the extra trash and save it for next week. Do you find you often need more space? Be sure to separate out your recyclable and compostable items to ensure that only trash is headed to the landfill.

2015 California Statewide Stormwater Quality Permit Trash Amendments

In 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), the agency that monitors stormwater quality, adopted statewide trash regulations (called “amendments”) requiring significant reductions in the amount of litter currently discharged from regulated stormwater systems. These rules will implement new and enhanced management actions aimed at reducing the amount of litter entering into, and transported by stormwater. Additionally, these regulations have set a schedule for compliance, with a target of zero litter in stormwater by the year 2030.

In the amendments, the State defines trash as all improperly discarded solid material from any production, manufacturing, or processing operation including, but not limited to, products, product packaging, or containers constructed of plastic, steel, aluminum, glass, paper, or other synthetic or natural materials larger than 5 mm in diameter (about the size of a cigarette butt).

In order to meet the requirements of the amendments, in 2018, the City of Davis performed an On Land Visual Assessment Survey and mapped out what areas and streets have the most litter. Only certain “high-trash generating land use” areas are required to be surveyed (such as multifamily apartments, industrial and commercial properties, public transportation hubs, and public schools).  City staff is now completing follow up surveys of these same areas to ensure that the volume of litter decreases by 10% every year until there is no litter in stormwater.  City staff has devised an implementation plan to facilitate trash reduction that may include the following:

  • installation of devices that capture and remove litter from stormwater
  • improved waste collection bins
  • signage and public outreach to increase awareness of and reduce littering
  • improved waste enclosures  
  • more frequent pick up of waste containers and increased street sweeping in high litter generating areas.

The City is engaged in a 12-year process to achieve compliance with the state-mandated full capture goal.  The City will diligently perform measures on its own properties, and will work in partnership with stakeholders and private properties in order to meet the state-mandated goals.  

More information about California’s Statewide Trash Amendments.