Jan 15, 2016

EPA Approves California's New Trash Control Policy

Standards will protect state’s waterways

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the State Water Resources Control Board’s new water quality standards for trash in California’s waters. The standards are part of the state’s new Trash Control Policy, designed to keep trash out of streams, lakes, bays, estuaries, coastal and ocean waters in California to protect people and the environment. 

Trash seriously degrades habitats for many aquatic species and can lead to fatal ingestion or entanglements. The presence of trash in waters also jeopardizes human health and safety, and it impedes recreational, navigational, and commercial activities. As much as 80% of the trash that ends up as marine debris is generated on land. With these new requirements, California is not only protecting its own waterways, but will also be shrinking the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the massive vortex of marine debris in the Pacific Ocean. 

“The State of California has taken a bold step towards keeping millions of pounds of trash each year out of our inland, coastal and ocean waters,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “EPA is pleased to approve the state’s new water quality standards, which will help prevent harmful trash from making it from land to water and adding to our serious marine debris problem.”

“Trash in our lakes, streams and the ocean pose a serious threat to fish and wildlife, as well as harming the public’s ability to enjoy our beaches and waterways,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “The good news is that this problem is entirely preventable—many communities have already stepped up to meet the challenge and serve as an example to the rest of the state. This statewide policy relies on those tried-and-true, common sense approaches to ensure we get trash removed early before it enters our storm water system, resulting in cleaner beaches and healthier marine life.”

The Trash Control Policy provides a phased approach to eliminate trash in California’s waters by 2026. Much of the trash generated on land is transported to waterways via storm drains. The policy calls for the use of trash capture devices in areas that generate large amounts of garbage. California’s municipalities and other storm water permit holders must comply by either installing full trash capture systems or using equivalent devices coupled with programs such as increased street sweeping and educational outreach. 

This trash capture approach has already proven successful in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay regions. The Los Angeles region has water bodies—including the L.A. River—that will approach the zero trash standard in 2016. The recently updated San Francisco Bay storm water permit has a target date of 2022 for zero trash, having already passed its 40% reduction milestone.

The new Trash Control Policy amends the Water Quality Control Plans for ocean waters, inland waters, enclosed bays and estuaries of California, and it prohibits the discharge of trash to state waters through storm drain systems, as well as transportation and industrial facilities and construction sites that are regulated under National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits, making them enforceable and reportable. EPA approved these water quality standards under its federal Clean Water Act authority.

The EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region administers and enforces federal environmental laws in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands and 148 tribal nations—home to more than 48 million people.