Taking it to the streets: Developing an urban neighborhood trash monitoring protocol and education program to reduce coastal trash

Kids in Manzanita Canyon
Start/End: May, 2019 to April, 2021

The canyons and seasonal creeks reticulating throughout Southern California serve as stormwater systems, conveying runoff and debris from urbanized landscapes and city streets to coastal waters.

Trash, such as wrappers, packaging, bags and single use food containers, is abundant throughout these coastal waterways, with much of it flowing into canyons and creekbeds from neighboring city streets. 

trash in chollas creek
Trash floating in Chollas Creek, San Diego. Most marine debris comes from land-based sources and flows from cities to the ocean through urban rivers such as this one. Credit: Theresa Talley

As with many Southern California cities, San Diego has implemented trash control strategies such as lidded trash cans and street sweeping, yet stormwater trash inputs remain high, indicating that such control strategies may not be enough to keep coastal watersheds trash-free. Needed is a better understanding of the sources of the trash in waterways, and efforts to educate and empower the community to contribute to solutions.

Our project goal is to reduce the amount of trash in coastal waterways by improving our understanding of urban neighborhood trash sources through development of standardized protocols and implementation using an experiential education program.

To meet this goal, we are drawing on our past community science efforts within a highly urbanized, impoverished neighborhood in San Diego to:

(i) Research and design a standardized trash monitoring protocol for urban neighborhoods that can be conducted by novice citizen scientists and students

(ii.) Develop transferable educational curricula and materials for use in training and educating citizen scientists and students in the implementation of protocols and other topics related to the issue of trash pollution 

(iii.) Conduct an education program to educate middle school students and their high school student mentors while piloting the educational curriculum and activities, and the trash monitoring protocols

Project team: California Sea Grant, Ocean Discovery Institute, NOAA Marine Debris Program, City of San Diego 


Co-principal Investigators

  • Nina Venuti
    University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography