At Baker Beach last week, Anna Kauffman picked up 23 pieces of plastic, the same shape as small blooming flowers, in just 20 minutes. The pieces were strewn on the sand and tangled in reeds.
At first, Kauffman guessed that the waste came from champagne bottles. Now she knows it’s shotgun wads that pop up in droves on San Francisco beaches this time of year.
“Some hunting seasons correspond to the rainy season,” said Kauffman, a volunteer with the
Surfrider chapter, told me. “The hunters shoot over the water and judge the bundles that land between
20 to 40 meters, unrecoverable. Then the tides flush them out and they rise on The City’s
While Kauffman wants the flow to stop, she doesn’t blame the Hunters. In general, hunters
understand that healthy ecosystems are essential to wildlife populations and their experience. Numerous
switched to the use of unleaded ammunition before regulations required their use. Unfortunately,
cardboard or felt discs – used to separate shot from powder – do not work
well with alternatives to steel ammunition.
While plastic shotgun wads provide a solution, they are also damaging to the environment. According to
to the data that Kauffman and others mapped on Surfrider’s website, beaches around the world
are littered with fluff. They leach chemicals into the water and soil and harm wildlife.
Policymakers are responding to the plastic crisis by enacting comprehensive bans, such as the
European Parliament ban on single-use plastics and new Berkeley ordinance
requiring reusable or compostable foods. These important regulations stop the unnecessary
waste stream and curb mindless consumption.
But a ban on plastic shotgun stuffing doesn’t make sense – at least, right now. While it is generally
possible to sip soda without a straw, the ban on fluffing would act as a ban on hunting and
filming. The need for certain single-use plastics highlights the importance of encouraging
market alternatives, in addition to enacting bans.
“Hunters are very determined to use rifle cartridges that they know work well for them,” Holly
Heyser with the California Waterfowl nonprofit told me. “For people to buy something new,
you have to make it as easy as possible.
Heyser offers cartridges tested with biodegradable fillings produced by GreenOps Ammo.
In his experience, they work well. She also appreciated that the fluff sank in the water and
biodegrade in six months, rather than floating like their plastic alternatives. This characteristic makes it
seabirds are less likely to mistake meatballs for squid and eat them.
Heyser’s fellow hunters – and many others – want to try the cartridges produced by
GreenOps Ammo, but they’re hard to find. While the typos are available on the internet,
California began banning the online sale of ammunition in 2018. For hunters to buy alternatives
– and stop the proliferation of plastic wadding on the beaches of San Francisco – GreenOps Ammo and
others will have to start selling in stores.
It’s a goal Jason McDevitt, CEO of the company, is working towards. Last week he attended the
“Shot Show” in Las Vegas, an annual industry event. McDevitt described it as “overwhelming”
and an important chance to find partners who can help your business grow. While he
supports the necessary regulations, the cost of materials, taxes and competition make it difficult for
his business to scale.
“There is a general feeling that unconventional plastic tampons are going to be very important,”
McDevitt told me. “We were satisfied with the response from the hunters, who were very
solidarity, and we have been contacted by small businesses and distributors who would like to
present our product in different countries. We are certainly in favor of this, although our
preference is to partner with one of the largest ammunition companies that is already doing business
McDevitt’s business could also benefit from excise tax exemptions or hunting season extensions
for people using a preferred type of ammunition.
Helping hunters may not be suitable for some San Franciscans. But neither do the city beaches
littered with plastic wads. The multiple environmental crises facing the planet force us to look
beyond cultural and political beliefs, and consider in a thoughtful way the question: what is needed
ended? A healthy planet shouldn’t be seen as a punishment.
A question from a reader:
In the past, I would throw ripped and unusable clothes into the Goodwill bag because I was told they were getting
rags. Is this still correct? If not, what should I do with this fabric? I hate to throw it in the trash.
– Jane Weil
It’s wonderful to live in a city where so many people hate waste! Our philosophy provides healthy soil for
options for growing up. Goodwill is a great option. If the tear renders the shirt, pants or socks unusable, the association sends the item to its point of sale for recycling. There they are often reused for rags.
If the clothes are so damaged that recycling is unlikely, then the San Franciscans should put
them – and all other unusable textiles, such as pillows, blankets and shoes – in the blue bin.
Récologie, the city’s recycling supplier, asks us to group all the fabrics in a transparent bag and tie the
closed bag. Loose socks and sheets could block the equipment.
You have questions ? I have answers. Send your sorting requests by email to bluegreenorblack.com.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental lawyer, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest columnist. Find out on robynpurchia.com