Garbage and wood debris at the mouth of Strawberry Creek in Berkeley. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As reported yesterday by the Bay Area News Group, the environmental group Clean Water Action over the course of 2010-11 surveyed litter items, some of which will inevitably wind up in local bodies of water, at six regional sites. Two of the locations were in South San Francisco (trash from which will end up in Colma Creek, the group says), two in Richmond (impact on Baxter Creek and Santa Fe Creek), one in San Jose (Coyote Creek), and one in Oakland (Lake Merritt).

One of the more interesting aspects of the survey: Nineteen percent of the trash was “branded,” that is, indentifiable as originating with a particular company. The San Jose Mercury News worked up this graphic of the companies that had their names on the most trash:

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Burger King
  3. 7-Eleven
  4. Starbucks
  5. Wendy’s
  6. Taco Bell
  7. Walgreens
  8. Trader Joe’s
  9. Safeway
  10. Target
  11. Dollar Tree
  12. Jack in the Box
  13. Subway
  14. Jamba Juice

Other findings from the survey: Sixty-eight percent of collected waste came from food packaging. But cigarette butts “were by far the most frequently littered items. They were eliminated from the data collection as it was infeasible to count every cigarette butt.”

From the Bay Area News Group:

In the Bay Area, trash tossed into the street usually ends up in the bay after being blown into urban creeks or pushed into storm drains by heavy winter rains. Hundreds of tons of trash end up in the bay each year.

Worldwide, more than 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources such as urban stormwater, according to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

The group says its next steps will be to develop a guide for reducing food packaging and to work with businesses in reducing the amount of trash they produce.

Yuck, garbage in the water. For a broader look at the problem, check out this “Good Morning America” report from a few years back about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of litter swirling around the North Pacific Ocean. The video is featured on Clean Water Action’s site.

And see this QUEST report from 2010: “Plastic in the Pacific.”


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor for KQED's daily health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED News Fix.

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