Community tackles pollution on North Tahoe beach with rapid response
TAHOE VISTA, Calif. — Thousands of white polystyrene (also known as Styrofoam) balls, each the size of a fish egg, was the last thing Alison Toy and her husband expected to see blanketing the beach at Moon Dune on Tahoe’s North Shore during an evening walk.
Toy quickly spotted the source of the pollution – a butterfly-shaped plush float toy with a burst seam – floating amid the trash on Tahoe’s blue waters. After trying and realizing it was impossible for two people to clean up the spill by hand, she quickly shared several photos to Instagram.
“After being totally devastated, my first thought was, I need to sound the alarm right away,” said Toy, education program manager for the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “The response I got from people on Instagram was immediate and overwhelming. Dozens of people were outraged and wanted to help.”
One of those people was Emily Frey, the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s Citizen Science Program Coordinator. After seeing the story, she put out an emergency call to action to Keep Tahoe Blue volunteers and allies on the North Shore, and to the I Love Lake Tahoe Facebook group. Alyssa Reilly was one person who answered the call.
Reilly, executive director of the North Tahoe Business Association, quickly activated her network. In just a few hours, the cleanup at Moon Dune was in high gear.
Using helpful information from Clean Up the Lake, staff from California State Parks, Placer County and the California Tahoe Conservancy, along with local community members, went to work with rakes, colanders, sieves and trash bags to remove the thousands of tiny polystyrene balls strewn across the shore.
Thanks to a passionate community and strong collaboration, before dusk the faulty product was identified, the spill was removed, and conversations were underway with local businesses and the product manufacturer to prevent the incident from happening again.
“Today we saw how a group of concerned people, working together, can protect Lake Tahoe,” said Laura Patten, senior science policy analyst for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “To Keep Tahoe Blue, that’s what it will take: people taking action on their own, supporting one another, and most importantly, making lake-friendly choices so there’s no mess to clean up in the first place.”
Social media showed its power in connecting people and rallying support. After seeing photos of the exploded float toy, members of the I Love Lake Tahoe Facebook group were able to quickly identify it as a Big Joe Pool Petz flotation device. Staff from the League reached out to the company to flag the issue and demand greater responsibility in how their products are made, packaged and labeled – to prevent future pollution incidents. They also started reaching out to area retailers to get the products removed from shelves. Alison Toy intends to contact big box stores who offer the products to share her story and implore them to take the items out of inventory. Conversations with retailers and the manufacturer are ongoing.
Recent efforts to get potentially harmful products removed from Tahoe stores have been successful. In June, the League to Save Lake Tahoe was emailed with a concern that glitter-filled float toys seen on the Truckee River could be a source of microplastic pollution. Like the polystyrene balls, glitter is a petroleum-based plastic, which doesn’t break down and can be harmful to wildlife and the environment.
After identifying where the products were being sold, League staff reached out and requested the products be pulled from shelves. Cox Family Stores, with locations in the Truckee-Tahoe region, responded quickly and removed glitter-filled innertubes and inflatable float toys from their shelves this week – despite the fact that the stores would not be able to replace the high-demand inventory before the holiday weekend. By admirably putting Tahoe’s environment before profit, many local businesses are helping protect the Lake, which is a massive economic driver for the Tahoe economy.
With huge crowds expected in Tahoe over the July Fourth weekend, individuals can protect the Lake’s environment and natural beauty by joining the #TahoeBlueGooder family and following some simple tips.
Make environmentally conscious choices of what products you purchase and bring to the Lake.
Follow the golden rule for outdoor recreation: leave your destination better than you found it.
Be sure to take away everything you brought with you, or “pack it in, pack it out.”
Dispose of trash properly in trash cans or dumpsters. If cans are full, take your trash with you.
Remove litter when you find it, even if it’s not your own.
Help scientists Keep Tahoe Blue by reporting environmental issues through the free Citizen Science Tahoe app:citizensciencetahoe.org.
For more lake-friendly tips, visit keeptahoeblue.org/tbg.
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