Cleaning Up Salinas picks up a lot of trash, but litter remains a problem

Erika Santiago uses a trash container at Cesar Chavez Library | Photo, Betsy Navarro

By Betsy Navarro

On an average day, Salinas produces about 575 tons of trash and green waste. That’s more than 1.1 million pounds. And that does not include the litter that doesn’t get picked up.

“I think littering is a major problem in the Monterey County. Littering is harmful to the environment and the animals.” said Ulyses Urias Rivas, a freshman at Alisal High School. And Andrew Funk, a 17-year-old Gonzales High student, said, “I think littering is a really big problem because a piece of trash later on becomes two and then it starts to add up. At the end it is just this problem that everyone faces. It just starts to multiply.”

A major source of litter is illegal dumping but Cesar Zuniga, operations manager of the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, said that trash blown around by wind can also be a problem.  “I would say, yes, litter, illegal dumping, and just wind blown,” Zuniga said. “It is an issue in Monterey County. People are either dumping on purpose or moving stuff out of their vehicle or overflowing trash cans on a windy day. I think driving up and down the freeway or in a city street, there’s a lot of hotspots within the city of Salinas where illegal dumping goes on because it’s either isolated or in an area where people don’t have access to trash cans.”

'Sometimes people drop trash without noticing'

Zuniga said, “People litter because they are not able to pay the disposal fee or they just do not care about what happens with their trash. Sometimes people drop trash without noticing. Other reasons are that people are not aware of businesses that would take their trash and recyclable for a low cost or for free.”

One of the facilities that receives waste with little to no cost for disposal fees is the Sun Street Transfer Station and Recycling Center. The transfer station accepts many items for free. There are fees associated with trash disposal. Some facilities like Sun Street will dispose of mattresses, electronics, recycling and many other objects. 

Much of the trash and litter in the region are recycled items, like plastic bottles and cardboard, that can be resold and reused by the Sun Street Center. 

Litter around the community can be an eyesore and a bad representation of the community. But litter near a water source can pollute our water supply. 

There are many ways to help solve the littering problem. A way to help clean up the litter is by reporting it. You can report a litter problem and then someone will go and clean the litter left behind. It might not be on the same day, but at least the litter will be picked up. 

Another way to help solve the litter problem is by picking up the trash yourself. A person could volunteer in cleanup events and help make a difference in the community. Or they could just go outside and pick up the litter the see on the ground. Another way to improve the litter problem is by becoming an advocate against littering and educating people about why littering is bad for the environment.

If a person informs at least one other person about the littering situation, then they are making a difference.  Every person informed of the littering situation means that there is one less person that litters. 

On its website, the Monterey County Illegal Dumping/Litter Abatement Task Force says, “You will never eliminate illegal dumping and litter but you can greatly reduce the incidence and frequency through long term education and outreach. Success will be determined by your determination and leadership.” 

“As long as you are able to touch at least one person, you’re making a difference,” said Zuniga. “If you can get one person to change their mind frame on the environment and do something correctly, it’s a win because that’s one person less that is going to illegally dump or do the wrong thing.” 

Education is important, he said. “Giving the community the information they need to make an educated choice on what they’re going to do,” Zuniga said. “Let them know there are facilities that take their trash and that they also take a lot of free stuff that they may not know what to do with. This can help prevent illegal dumping and littering.” 

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.