After the last Fourth, volunteers posed with 2018’s load of picked-up trash.
After the last Fourth, volunteers posed with 2018’s load of picked-up trash.

Despite the thousands upon thousands of pounds of trash still removed from Lake Tahoe beaches each year following the Fourth of July, preventative efforts undertaken by the League to Save Lake Tahoe have overall made our beaches cleaner.

In 2014, the League, with 120 volunteers, cleaned up 2,260 pounds of trash across six Lake Tahoe beaches. Last year, that number was down to 1,458 pounds.

Instituted last year, thanks to an advocacy effort made by the League, styrofoam products have been banned from South Lake Tahoe businesses. The ban went into effect last October. It’s too soon to tell if the styrofoam ban has had a significant effect on trash reduction at the lake, said the League’s Jesse Patterson, but they hope to have more data by the end of the season. A push to ban styrofoam from the rest of the lake is moving forward slowly but surely.

“Currently, most other jurisdictions are in the education and awareness phase and are still not ready to pass regulations,” said Patterson. “We hope that the leadership at CSLT [City of South Lake Tahoe] combined with the data from our beach cleanups will help encourage those jurisdictions to take proper actions and pass reasonable regulations.”

The most littered items during the Fourth are always single-use plastics and cigarette butts, of which volunteers have removed nearly 25,000 since 2014.

Last year, the League and its volunteers picked up over 8,000 cigarette butts and nearly 7,400 pieces of single-use plastics. This included 708 styrofoam pieces, 244 plastic utensils and 1,196 straws.

Cigarette butts pose a significant threat on their own. They are non-biodegradable, and if they’re not eaten by an unsuspecting creature who calls the lake its home, then they will begin to release toxins into the environment and water once they start to break down.

“Lake Tahoe is too important to wait for there to be proper environmental protections for all litter types marring our beaches,” said Patterson. “The League is using over five years of data from volunteer clean-ups to identify problem litter and hot spots where they keep showing up. That information informs our solutions and education efforts.”

For example, this year, the League is launching a cigarette butt disposal program in partnership with the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association. Disposal bins are “being placed at hot spots along with educational information,” said Patterson. “They are being installed as we speak and will be out there for the Fourth of July.”

League Communications Manager Chris Carney says the best thing visitors can do to keep our lake clean is to abide by the old adage “Pack it in, pack it out,” and use reusables over single use items such as bottles and plastic cutlery.

Last year, several beaches instituted a no alcohol policy for the Fourth, with fines for consuming ranging between $1,000 to $5000. This was in response to acts of violence and public drunkenness local law enforcement was dealing with each year from Zephyr Cove and Nevada Beach.

This year, the following beaches will have an alcohol ban on July 4 from 6 a.m. until midnight: Nevada Beach, Zephyr Cove Resort, Zephyr Shoals (formerly known as the Dreyfus Estate). In addition, Chamber’s Landing Beach will extend an alcohol ban from July 1 through July 6.

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