New Report: California Communities Spend Nearly $500M Annually in Keeping Trash Out Of Waterways

Research Shows the Cost to Residents and Communities for Dealing with Solid Waste that Pollutes California Waterways

SAN FRANCISCO (August 28, 2013) – As beach season comes to end, new research shows that California communities are spending nearly half a billion dollars annually in preventing trash from polluting the state’s beaches, rivers and ocean, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council. In a time when California cities are experiencing tight budgets, NRDC’s report demonstrates the economic burden this waste creates for local governments and taxpayers, and makes the compelling case for immediate action for measures that reduce this pollution.

“Trash that pollutes our streets, beaches and waterways, costs local governments and California taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year,” said Leila Monroe, senior attorney in the oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Commonsense measures to cut down on the amount of trash we create can go a long way toward solving our plastic pollution problem."

The report, Waste in our Water: The Annual Cost to California Communities of Reducing Litter that Pollutes our Waterways, surveyed 95 California communities ranging in size from just over 700 residents to over 4 million. The analysis found that, regardless of their size and distance from the ocean, these communities are collectively spending nearly $500 million dollars annually cleaning up litter and preventing it from entering waterways. The report examined the cost of six activities related to reducing solid waste in waterways: river and beach clean-up; street sweeping; installation of stormwater capture devices; stormwater drain cleaning and maintenance; manual cleanup of litter; and public education. 

Based on the research, these communities rank among the Top-10 California cities or towns spending the most on activities related to reducing the amount of waste reaching our waterways:




Annual Cost Per Year


Los Angeles

$36.3 million


San Diego

$14.1 million


Long Beach

$12.9 million


San Jose

$8.8 million



$8.3 million



$2.8 million



$2.3 million



$2.3 million


Redondo Beach

$2.1 million


South Gate

$1.7 million

Aquatic Debris: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

We discard far more plastic than we recycle or reuse. Much of it is littered or escapes the garbage or recycling bin and makes its way into our public spaces, rivers, lakes, beaches, and ultimately, the ocean. This plastic waste imposes costs on local governments and businesses, creates navigational hazards, kills birds, turtles, dolphins and other marine life, and may even threaten human health. Plastic’s durability, light weight and low cost make it a useful material for many long-term applications. But accounting for the environmental and economic costs of using a highly persistent material for a single-use disposable item, it becomes abundantly clear that in most cases, those costs outweigh the benefits.


According to decades of shoreline surveys, cheap, disposable plastic packaging constitutes the largest and most harmful quantity of litter found in the environment. California needs a program to correctly assign the burden of this ever-growing quantity of plastic trash between local governments, taxpayers and plastic producers. This means stopping the problem at its source by reducing the quantity of waste produced, while expanding programs that are working, such as recycling and installation and maintenance of stormwater drain capture devices.

NRDC and a growing coalition of waste management, community, environmental and business groups support measures that would address the many different types of single-use plastics all at once by creating incentives for industry to use less plastic packaging for their products, make them recyclable, and ensure that recycling actually happens. Increased recycling has also demonstrated to create jobs. Studies show that a national goal of recycling 75 percent of the nation’s waste can create 1.1 million jobs by 2030.

These solutions should also support California communities’ work to implement trash and litter reduction programs, including both Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans and Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit requirements. Los Angeles County’s TMDL, for example, requires southern Californian cities discharging into the L.A. River to reduce their trash by 10 percent each year, for a period of 10 years, with a goal of zero trash by 2015.

See full report here: