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

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

California Sea Grant improved the understanding of urban neighborhood trash sources and provided 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 was involved?
California Sea Grant, in partnership with Ocean Discovery Institute, and with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, engaged middle school students in urban trash surveys with the 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, partners developed a standardized trash monitoring protocol designed for urban neighborhoods that would help to define distinct ‘storm drainage-sheds’ within a community to monitor the types, distribution, and sources of trash. 

What was the project and why was 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 worked 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 included week-long “Trash Troop” camps to 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.

What were the project results?
Nearly 300 students engaged with the Trash Troops educational curriculum while navigating in-person public health restrictions. Through this effort, partners created an urban trash surveying method, the Street Trash Monitoring Protocols. Instructions and data sheets are available for groups to collect and monitor street trash. The protocol includes 1) a field-based assessment of trash and other neighborhood features that may contribute to trash levels, 2) a web-based assessment of contributing features, and 3) an in-depth quantitative assessment of the types and amounts of trash collected. The project team created a project and resources page on the California Sea Grant website where the protocol resources and Trash Troop educational curriculum are available for download.  

For more information about this project, visit the Marine Debris Program Clearinghouse.

Last updated Thu, 04/14/2022 - 04:10 pm EDT