by David Goldstein

California Coastal Cleanup Day last month cleaned our beaches and protected wildlife, but in the coming weeks, the event will provide another valuable environmental benefit. Using tally sheets and, for the first time, a smartphone app, volunteers recorded each piece of litter by type.

As data is compiled and analyzed, we will be able to answer important questions. Will cigarette butts, once again, top the list of items collected? What kind of public policy initiatives might be launched in response?

Data from cleanup events was one of the factors influencing California voters’ passage of Proposition 67 in 2016, which banned single-use plastic bags at many types of stores. Data from this year’s cleanup will be analyzed for a perspective on the effectiveness of that ban.

The source of litter collected at cleanup events may surprise you. Because litter is often caused unintentionally, the trash you see at the beach may very well have washed down storm drains from your own home.

Even if you would never overload your curbside cart or leave its lid open for birds to scavenge, sometimes wind causes curbside cart lids to open. Also, material can blow out, fall out or fly loose during collection. To keep items in your refuse cart and ensure safe collection, bag light plastic material like plastic bags, polystyrene packing peanuts and candy wrappers.

Paper can also go airborne, but do not bag anything in your recycling cart. Even paper must be loose to be properly sorted. To avoid paper blowing out of your recycling cart, put it below the top of your load. It is less likely to blow out of a cart when surrounded by other recyclables.

Piyush Sheth, an inventor working in partnership with a contracted manufacturing company in Simi Valley, hopes to mass produce a litter-avoiding device they currently make only on a prototype scale. This device fits on curbside carts, holding lids shut until the cart is upside down. As shown in a video Sheth sent to me as part of an inquiry into the availability of incentives from the Ventura County Recycling Market Development Zone, the device, made from recycled plastic, is entirely mechanical, operated through gravity. Sheth is hoping to reach a deal with a local refuse company or a municipality for a pilot project.

Accidental litter in public areas has been reduced over the past decade through solar-powered, enclosed compacting containers. The city of Ventura installed several of these compacting containers downtown, Moorpark recently purchased one and the County of Ventura’s General Services Agency installed five at the Ventura County Government Center. Other containers at County facilities are covered with fiberglass and metal lids, which also work well to prevent litter from blowing out of containers, given the maintenance crews’ regimen of daily collection to prevent overflow, according to Staff Services Manager Patrick Squires.

David Goldstein is an environmental analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency