Beach Water Quality in Southern California

It just so happens that three of the top ten worst beaches in California are two that I frequented in college and the third is an island 22 miles off the coast. The list is rounded out by LA County taking up half the list and San Diego, Orange, and San Francisco Counties only having one “dirty-ass beach”.

I found this report from Heal the Bay thanks to a tip from the LATimes.

These worst of the worst beaches are so named due to risk of “potential illness (to) include stomach flu, ear infection, respiratory infection, and major skin rash”. Which can result after only a one-time exposure on a single day. Going in the water more than once can “significantly increase” your chances.

The good news is that 90% of the beaches in California came in with a A or B grade. Only 13 beaches completely failed with an F. It seems that the majority of the dirty beaches problems arise only during wet weather. During dry conditions the grades are better with 92% scoring and A/B.

The report says that stormwater runoff is the major culprit. Which just so happens to be the place where kids like to play. I agree with the kids it is the ‘funnest’ place on the beach, if the waves are not hitting.

The worst place for this runoff turns out be Avalon Harbor which is 22 miles out in the ocean on Catalina Island. This seems counter-intuitive but the facts don’t lie, Avalon has been the worst beach in the state 9 out of the past 11 years.

Five others on the list from LA County including two of my old haunts the Santa Monica Pier and where Sunset Blvd hits PCH. Since the county is sorely in need of improvement it is good news to hear that the California budget foibles are minimally affecting LA’s programs.

A few quick other details about LA County. There were five sewage spills into county beaches, with the largest being larger than 100,000 gallons (into Lunada Bay). The county is the only county in the state to measure water quality at point zero, or pipe outlet, which allows for a more accurate picture of pollution. Most counties grab their data lower down the line after the pollution has been diluted.

Orange County, on the surface, appears to be doing well with 96% of its beaches making the grade (A/B). Only one beach, Poche Beach, getting a failing grade. However, during the few wet weather periods when measurements were taken only 42% of the beaches had A/B grades. The old advice is definitely still holding out “never go in the water after a rain”.

Also of note is Dana Point’s Baby Beach, a location that has been given a consistent failing grade in the past, will no longer be monitored.

As the county faces the same budget troubles as LA County they are making positive steps to improve. Which include unifying the county agencies responsible for monitoring the water quality, eliminating redundant measurements, and dropping consistently clean locations to focus on the dirtier spots.

Steps like these are needed to ensure that what’s happening in San Diego doesn’t spread to the rest of the state. San Diego County has seventeen sewage spills, a top worst beach, and has to continually deal with the pollution coming out of Tiajuana (the Tiajuana Slough).

Only time will tell how our beaches fare during the budget crisis, but the writing is clear. Counties are on their own. I guess so are beach goers…

Read the full report (84 pg PDF).

*all photos from the Heal the Bay full report*

DC Bans Free Bags at Stores

District businesses will charge customers five cents for every disposable paper or plastic carryout bag beginning January 1, 2010, with the proceeds going to the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund…the bag fee is the first of its kind in the nation..

July 7, 2009

Mayor Fenty Signs Landmark Environmental Legislation

Five cents a bag…will be interesting to see how this is enacted…

The DDOE will administer the fund, using the proceeds to educate the public about the impact of trash, to provide reusable bags to District residents, and to remove trash from the river.

I know the good folks at DDOE and I hope they can keep up with all the business, bags, and taxes collectors needed for this…

By October, DDOE will begin a public education campaign about the new law and establish a public-private partnership to distribute reusable bags to District residents.

Sounds like some city contracts are up for grabs. I think the Greater Greater Washington group is watching all of this…but their website is not too clear about that.

It is interesting that the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund was passed unanimously. Could be a good time to push more green needs across the table to the ‘green’ DC Council.

Lastly, thanks to George Dawkins, head of DDOE, for really pushing hard for green changes in our fair city:

“The Anacostia is a river in crisis, and our team sees evidence of that crisis every day with what we pull out of the water.” said DDOE Director George S. Hawkins. “But this bill has given us an extraordinary opportunity. We will now begin a District-wide conversation about trash and its effects, while at the same time removing a major source of that trash.”

Trash on the Anacostia River after a rainstorm.
Trash on the Anacostia River after a rainstorm.

Cash For Clunkers – A Review


With all the hubub about ‘Cash for Clunkers‘ right now, I decided to look into what is going on from A Clean Life point of view.

First, a little about the program:

Take to a dealer any car not older than 25 years that gets less than 18 miles per gallon. Buy a new car that gets 4 or 10 miles per gallon more than your old one and the dealer will give you $3,500 or $4,500 (respectively).

Example: take in a 1998 Ford Explorer, currently the most commonly traded in clunker car type, that gets 14 mpg in the city for a 2009 Ford Focus, currently the most commonly purchased new car type, which gets 24 mpg in the city.

Since the program began on July 1, 2009, “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that as of Saturday afternoon (August 1, 2009) 80,500 cars, averaging 15.8 miles per gallon, had been traded in for cars averaging 25.4 miles per gallon.” (from Washington Post)

The recent spate of news about the program is due to its apparent success. Congress had approved 1 billion for the program which was supposed to last until November 1, 2009. Instead the money is almost gone and reports are coming out that “U.S. auto sales rose to their highest levels of the year in July.” (from the same WaPo article).

Finally, just to round it out, the top new cars being sold are: (1) Ford Focus, (2) Toyota Corolla, (3) Honda Civic, (4) Toyota Prius, and (5) Toyota Camry. (Bloomberg, top cars purchased are foreign)

The Environment – Recycling

My first question in looking at this is the recycling program since we are scrapping old cars. What happens to all that metal, glass, rubber, and more. I can’t find any information on this.

There are reports that scrappers across the country are taking all the parts they can and reselling them (reuse!). Then putting in anywhere from “$700 to $1,200 to remove a car’s fluids, mercury switches, and Freon.” (CS Monitor)

But, according to the CNN video report included below, the rest is cubed into fist size metal chunks and then sold overseas.

This is annoying. We are exporting our trash and our raw materials overseas, just to be bought back once they recycle it for us. This sounds like a program not well thought through.

How hard would it have been to put in some incentives for recycling this material?

Support the recycling industry and create some green jobs in the process?

The Environment – Oil

I’m gonna take a holistic view on this one. Anything we can do to reduce our oil needs is of paramount importance. Not only does this help get us out of the pockets of world evil doers it also lessens our ‘oil addiction’. Our oil addiction runs so deep that we even use 19% of our imports on our food.

Getting us all less dependent on oil, making less trips to gas stations, and spurring demand for technology that can gives us greater than 20 mpg is fantastic (cash for clunkers requires the new car purchased to have at least 22 mpg).

I fully support this program for this aspect alone. With our current state of affairs where our technology and environmental needs so far behind it would be way to easy to say this falls short. Many are doing just that and clamoring for even more stringent needs.

That is good and needed, but I do recognize the chicken/egg problem here. We have to start somewhere, which is better than not starting at all.

CNN Clip on Clash for Clunkers

The 3,000 Mile Myth

There I was reading up on the world of trash when I came across an article (pdf) that said:

“There’s an easy way to make a big difference for the environment: Simply

follow your car manufacturer’s guidelines for oil changes.”

This completely blew me away. Like a newly awoken child I ran out to my car to check what my car manual says. Every 10,000 miles!

I drive an Acura and I should be doing it every 10,000 miles or every year (whichever comes first). The manual even said under severe/extreme conditions I only need to do it every 5,000 miles. My 2 brothers, Dad, and friends all experienced the same thing. We were all following the 3,000 mile schedule.

This is absolutely amazing to me. I thought that every 3,000 miles was the rule. I was even feeling a little guilty for pushing it to 4,500 miles. Turns out that I was changing the oil 2-3 more times than I needed to.

Now this is awesome. I was just instantly saved $120 ($40 per change times 3 for the year) or all the time spent doing it myself.

I highly suggest you check this out for yourself. Look at your car manual from the manufacturer of your car. Look at the California website dedicated to debunking the 3,000 mile myth:

3,000 mile myth

Washington DC Recycling Study

Thx much to Amy Senger for snagging this shaggy bit

Good news. Washington DC you are recycling newspaper, cardboard, and bottles at higher than the national rate.

Bad news. Washington DC you only recycle 18% of your trash when 36% of your trash is recyclable. This is costing the district an extra $250k and unduly burdening the environment.

2008 Residential Waste Report

Those were the findings of the latest Recycling report from the Department of Public Works for DC. The report (linked below) closely examined the trash stream to get some hard numbers. This included examining collections of trash in all 8 wards in DC.

The most striking number in the report and its conclusion was that 1 in 5 items thrown out could have been recycled (22%). The straight costs of trash are $60/ton for trash and $25/ton for recycling. If each resident were to recycle a little bit more then perhaps we could get closer to our potential 36% recycling rate mentioned above.

2008 Residential Waste Sort Report (pdf)

What You can Throw in the Blue Bin

Here is a list of items you can recycle pulled from the DPW recycling site:

  • Aerosol cans
  • Aluminum foil and aluminum pie pans
  • Aluminum food and beverage containers
  • Books (including paperbacks, textbooks, and hardbacks)
  • Brown paper bags (Kraft)
  • Cardboard and paperboard boxes (including cereal boxes without liners)
  • Computer printouts
  • Corrugated cardboard boxes
  • Ferrous and bimetal food and beverage containers
  • Glass containers such as jars and bottles
  • Junk mail
  • Magazines and catalogs
  • Milk and juice cartons
  • Narrow-neck plastic containers (other than for motor oil) that carry plastic resin identification codes 1 through 7
  • Newspapers (including all inserts)
  • Non-metallic wrapping paper
  • Office paper (including typing, fax, copy, letterhead, and NCR) and envelopes
  • Plastic bags, e.g., grocery bags, newspaper bags, and shopping bags. Please put your plastic bags into one plastic bag then place it in your recycling container. We will accept more than one bag of plastic bags.
  • Rigid plastics including plastic milk/soda crates, plastic buckets with metal handles, plastic laundry baskets, plastic lawn furniture, plastic totes, plastic drums, plastic coolers, plastic flower pots, plastic drinking cups/glasses, plastic 5-gallon water bottles, plastic pallets, plastic toys, and empty plastic garbage/recycling bins
  • Telephone books
  • Wide-mouth containers such as peanut butter, margarine/butter tubs, yogurt, cottage, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise, whipped topping, and prescription (remove the identification label) and over-the-counter medicine bottles. (note that the lids and caps do not need to be removed.) Please do not include Styrofoam meat trays, lunch “clamshells” or foam packaging, such as “peanuts.”

Commercial Recycling

Whoa, you made it this far…thx for being our best readers.

Did you know that fully 70% of the waste produced in Washington DC comes from commercial business?

I didn’t either. The district throws out 800,000 tons of trash and business are the largest wasters. Thankfully the District passed a law in 1988 requiring all business to do some recycling.

Unfortunately, the rest is up to business people. The business is required to have cans on-site and required to put only correct items in those cans. With fines for not doing so…but will people actually do so?

They should. Each business has to pay directly for trash pick-up (so do HOA’s) and recycling costs less than normal trash. It is economical and fulfilling to do so. All the reasons are there…

I could not find any reports examining the actual recycling rate in commercial locations, just this helpful recycling guide:

Commercial Recycling Guide (pdf)

dc flag

Mandatory Compost in San Francisco (via marketplace)


I don’t know how it works for you, but at my house anyway, it’s the blue garbage can for recycling, the green one for yard trimmings and the brown one for trash. Nothing though, for leftover food. Unless you’ve got a composting heap in your backyard, you throw scraps right in with the regular trash, no? Not so in San Francisco. The city wants to boost its already high recycling rate by making composting mandatory.


“to push the recycling rate to 75 percent or beyond.”

The Story

This is an interesting piece that highlights exactly why A Clean Life is getting started. The story hits on all the right notes: how introducing compost into the trash stream cuts costs. In fact, in most cases it cuts them in half. A huge savings that does not even touch on the environmental impact, which itself is huge.

Then it moves onto education. Of course, everyone wants to save money and the environment but nobody knows how to compost. The companies and business involved are doing their best, but learning a new method takes time.

Unfortunately, the city of San Francisco is doing two things wrong. They are not passing on the cost savings to the people and then fining folks for not composting correctly.

Definitely progress though. We will be following this closely and even contacting the folks involved.

Though, honestly, this story is partly a press release for Recology who recently changed their name and goals to capitalize on this new market. Still it shows that the money is there and in some cases so is the political motivation.

Check out the story..

The 5 Step Compost

One of the big initiatives of the nonprofit, A Clean Life, is education. To truly develop a sustainable lifestyle for our community we need to help each other learn and grow.

The good part is that everyone already knows an incredible amount about the trash system in their community. They know when the trash comes, how to sort their own trash, what to recycle at work, and sometimes even the local recycling stations.

Photo by Colin J. on Flickr - "we served chard and kale for dinner the other night and this was left over...

The next step is to add a new layer to that, compost. The process of composting is actually very easy. It is a lot like recycling but with an added farmer’s touch.

For those of you interested in developing your own compost, here is some information to get you started:

1. Find an indoor compost bin

2. Place compost bin in kitchen

3. Find a backyard bin

4. Dump compost in the backyard bin

5. Follow the two guidelines below for compost: acceptable material and turning.

Most of the time you can begin to compost by just using existing trash cans or bins lying around your home. A good tip is that plastic bags won’t compost, so definitely use them to line your indoor compost bin, but no need to stick it in the backyard bin.

Now on to the two most important guidelines of the whole process:

Acceptable Material

Below is a good starting list for what to compost. All of the materials below can be added to your bin. But, its important to think of compost as a living thing. You will need to make sure that you are feeding it the right stuff.

A good rule of a green thumb would be to have an equal mix of brown stuff (leaves, paper, fur) with green stuff (yard trimmings, coffee, vegetables)


tea bags




coffee/coffee grinds

cardboard/paper/newspaper (helps if shredded to 1-1.5 inch size)

egg boxes

egg shells

paper towel rolls/toilet paper rolls



dryer lint


Meat, dairy, dog doo or other waste.


Turning is simply the ‘turning over of the compost pile’. It is also one of the most interesting areas of advancement in compost. Traditionally farmers would just pile their compost up and then leave it for a few years as part of their crop rotations.

Now turning is almost mandatory for any compost pile. Studies have found that this little bit of effort, combined with a few other activities can drastically reduce the time needed to compost from years to days.

The reason being is that the microorganisms that break down your trash are real good at what they do. In the center of your pile they will be working overtime. It is very common to have the center of your pile steaming hot. So the idea is to make sure their work is spread evenly across the pile and not just breaking down the center.

If you are interested in the days portion and not the years, here are some simple steps to help you.

First, make sure to ‘turn’ your pile by grabbing a shovel or other item. Turn your pile just a bit by moving some of the edge stuff into the center. This can be done every day for maximum efficiency (time reduction), but doesn’t need to be.

Second, add water if the pile gets too dry, ideally the pile should be moist. Third, really practice your sorting. Make sure you have the right mixture of brown to green (as explained above).

Compost Soil by Normanack (on Flickr)

Fourth, and really optional, but hey someone out there wants to be a master composter. Establish a few backyard bins for use. Fill up one and then don’t add to it anymore. Since composting is a process if you keep adding new material you are starting the process over again.

If done right, you should have some amazing dirt, instead of trash. Use the dirt in your potting or backyard, or even give it some neighbors.

P.S. If ur interested in more on this, I recommend this 3 page study by Berkeley professor Robert Raabe (pdf)

Did You Know There Was a Great Garbage Patch?

I recently found out about this from a friend of mine, Scott.

It’s fairly scary topic too.

Basically, in the pacific ocean there are vast and strong currents that create a large whirpool zone, called a gyre. It is quite large, the size of texas and it collects a lot of the ocean debris, natural and artifical.


As folks have traveled through these gyre’s they are starting to notice trash, lots of it. One of these travelers, Captain Charles Moore, is just all fired up about it. He went through the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. If you live on the west coast, their is a strong chance you have contributed a lot to this patch.

So, after his visits he got angry did some research and is now sharing it with us.

I’ve embedded the video below, but first I want to highlight something he talks about. Take a look at this picture:

The Throw Away Life
The Throw Away Life, Life Magazine, Aug 1, 1955

As Capt. Moore will explain in the video that picture and its accompanying article describes a radical new idea, disposables. A wave of consumerism that would soon sweep through our country, and here is its first marketing pitch.

Well the pitch worked and the wave was nearly unstoppable. Now here we are on other side or still in the middle of that wave. We are such deep believers in the throw away lifestyle, that I don’t think we can imagine anything else.

Which really makes me think:

  • What is life like without disposables?
  • Is it possible to have a rabid consumer society that isn’t living a throw away lifestlye?

Maybe you can help me answer those questions.


From: The 2009 TED Talks

About: Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an endless floating waste of plastic trash. Now he’s drawing attention to the growing, choking problem of plastic debris in our seas.

Bio: Charles Moore is founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. He captains the foundation’s research vessel, the Alguita, documenting the great expanses of plastic waste that now litter… Full bio and more links

My Visit to Whole Foods Compost

Tonight I visited the Whole Foods stores of Washington D.C. and spoke with a nice lady named Erin. She is a part of the green mission for the market super chain. Thank you very much Erin for showing me around the compost operations.

Whole Foods is truly a unique operation in that it actually has a green mission. The mission is a part of its core values to care “About Our Communities & Our Environment”. Now, I bet most of you are thinking that this is another corporate ploy. I had the same thought and so I used this opportunity to discover for myself.

Right when I arrived at the Tenleytown store, Erin greeted me and we began discussing the internal workings of the composting business. We talked about facilities, pick-ups, and different types of decomposition. She explained how the stores she works with are cutting their waste disposal costs in half by actively engaging in composting. They are able to divert very high percentages of their waste away from landfills. Something in the range of 80-90%, very close to being a zero waste corporation.

That right there was enough for me. Here is a large operation that could be sending out many tons of waste each day to our landfills. Instead they are being proactive, saving money, and proving that it works.

As we continued along, Erin showed me how she implemented these features in the store. At nearly every location where a trash can existed there was also a recycle bin and a compost bin. Now anyone involved in recycling knows that sorting this stuff is tough. Yet the employees had worked this into their daily activities, it was almost second nature. It was really cool to watch one worker spend the time to break down and compact some cardboard, instead of just wheel it outside to the dumpster.

An interesting side note is that all of this is hidden from the customers. We definitely live in a bubble wrapped world.

Other features of the operation were that as the process grew she was working on making everything in the store recycled. The actual trash bins were few and far between (most that I did see were for the customers). The large trash chutes and compactors were now being used for compost and recycling, rather than for landfill trash.

Can you imagine working in an environment with only recycle/compost bins and no trash cans?

I’m not sure these workers ever imagined that, but here they are working that way. They were deeply involved in a quiet compost revolution at their stores.

Overall it was quite an impressive operation and I walked away impressed and hopeful for this nonprofit’s future.

Thanks again Erin.

P.S. thanks to the @wholefoods twitter account for this informative tweet. Also, here is a link to their blog about their compost operations.