'Unprecedented' trash problem builds up in Pismo Beach

Feb 5, 2021

While a litter problem is not new to Pismo Beach, city officials said the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, and now they are seeking new solutions.

In recent meetings, the Pismo Beach city council has been talking trash—literally. Ben Fine with the Pismo Beach public works department said the city has been facing an unprecedented trash problem ever since the start of the pandemic, and overflowing trash bins have been giving people the emotional permission to litter. 

“So even if I’m not a litterer, once I see that a trash can is full, it kind of gives me the permission to either set my trash right next to the trash can or put it on top or just not deal with it properly,” Fine said. 

The city has set aside funding for more maintenance workers, and will be adding temporary positions to manage the trash during the busy summer months.

But Fine said solving the problem really comes down to finding solutions to human behavior. While the beach trash bins have lids to keep out the seagulls, he’s noted from watching people that there is a psychological factor where people don’t want to touch trash cans that have flaps or lids. 

“People walked up, and I watched them set their trash on top of the can," Fine said. "I also walked up and looked at these cans, and the one thing they all had in common, none of them were full.”

Another problem, Fine said, is people throwing their trash into recycling bins. Once trash is found in a recycling bin during collection, it’s considered contaminated and ends up getting picked up by trash collection instead. 

“Some people just don’t care," Fine said. "People will just throw their trash in whatever is most convenient for them.”

Besides exploring options for different trash bins, the city is also taking on trying to change human behavior by taking part in the Central Coast Clean campaign.

Paid for by a $25,000 countywide grant, social media ads are directed to tourists. One of the Pismo ads is trying to nip the bad behavior in the bud—or butt—as cigarette butts discarded on the beach are a big problem for the city.

“This one says ‘one flick may not seem like much, but taking a few seconds now can prevent thousands of cigarette butts from our beaches,’ help us keep Pismo Beach clean,” Fine said.