Legal, Plastic Pollution
January 15 2016

California’s Trash Policy Becomes Law

by Angela Howe

This week marks a major step forward for California’s laws against trash in our waterways. The US EPA approved the State Water Board’s new water quality standards for trash in California’s waters. The standards are part of the state’s new Trash Control Policy, designed to address the plastic pollution and other trash that wreaks havoc on our marine environment.

In effect, this new law requires all stormwater permits (including those held by municipalities) to be revised in the next 18 months to include trash provisions and for permittees to reach compliance with the zero trash goal within 10 years.  It also authorizes Regional Water Boards to issue the equivalent of non-point source permits (Waste Discharge Requirements) to areas that produce significant amounts of trash (for example, at popular campgrounds, picnic areas, beach recreational areas and marinas.)

By way of background, on April 7, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an Amendment to the Water Quality Control Plan for the Ocean Waters of California to Control Trash (the “California Ocean Plan”), and adopted Trash Provisions of the Water Quality Control Plan for Inland Surface Waters, Enclosed Bays, and Estuaries of California (collectively, the “Trash Amendments”). The Water Boards’ fact sheet definition of trash specifically includes plastic bags and pellets:  “Trash is the improperly disposed junk or rubbish generated by human activity that frequently winds up in waterways. Trash can include cigarette butts, paper, fast food containers, plastic grocery bags, cans and bottles, used diapers, construction site debris, industrial plastic pellets, old tires and appliances.”

The Trash Amendments were formulated after an extensive stakeholder engagement process over five years, including scoping meetings, formation of a public advisory group of stakeholders, focused stakeholder meetings, scientific peer review, a public workshop and public hearing. The Trash Amendments are now in effect following approval by the US EPA.  This marks a huge step forward to help California keep trash out of streams, lakes, bays, estuaries, and coastal waters.