Last week in Baker Beach, Anna Kauffman picked up 23 pieces of plastic, the same shape as small blooming flowers, in just 20 minutes. The pieces were scattered on the sand and tangled in reeds.
At first, Kauffman guessed that the litter came from champagne bottles. Now she knows it’s shotgun wads that appear in large numbers on the beaches of San Francisco this time of year.
“Some hunting seasons correspond to the rainy season,” Kauffman, a local volunteer
Chapter Surfrider, told me. “The hunters shoot over the water and judge the wads, which land between
20 to 40 meters, unrecoverable. Then the tides chase them and they end up on the City’s
Although Kauffman would like the flow to stop, she doesn’t blame the hunters. Generally, hunters
understand that healthy ecosystems are essential for wildlife populations and their experience. Many
switched to using lead-free ammunition before regulations required their use. Unfortunately,
cardboard or felt discs – used to separate shot from powder – do not work
well with steel ammunition alternatives.
Although plastic rifle wads offer a solution, they are also harmful to the environment. According
to the data that Kauffman and others have mapped on the Surfrider website, beaches around the world
are strewn with wads. They release chemicals into water and land and harm wildlife.
Policymakers are responding to the plastic crisis by enacting blanket bans, such as the
The European Parliament ban on single-use plastics and Berkeley’s new order
requiring reusable or compostable dishes. These important regulations unnecessarily stop
waste streams and curbing thoughtless consumption.
But a ban on plastic shotgun shells doesn’t make sense — at least, for now. While it is usually
possible to sip soda without a straw, banning wads would be tantamount to banning 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 dedicated to using cartridges that they know will work well for them,” Holly
Heyser of the nonprofit California Waterfowl told me. “For people to buy something new,
you need to make it as simple as possible.
Heyser has cartridges tested with biodegradable wads produced by GreenOps Ammo.
In his experience, they work well. She also appreciated that the wads sank in the water and
biodegrade in six months, rather than floating like their plastic alternatives. This feature makes it
less likely that seabirds mistake bundles for squid and eat them.
Heyser’s fellow hunters – and many more – want to try the cartridges made by
GreenOps Ammo, but they are hard to find. Although seashells are available on the Internet,
California began banning online ammunition sales in 2018. For hunters to buy alternatives
— and stop the proliferation of plastic litter on San Francisco beaches — GreenOps Ammo and
others will have to start selling in stores.
It’s a goal that Jason McDevitt, CEO of the company, strives to achieve. Last week he attended the
“Shot Show” in Las Vegas, an annual industry event. McDevitt described it as “overwhelming”
and an important opportunity to seek partners who can help your business grow. While he
supports the necessary regulations, the cost of materials, taxes and competition make it difficult
his business to scale.
“There is a general feeling that unconventional plastic wads are going to be a very big problem,”
McDevitt told me. “We were gratified by the response from the hunters, who were very
favorable, and we have been contacted by small businesses and distributors who would like
introduce our product to different countries. We certainly agree with that, even if our
preference is to partner with one of the larger ammunition companies that is already doing business
around the world.
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 suit some San Franciscans. But neither are the city beaches
littered with plastic wads. The multiple environmental crises facing the planet compel us to look
beyond cultural beliefs and politics, and reflectively confront the question: what should
Finished? A healthy planet shouldn’t feel like a punishment.
A question from a reader:
In the past I threw torn and unusable clothes into the Goodwill bag because I was told they were becoming
rags. Is this still correct? If not, what should I do with this fabric? I hate throwing it in the trash.
It’s wonderful to live in a city where so many people hate waste! Our philosophy provides a healthy ground for
options to grow. 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 badly damaged that recycling is unlikely, then San Franciscans should put
them — and any other unusable textiles, like pillows, blankets, and shoes — in the blue bin.
Recology, the City’s recycling provider, asks us to bundle all fabrics into a clear bag and tie the
closed bag. Loose socks and sheets could block the equipment.
You have questions ? I have answers. Email your sorting requests to bluegreenorblack.com.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental lawyer, environmental blogger, and environmental activist who hikes, gardens, and cuddles in trees in her spare time. She is a guest columnist. Check it out at robynpurchia.com