In Late August, the Tijuana City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of disposable plastic bags in stores within the Municipality of Tijuana. This is an important step towards reducing plastic pollution in the city as well as downstream in the Tijuana Estuary and Pacific Ocean. Plastic pollution affects the environment and communities globally. The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR) applauds the leadership taken by the city to improve the social and ecological conditions in our shared border region.
Trash is an enormous problem in the Tijuana River Valley on the United States side. An estimated 3,500 tons of trash was found during the surveying and sampling for the Tijuana River Valley Trash Characterization Study in 2009. Over nine million recyclable plastic bottles were counted during the study. Trash also make its way to the ocean. Ninety- percent of trash in the ocean is plastic.
There is evidence from the California Coastal Commission that banning plastic bags reduces the quantity on our beaches. Between 1988 and 2016, paper and plastic bags made up 7.5 percent of the waste collected during Coastal Cleanup Day. In 2017, a year after the California bag ban, plastic bags made up only 3.1 percent of the waste collected – a reduction of more than 50 percent.
Binational Liaison Ana Eguiarte, with TRNERR Coastal Training Program (CTP), has been working on a binational project to control solid waste that enters into the Tijuana River Estuary. The project is part of the Border 2020 Program and is financed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s North American Development Bank. It is built upon four years of work with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris program. Thanks to Eguiarte’s perseverance and receptive leaders, Tijuana’s plastic bag ban is a tangible result of this project.
CTP staff work for State Parks’ long-term partner, the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association (SWIA). SWIA allows the Reserve to accomplish research, restoration, training for coastal decision-makers, and climate change planning by hiring key research and CTP staff and obtaining large grants to support those efforts.
The Tijuana bag ban could not have been achieved without the collaborative partnership between the City of Tijuana’s Commission for the Environment, Sustainable Development, and Health; private initiatives; and non-profit organizations including Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental, Remexmar, Azul, Fundación Kilómetro 1, WILDCOAST, Surfrider San Diego, Out of the Boat, Naturalus, and Economía Verde Aplicada.
It took just under five months to achieve this ban, no doubt accelerated by TRNERR being a part of a nine-year-running binational network of agencies and non-profits called the Tijuana River Action Network (TRAN). The network holds a series of volunteer events on both sides of the border called Tijuana River Action Month (TRAM). The goals of TRAM are to mobilize community volunteers and groups to become stewards by protecting, preserving, and restoring the Tijuana River Watershed. TRAM provides an opportunity for community members to work together to clean up the Tijuana River and reduce the amount debris that enters the watershed. In fact, since 2010, 3,653 tires and 210 tons of trash have been removed.
The Reserve’s solid waste reduction project activities include a public awareness campaign known as #DESEMBOLSATEBC, translated literally as “Baja California – Get Rid of Your Bags.” The purpose of the campaign is to influence consumers to reduce their use of plastic bags. Additionally, a pilot project was developed in convenience stores to train employees and obtain data related to the number of bags that customers use. Efforts are underway to work with partners to replicate the project in other areas, such as Tecate, as well as provide training and technical assistance to government officials.