Taking it to the Streets: Urban Neighborhood Trash Monitoring and Education

Two students sit at a table with rubber gloves on and holding tweezers to pick up a dead fish.

This project will improve the understanding of urban neighborhood trash sources and provide experiential learning opportunities to middle school students in an underserved San Diego community. 

Type of Project: Prevention 

Region: California

Project Dates: March 2019 - June 2021

Who is involved?
California Sea Grant, in partnership with Ocean Discovery Institute, and with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, will engage middle school students in urban trash surveys with a goal of understanding how different characteristics of a city block, such as a residential community, commercially zoned area, or a public space, affect the creation of marine debris. To gather this data, the partners will develop and pilot a standardized trash monitoring protocol designed for urban neighborhoods that will help to define distinct ‘storm drainage-sheds’ within a community to monitor the types, distribution, and sources of trash. 

What is the project and why is it important?
In order to reduce marine debris, we first need to understand what debris is out in the environment and where it’s coming from. While many protocols already exist to monitor debris on shorelines and in waterways, little information is available for urban areas, where dense populations can create large amounts of litter, which can end up in waterways and the ocean.

This project will work with local communities, including students from highly urbanized and under-resourced middle schools in San Diego, California, to better understand the sources of urban debris, identify storm drains that appear to collect debris, and create programs that will educate students and citizens about urban trash. The project will include week-long “Trash Troop” camps, which will educate middle school students and their high school student mentors, while piloting the new curriculum, activities, and trash monitoring protocols. Data collected through this project can inform solutions to prevent litter and leakage of trash through waste management systems.