Local organizations address Tahoe’s trash problem
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — From broken sleds left behind by visitors to cigarette butts on the beach and bear-ransacked garbage, there’s no question the Lake Tahoe Basin has its share of garbage issues. Local officials, however, remain optimistic that a host of regional programs will continue to make a big difference when it comes to management.
With Earth Day this week, representatives from local organizations hosted a public discussion to discuss the topic Wednesday, April 20, as part of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s monthly Tahoe Talks Brown Bag Lunch Series. Groups represented on the panel spanned League to Save Lake Tahoe, TRPA, Clean Tahoe and South Tahoe Refuse & Recycling Services.
The consensus? Often it’s unknowing or otherwise negligent visitors who are to blame.
“They tend to produce a lot of trash,” Clean Tahoe executive director Catherine Cecchi said, referring specifically to vacation rentals.
When that trash is left out, it quickly becomes a wildlife issue.
“We’ve found a lot of times people aren’t doing it maliciously,” Devin Middlebrook of TRPA added. “They’ve got vacation brain.”
Cecchi commended increased efforts with ordinance enforcement and public awareness for what she described as a notable improvement.
Her nonprofit organization, Clean Tahoe, has a crew that can also be called on to assist with area trash issues.
“If you see a mess, it’s helpful to report it,” Cecchi said. “Most incidents we respond to are first-time problems and it never happens again.”
During the discussion, Tahoe Refuse material recovery manager John Marchini also noted an apparent increase in bear-box installations in recent years.
“A lot of residents are using them,” he explained. “A lot of residents appear to be going for it.”
In addition to neighborhood trash issues, League to Save Lake Tahoe community engagement manager Marilee Movius noted that holiday weekends continue to be a problem at area beaches and parks.
“A lot of times people will just leave everything there,” she said. “There’s not a lot of thought as to where (trash) will go.”
Through cleanup efforts last year, the League collected approximately 5,000 pounds of trash, including 317 single-use plastic bags and roughly 15,000 cigarette butts. Cecchi encouraged use of reusable bottles and bags at the panel talk.
TRPA recently started a public campaign with clever slogans and cartoon signage to promote trash management. Middlebrook said it has been successful so far, and that the city plans to expand signage this year.
BAG BAN SUCCESS?
During the presentation, Tahoe Refuse’s human resource manager Jeanne Lear addressed the South Shore’s successful recycling efforts. Her organization handled 286.8 tons of recycled goods in 2015.
“The processing these days is so advanced,” she said, describing their ability to sort high volumes of recyclable items.
According to Lear, she noticed a substantial decline in the number of single-use plastic bags passing through Tahoe Refuse. She credited South Lake Tahoe’s plastic-bag ban in grocery stores.
The local facility processed 6.6 tons of plastic film associated with the bags in 2015. That number was down from 10 tons the previous year.
“That’s a pretty impressive number,” Lear said, estimating the tonnage to equate to 5 million bags.
She also noted that a number of non-grocery stores voluntarily opted to refrain from using single-use plastic bags even though that portion of the ban was overturned.
Lear acknowledged, however, that the organization — at least anecdotally — had seen a rise in the number of reusable bags found in the garbage.
“There’s kind of a contradiction there as to whether that’s better or worse,” she said.
California will vote on a statewide plastic-bag ban in November.
For information on volunteering for area trash cleanup projects, contact visit http://www.keeptahoeblue.org.