Water Quality Improvements
March 30th is National Take a Walk in the Park Day, a day that encourages us to improve our physical and mental health by hiking or walking our favorite trail, park, or neighborhood. But why stop there? While we’re out and about, stretching our legs and clearing our minds, we can take the benefits of a walk or hike even further and improve our community’s environmental health by picking up trash and litter along the way.
Be sure to gather the right cleanup equipment for your walk or hike. Bring plastic bags to collect litter, gloves, and a pick-up stick or grabber if you have one. Face masks and hand sanitizer are also encouraged, and if using reusable gloves, be sure to sanitize between uses. Grabbers should be sanitized after use and before transport or storage. Refrain from touching your face or public surfaces during your cleanup. And of course, it’s always wise for any outdoor activity to bring water (in a reusable water bottle), a hat, and sunscreen.
Pack It Out — Even if It’s Not Yours!
A general rule of hiking is to pack out what you pack in, leaving only footprints. Remember, what starts out on land as litter in our parks, streets, sidewalks, and parking lots is swept into storm drains, creeks, streams, and rivers that lead to the ocean. Be on the lookout for all the varied forms of pollutants around you:
The Big – You don’t have to look to hard to find the larger more obvious trash/litter items like fast-food bags, cups and plastics (single-use water bottles, straws, food wrappers, and fast-food containers). Plastics tend to be the chief item found in ongoing community cleanups. Single-use plastics never go away and break down into microplastics that harm our environment. More recently, disposable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the form of masks and gloves are also appearing in our streets, parks, and beaches.
The Small – Even small pieces of litter can have a big litter impact! Smaller items such as cigarette butts and microplastics may be less obvious but can be just as damaging to our water quality and marine life. They can make their way to our ocean and pollute our beaches and harm aquatic life through ingestion. Cigarette butts which contain nonbiodegradable plastic filters and other harmful toxins, can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to decompose depending on conditions and have been the top pollutant found at cleanups throughout San Diego County since 2007. Equally damaging microplastics (from microbeads to plastic fragments to microfibers) also can take years to break down and are frequently found in the stomachs of fish.
The Icky – Dogs love to join us on hikes, at dog parks, and dog-friendly beaches – just remember to scoop up your dog’s poop! Their waste is full of bacteria and excess nutrients that will contaminate local waterways. Carry extra bags, bag the waste, and place it in trash or pet waste disposal containers. Remember, even in leash-free areas, like fenced dog parks, you are responsible for picking up after your pet. Learn how to make your own doggie bag carrier from upcycled materials here. .
Take Time to Enjoy Your Surroundings! Once the dirty work is done, it’s time to relax and appreciate the natural beauty of your surroundings. The plants and vegetation you see along the way are not only beautiful to look at, but they also serve as a natural way to prevent another source of pollution – soil and sediment erosion. Soil erosion can cause problems for our waterways by filling in streams and blocking sunlight that organisms need to live. For other ways to prevent soil and sediment erosion from occurring at your home, see the County’s Soil & Sediment and Prevent & Control Erosion flyers.The County thanks its residents for their ongoing efforts in helping to beautify the community, protect the environment, and preserve the quality of our waterways and beaches. You can report pollution on National Take a Walk in the Park Day or any other day of the year, at the County’s Report Pollution website.