Introducing SD Zero and Our Zero-Waste Event Policy

In June 2021, our SD Zero Team was announced as the winner of the 6-month long Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Pollution Challenge. This accelerator program and competition aimed to create solutions to marine and coastal plastic pollution in San Diego, California. Participants included our five team members and many others that are passionate about solving the plastic pollution problem, with diverse backgrounds ranging across academia, nonprofit organizations, government, industry and other sectors.

Our Team members include: Julie Hopper (University of Southern California Postdoctoral Fellow- science educator, researcher and data analyst),  Kristina Phipps (Contract Policy Analyst and Attorney at The Nature Conservancy), Lauren Hackney (MBA Candidate at UCSD Rady School of Management), Tanya Torres  and Jake Reynolds (The Behavioural Insights Team Energy, Environment & Sustainability Policy, UK).

For the first three months, we attended virtual sessions with speakers including policymakers, nonprofit leaders, and scholars. Afterwards, we were split into four different research teams (‘Changing Human Behavior’, ‘Evaluation Solutions’, ‘Data Mapping’ and ‘Yes! In my Backyard, San Diego’), each focusing on specific aspects of the plastics pollution problem. After months of research, the program concluded with a final 2-day competition from June 6th-8th where we were divided into new groups and tasked with formulating an innovative systems approach to curbing plastic flow into the Southern California Bight. 

Total amount of plastic (standardized by cleanup effort) from 2015-20 in San Diego County via the Coastal Cleanup dataset from the Ocean Conservancy. Map Credit F. Bouhedda and J. Hopper, Data: https://www.coastalcleanupdata.org/ . For more figures, see the ArcGIS story map by J. Hopper’s data mapping team.

During the 48-hr challenge, our team came up with a proposal to implement a zero plastic waste event policy paired with a business accelerator which was vetted by 11 distinguished professionals. Our original proposal centers around a policy change prohibiting single-use plastics at large events in San Diego (> 75 people), in addition to a business accelerator program to provide monetary support and resources to help organizations meet the new zero-waste requirements.

The policy will leverage existing event permitting processes and will require events to be single-use plastic-free or pay a fine and undergo zero-waste training. Events that become plastic-free will be certified as an ‘SD Zero Ocean Hero’ to publicly signify their ocean friendly events.

Over half of the litter collected on beaches in California consists of single-use plastic food and beverage items stemming from events, restaurants, businesses and consumers.

Adapted from the California Coastal Commision 2019

Our proposal is centered around research and data demonstrating the effectiveness of product based bans  which remove plastics from the consumer choice context and therefore reduce both plastic usage and the amount of plastic waste that ends up along our coastlines and in our oceans. Similar waste intervention mandates in the San Francisco Farmers Markets have resulted in preventing over 4000 plastic bottles and 1 mil plastic bags from being used and disposed of annually. In another example, Jack Johnson’s ‘All At Once Greening Tour’ (40 concerts) eliminated 36,000 single use plastic bottles and 200,000 single use plastic cups. 

Events provide discrete opportunities for piloting and evaluating the impact of interventions. Our team sees this policy proposal as a starting point and ability to create an early concrete success that can eventually be expanded to other jurisdictions across the nation and globe- ultimately leading to cleaner and healthier oceans.


Stay tuned for updates on our progress in passing this initiative.


Want to learn more about plastic pollution sources and solutions around San Diego County? Check out the data mapping ArcGIS story that our team member, Julie Hopper, presented with her data mapping team earlier in the Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Challenge.