Food Packaging Makes Up Majority of Bay Area Litter

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A recent survey of street litter in four San Francisco Bay Area cities found that 68 percent of litter came from food and beverage packaging. Of the 19 percent of litter where the source could be determined, nearly half originated at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Photo: Creative Commons, by ProfDEH

Nearly 70 percent of litter in the San Francisco Bay Area comes from food and beverage packaging – and much of that litter originated at fast food restaurants – according to a new report released by Clean Water Action (CWA).

Citing the statistic that 80 percent of marine pollution comes from the land, the environmental nonprofit embarked on a six-month survey of trash littered in the streets of four Bay Area cities: Oakland, Richmond, San Jose and South San Francisco. Winds and storms blow litter, along with trash from landfills and open dumpsters, to inland and coastal waterways, where they eventually end up in the ocean.

CAW found that cigarettes were by far the most frequently littered item; in fact, they were too numerous to count. Other top littered items include napkins, food and non-food wrappers, receipts, cellophane wrappers from cigarette packaging, printed paper such as flyers and menus, straws, bottle caps and beverage lids.

READ: Food Companies to Trim Packaging Waste by 2.5 Billion Pounds

While the exact source of waste could only be determined for 19 percent of the collected items, much of this litter came from fast food and convenience stores: 49 percent from fast food stores and 11 percent from convenience stores. The top five sources were McDonalds, Burger King, 7-Eleven, Starbucks and Wendy’s.

CAW determined that 31 percent of the food and beverage packaging they collected had the potential to be eliminated by introducing reusable packaging products in place of items like plastic and paper take-out food bags or plastic utensils. While cities like Seattle are now requiring restaurants give out only recyclable or compostable food packaging, CAW plans to collaborate with local businesses on voluntarily reducing their waste and replacing disposable products with reusables.

READ: Will Calif. Ban Foam Takeout Containers?

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