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Things They Found in the LA River in 2011

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Every year since 2004, Friends of the Los Angeles River has done a trash analysis at several sites along the 51 miles of the LA River--in 2011, 4,000 people helped collect and sort trash at Steelhead Park, Lake Balboa in the Sepulveda Basin, the Willow Street Estuary, and Compton Creek. Once trash is fished out of the river, FoLAR takes a random sample, sorts it into 15 categories, and measures each category of trash by weight (pounds) and by volume (how many trash bags it fills). At the end of last year, they put out their first "comprehensive analysis of FoLAR's trash sort data to date." In their years of trash collection, they've found "relics of urban life as odd as saunas, phone booths, suitcases, couch cushions, hub caps and wet suits?human skulls, car-halves and even a bloody Santeria sword," but mostly they find plastic, metal, and other unremarkable junk. Here's a breakdown of their 2011 findings by site:

Willow Street Estuary -- In Long Beach where the concrete river bottom stops and freshwater meets saltwater, catches anything other natural-bottom area didn't
-- 10 percent of trash sorted
-- Plastic film made up about 30 percent of the total volume of trash
-- Metal accounted for about 44 percent of the total weight of trash
-- Most common brands: Fritos, Capri Sun, Cheetos, Cup of Noodles, Lay's potato chips, Target shopping bags

Lake Balboa -- A natural-bottomed part of the LA River at Balboa Blvd., it "intercepts trash from upstream areas of the San Fernando Valley, including the communities of Reseda, Winnetka, Woodland Hills and Canoga Park"
-- About 5 percent of trash sorted
-- Plastic accounted for about two-thirds of trash by volume
-- "Other" ("including suitcases and couch cushions") accounted for about 40 percent of the trash by weight
-- Brands found include Natural Ice, McDonalds, Reese's, Fritos, Chester's Flaming Hot Cheetos, regular Cheetos, Sun Chips, Funyuns, and a full can of Coke.

Steelhead Park -- A riverside park by the natural-bottomed Glendale Narrows, with "trees and other vegetation that capture trash passing through from the San Fernando Valley and riverside neighborhoods in the Narrows"
-- About 13 percent of trash was sorted
-- Plastic grocery bags accounted for the most trash by weight
-- Single-use plastic grocery bags accounted for the most trash by volume

Compton Creek -- A natural-bottomed area near the Del Amo Blue Line station; the Creek "drains a 42 square mile area of South Central LA including parts of South Central Los Angeles as well as the community of Willowbrook"
-- "Other" accounted for the most trash by weight
-- Plastic grocery bags accounted for the most trash by volume
-- Brands found include Doritos, Cheetos, Capri Sun, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Coca-Cola

The report notes that "Whereas the larger items --- weapons, phone booths, cars --- seem to have become less abundant, the fast-food packaging, wrappers, bottles and plastic bags of our throw-away culture have formed a consistently large portion of the trash collected during the past trash sorts." They suggest wider plastic bag bans, covered trash cans to prevent trash from blowing away, compostable containers, education, corporate accountability, and lower production of nurdles, those little plastic pellets that can slip through trash barriers.
· A Trash Biography (pdf) [FoLAR]
· Friends of the Los Angeles River [Official Site]