EPA’s Approval of California’s New Trash Control Policy A Key Step Towards Goal of Zero Trash in State Waters

Thu Feb 18th, On Environmental Law, by

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced it has approved the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) new water quality standards for trash in state waters. The standards are part of California’s new Trash Control Policy, designed to keep trash out of streams, lakes, bays, estuaries, coastal, and ocean waters. EPA’s approval puts into effect amendments to the state’s Water Quality Control Plan for the Ocean Waters of California, adopted by the SWRCB on April 7, 2015, with the objective of protecting human health and safety, as well as the habitats of many aquatic species.

EPA said as much as 80 percent of trash that ends up as marine debris is generated on land. The Trash Control Policy aims to eliminate trash in California’s waters by 2026 through the use of trash capture devices in areas that generate a large amount of garbage.

Much of the trash generated on land is transported to waterways via storm drains. The new Trash Control Policy amends California’s water quality control plans for ocean waters, inland waters, enclosed bays and estuaries, and prohibits the discharge of trash to state waters through storm drain systems. California’s municipalities and other entities regulated under National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, such as transportation and industrial facilities and operators at construction sites, must comply by either installing full trash capture systems, or by using equivalent devices combined with programs such as increased street sweeping and educational outreach. The new law also authorizes Regional Water Boards to issue the equivalent of non-point source permits to areas that produce significant amounts of trash, such as campgrounds, picnic areas, recreational beach areas, and marinas.

Such a trash capture approach already has proven successful in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay regions, with some bodies of water in Southern California, including the L.A. River, approaching the zero trash standard this year. The San Francisco Bay stormwater permit has a target date of 2022 for zero trash, and already has passed its 40 percent reduction milestone.

SWRCB has stated that the amendments under the Trash Control Policy are designed to provide statewide consistency for the Regional Water Boards’ regulatory approach to protecting aquatic life and public health beneficial uses, and to reduce environmental issues associated with trash in state waters, while focusing limited resources on high trash generating areas. These amendments to the state’s water quality control plans were formulated after an extensive stakeholder engagement process over five years, including scoping meetings, formation of a public advisory group of stakeholders, stakeholder meetings, scientific peer review, a public workshop and public hearing.

California’s new Trash Control Policy is anticipated to not only protect state waterways by keeping millions of pounds of trash each year out of inland, coastal and ocean waters, it is hoped to help shrink the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the massive vortex of marine debris in the Pacific Ocean.

For more information, please visit http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/trash_control/.

Our Areas of