Litter in Runyon Canyon: An Update

Runyon Canyon TrailOne year ago we began picking up litter in Runyon Canyon and the Hollywood streets near it. For three-days-a-week, for more than 52 weeks, we’ve collected anything we see (and can reach) that doesn’t belong on the ground — or in a tree or on a bush. SINCE PUBLISHING THE ORIGINAL ESSAY, WE’VE COLLECTED NEARLY 3,000 PIECES OF LITTER IN RUNYON CANYON. We’ve also found car keys, cellphones, and about $7 in paper money.

Horrifying amounts of garbage accumulate on the sidewalks beside the world-famous Hollywood Boulevard — which has exactly one trash bin on the blocks near Runyon. Councilman Tom LaBonge is aware of the situation but doesn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. So we’re stepping up to the civic plate until he or his hand-picked successor does.

Our neighborhood’s spectacular nature area is dramatically cleaner than it was last August. Yet, mysteriously and depressingly, the trash never disappears completely; there’s always someone whose sense of entitlement or utter obliviousness of their surroundings allows them to discard their wrappers and bottles and tissues everywhere except a trash bin.

There are also countless other non-littering innocents who can’t be bothered to help fix the situation,Downward Dogs who don't like trash especially if it involves the hardship of bending down to retrieve something in their path. Most folks are too important or busy to pick up trash at their feet. Even the super-conscious yoga people. We get it. But every now and then, someone tells us they’ve been inspired by our lunacy, and they start taking care of the canyon, too. We’re a tiny group — especially compared to the enormous throng of Runyon visitors who still bring plastic bottled water into the park. But by being the change we wish to see — curating a nature area that’s respected and loved by every person who visits — we volunteers are happier than ever to be of service.

We’re happy — even when we suspect the service will last a lifetime, natural beauty being an unnatural phenomenon these days.

The snack bar at the Fuller Street entrance is the largest contributor of raw trash material in Runyon Canyon. After months of procrastination, they’ve finally placed a small recycling bin near their display of chilled plastic bottles and colorful cellophane wrappers. Too bad there’s not also a sign next to the snack bar that says, “FREE water is available from the public fountain 15 feet ahead; refill your reusable container there!” Our national attitude toward the environment is summed up nicely by the unlicensed and unpermitted snack stand’s continued existence: Caring about nature is nice, but commerce always comes first.

Many kind people have thanked us and applauded us. Folks have said they like our style. That’s cool. What would be even cooler? A Runyon Canyon that requires nothing but patrolling vultures and the occasional rain to keep it clean. 

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The results are in!

After nearly one week of highly un-scientific sampling, we’ve collected and analyzed the data. Literally.

During the test period, we visited Runyon Canyon, Hollywood’s celebrated nature area, and collected as much trash as we could carry – two handfuls and four pockets – between garbage cans. These receptacles are spaced about 200 meters apart (or less), conspicuously stationed beside the Canyon’s main hiking path, the paved one that climbs from the end of Sheryl Crow’s front gate on Vista Street to Mulholland Drive and the one-horse-three-car ranches in the Hollywood Hills. The garbage cans are green and have round bubble tops with swinging flaps; they look remarkably like garbage cans.

A surprising number of visitors to Runyon Canyon don’t seem able to locate them. Or maybe they just don’t like them, probably because they’re smelly.

So their trash ends up glamorously accessorizing nature’s plainness, adding texture and color to the browns and greens of living plants.

How much? After four circuits around the canyon over a four day period, we collected 235 pieces of litter. Because that’s all we could carry without doubling back for seconds.

The content ranged from organic materials – like dog poo and banana peels – to materials that are inorganic and impervious to bio-degradation. To qualify for pick up, objects had to be at least the size or mass of a pinky finger, with the exception of cigarette butts, which only had to be cigarette butts. The detritus included many of the usual suspects: plastic bags, candy (or “power bar”) wrappers, and pieces of shoes and shirts. But the grand champions of the litter sweepstakes suggest that the folks who visit (and litter in) Runyon Canyon aren’t the hippest of the hipsters. In fact, they’re consciousness level could be described as “unconscious.”

#1 (71 pieces collected): Plastic Caps for Plastic Water Bottles. Despite the surfeit of compelling (and alarming) information extant, if you’re still drinking bottled water, especially ones with removable plastic caps, you probably don’t care too much about the environment in the first place. So why should a nature area in your own neighborhood be any different from the world at large?

#2 (62 pieces collected): Labels and Wrappers from Plastic Water Bottles. See #1, above.

#3 (34 pieces collected): Cigarette Butts. Despite the surfeit of compelling (and alarming) information extant, if you’re still smoking cigarettes, you probably don’t care too much about yourself or your long-term prospects. So why should a public gathering place be any different than your polluted body? Even if smoking in a drought-dried canyon filled with chaparral is illegal and dangerous?

#4 (28 pieces collected): Plastic Water Bottles. See #1 and #2 above.

#5 (16 pieces collected): Plastic Bags Filled with Excrement. “Look, I put it in a bag, OK? I bent down. I scooped. I picked it up. So what if I flung my feces bomb beneath a bush that’s four-feet off the trail? At least I cleaned up after my dog!”

Our forensic analysis of Runyon Canyon litter has taught us that demography is an inexact and maddening science. For who would have imagined a sample population that voluntarily seeks out exercise in a semi-wild nature area,  a population that overwhelmingly self-identifies as progressive, a population that takes yoga classes, would behave as though climate change and environmental decay is a big problem everywhere except Hollywood?

It’s not just the primary offenders, the litterers, who defile the park; it’s also those whose intense attention to their iPhone, or their ear buds, or their girlfriend complaining loudly about how, like, their other friend is, like, so not onboard with her new job – it’s the multitudes of us who don’t actively litter but can’t be shaken from our apathy (or self-regard) to make one of Los Angeles’s genuine treasures a little better place than how we found it.

On our garbage collecting hikes, we noticed (with some dismay) how few of our fellow hikers bothered to pick up trash that was almost directly in their path, even when someone else – us – was providing a useful visual example of how one picks up trash. But then we watched many, perhaps most, of the visitors to Runyon Canyon leave the park and get into a car, or something bigger than that resembling a tank with seating for seven (invariably occupied by one). These are folks who drive an automobile in order to exercise. And we realized that it would be unfair to ask people to care about litter when we accept and subtly encourage constant littering of our air and water.

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2 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    The snack bar at the Fuller Street entrance is the largest contributor of trash in Runyon Canyon. (NO–LAZY, DISRESPECTFUL PEOPLE ARE THE LARGEST CONTRIBUTORS OF TRASH AT RUNYON CANYON AND EVERYWHERE). After months of procrastination, they’ve finally placed a small recycling bin near their display of chilled plastic bottles and colorful cellophane wrappers. Too bad there’s not also a sign next to the snack bar that says, “FREE water is available from the public fountain 15 feet ahead; refill your reusable container there!” (HAVE YOU EVER TASTED THAT WATER? WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO DRINK IT?) Tap water can contain a vast array of contaminants, but a handful showed up repeatedly in drinking fountains:

    Lead, which enters drinking water supplies from the corrosion of pipes and plumbing fixtures and can cause brain damage in infants and children
    Pathogens (germs) that can make people sick, especially those with weakened immune systems, the frail elderly and the very young
    By-products of chlorine treatment such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, which may cause cancer and reproductive problems
    Arsenic, which may cause cancer, serious skin problems, birth defects and reproductive problems
    Radon, the rocket fuel perchlorate and other carcinogens or otherwise toxic chemicals

    • More accurate description: The Fuller Street snack stand is the largest contributor of raw trash material in the Canyon. We’ve amended the text.

      I have indeed tasted the public fountain water — approximately 8-times-a-week for 21 years. Why would anyone want to drink it? Because aside from taste (which is subjective), the fountain choice is altogether better than the net harm plastic bottled water inflicts on the world. Your list of scary-sounding reasons to not drink public water is straight from the Water Industry propaganda machine, which works best when people are frightened and feel like they need to be saved. The scam has been exposed in numerous books and documentaries. (“Tapped;” “Flow;” “Bottled and Sold.”) But our collective addiction to convenience and comfort is a hard habit to break — especially when earnest entrepreneurs like the Fuller Street proprietors make the bad choice the easy choice.