By Dominic Williams

Illegal dumping and excessive litter is a problem that affects everybody. On the surface, the issue of may appear to be too large to tackle. However, as local community groups, nonprofits, and engaged residents have proven, progress can be made when support comes from the ground up. To tackle the issue, many localities have had to get creative.

San Jose Recruits the Homeless: This program pays the homeless $15 per hour to clean up the streets and is a partnership between the city, Goodwill, and the Downtown Streets Team.

East Palo Alto Launches Shame Campaigns: The city posts public pictures of illegal dumpers, institutes a $1,000 fine for illegally dumping and provides a $500 reward for information about illegal dumpers. The city has received criticism that this campaign amounts to “public flogging” of illegal dumpers, but this imperfect solution is having positive impacts, especially for residents that live near illegal dumping hot spots. One hotspot for dumping, the area in front of the Ecumenical Hunger Program, has been clear for weeks since the signs were erected.

Oakland hosts Bulky Block Parties: People can drop off bulky junk that would likely end up on the streets. The initial Block Parties were incredibly successful, collecting more than 157 tons of waste, and are now a permanent fixture on the last Saturday of every month. The city also committed to hiring three “litter enforcement officers” that will identify where the trash is coming from and who is dumping it, but those positions have yet to be filled. Oakland Community Organizations—a coalition of local churches, residents, and unions that advocated alongside Save The Bay for more city resources dedicated to illegal dumping—continues to push for these officers to be hired.

Adopt-a-Drain: Oakland and San Francisco program that allows volunteers to aid in the maintenance and cleaning of a storm drain in their area. A similar initiative called Adopt-a-Hotspot is being launched across Alameda County.

Oakland Bulky Pickup Services: Residents can place their junk on the curb and have it picked up by city employees. Single families, multi-family residences, and property managers can request this service by calling 510.613.8710 or by following the directions on the website. Renters are entitled to one free bulky pickup per living unit per year and provision of access to these services by property managers is required by law.

Cities and counties must be held accountable for their role, but it’s on all of us to consciously decide to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Aside from ensuring that all of our trash is properly disposed of and everything that can be recycled is recycled, you can help by volunteering through any one of many organizations that are tackling our trash issues.

What impact will you have on our Bay in 2019? This list of organizations is a great place to start.

CA Coastal Cleanup Day

Oakland Adopt-a-Drain

Oakland Creek to Bay Day

Save The Bay

San Francisco Adopt-a-Drain

Surfrider Cleanups

Read more about illegal dumping and the build up of trash on our streets.


By Dominic Williams

“The Bay Area has a massive and awful problem… it’s illegal dumping, and it’s trashing all of us.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf delivered this message last May, and it’s clear that the problem is not just confined to cities such as Oakland and San Francisco. All across this beautiful Bay Area, we see the effects of trash build-up and illegal dumping on our streets.

So where does this trash come from? People may hastily assume that the trash we see on our commutes to work in the morning originate in homeless encampments, especially those near bodies of water. This is not true. Homeless encampments account for just a small portion of the trash issue. Studies show that:

Only 3% of street trash is due to homeless encampments.
• Up to 10% of trash comes from professional haulers and dumpers who dump illegally.
• Higher illegal dumping takes place in low-income areas and areas with more renters, non-English speakers, and more densely packed households.

“It’s not just a health issue and a blight issue, it’s an equity issue,” says Mayor Libby Schaaf.

The cost of living continues to rise in the Bay Area and many residents cut spending in areas they deem non-vital – such as the $50 or more to take a load of garbage to the dump. Garbage haulers usually provide one or two free bulky item pickups per year; however, a lack of awareness about this service leads to underutilization and as a result, counties have to pick up the cost. For example, Contra Costa was forced to spend $1.2 million in 2017 to pick up illegally dumped trash.

Steps are being taken at a regional level to address trash in our neighborhoods and waterways. In 2015, the Municipal Regional Storm Water Permit specified trash reduction targets for 73 municipalities in the area, stretching from Fairfield in the north down through San Jose in the south. According to the permit, these municipalities must:

• By July 1, 2019 — Reduce the level of trash in their storm drains by 80%
• By July 1, 2022 — Prevent all trash from flowing into city storm drains by 100%

Most of the areas included under this permit are already seeing significant improvements in trash levels, but too many are not, due to a lack of resources or impetus.

Part of the issue that causes significant concern among local residents is the composition of the trash. Mattresses, old furniture, home waste, and backyard junk are common. The real threats are hazardous wastes, old paints, and toxic materials that are discarded on the streets.

Bay Area residents are frustrated with the lack of action by the local government and have taken the issue into their own hands. Community groups, such as the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods, Love Your Block, and more have joined forces with nonprofits and agencies like Save the Bay, San Francisco Estuary Partnership and the California Coastal Commission to remove litter from storm drains and advocate for policies to prevent it from getting there in the first place.

Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) partners with local churches, unions, and residents, as well as environmental advocacy groups to pressure local government into implementing a comprehensive trash management plan. In 2017, Save the Bay and OCO successfully pushed the City of Oakland to dedicate more staff and budgetary resources to illegal dumping response in East Oakland and across the city. Recent reports indicate that these efforts are having an impact; there is less trash on the street overall and illegally dumped materials are removed more quickly. But the problem is far from solved, according to OCO organizer Emma Paulino.

Trash is a global crisis, but its origin starts locally in our communities. Read more and learn how local community organizations are battling illegal dumping in their neighborhoods.