Residential pollution prevention

Protecting the environment from watershed to San Francisco Bay


cleanbay2-01.svgEBMUD has been the custodian of beautiful watershed lands in the East Bay and Sierra foothills for nearly a century. Close to home, our biologists monitor fish, wildlife and plant species on about 28,000 acres of East Bay watershed lands, which provide needed protection for the natural habitat of a wide variety of plant and animal species, and provide a natural haven for the public to enjoy. Watershed lands surround five local reservoirs: Briones, San Pablo, Upper San Leandro, Chabot and Lafayette, plus one basin without a reservoir: Pinole Valley. EBMUD reservoirs store high-quality Sierra Mountain water that travels in massive quantities through large aqueducts to the East Bay.

These lands have been largely protected from development and human disturbance. From local creeks and watersheds to San Francisco Bay, these open space corridors remind us that nature in our backyards needs our help. Whether you are reading this near water – a river, a creek, the bay – or whether you are miles away in the hills and valleys of the East Bay, know that we all play a role in protecting our watershed and local waterways.

GET THE BIGGER PICTURE: See our flipbook on Watershed to Bay.

Though wastewater treatment removes many pollutants, trace amounts of some substances can persist through the treatment process, with unknown or harmful effects on San Francisco Bay. The wisest solution is to prevent pollution from going down the drain in the first place. Here are some potential sources of pollutants lurking in and around your home or workplace, and what you can do about them.

Wipes clog pipes

wipes-clog pipes.jpg


No matter if the label says "disposable" or "flushable," wipes for household cleaning and personal hygiene should never be flushed. "Disposable" or "flushable" wipes and similar products don't break down in the sewer. Instead, they get tangled and clumped in hair and debris, creating massive obstructions in the sewers. Remember... your toilet is not a trash can!

  • DON'T flush... item such as wipes, sanitary napkins, diapers, rags, towels, hair, floss, cigarette butts, kitty litter and doggy waste bags.
  • DO flush... ONLY the 3 Ps – pee, poo, and (toilet) paper. 

Prevent blockages from fats, oils and grease

Fats, oils and grease (FOG) can block sewer lines, causing raw sewage to back up at home, into streets and the Bay. Scrape cooking fats, oils and grease into the garbage or into your green recycling bin.
Get more information:

Dispose medicines safely

Did you know that when you flush your unused medicines down the toilet, they cannot be fully removed by traditional wastewater treatment processes? That means they can end up in the Bay. The best way to protect the Bay and safely get rid of your expired and unwanted medicines is to discard them at a designated collection site. EBMUD provides pharmaceutical disposal bins at 10 sites. Click here for more details on how to dispose of medicines safely.

Microplastics research

Microplastics2.pngMicroplastics are tiny particles of plastic five millimeters or smaller that are present in beauty products, synthetic clothing, plastic bags, polystyrene foam packaging, and disposable plastic items. Microplastics enter sewer systems through drains and washing machines. Though some are removed in wastewater treatment plants, some pass through and pollute the San Francisco Bay. Wildlife can mistake microplastics for food, causing exposure to pollutants within the plastics or absorbed from their surroundings.
EBMUD has partnered with the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) and non-profit 5 Gyres, which are conducting pioneering research into this emerging issue. A better understanding of the problem in the Bay will lead to better solutions to this complex challenge. For more information, visit SFEI.org/rmp.

Use less toxic cleaning products


Clean it.pngReady to clean out the garage and tackle those tough cleaning projects? Not so fast. Some cleaning products contain toxic compounds that can be harmful to you and the Bay, so it's wise to use less-toxic alternatives, and when getting rid of old products, never pour them down indoor or outdoor drains.

For less-toxic alternatives, see the EBMUD's Customer Pipeline for quick cleaning tips, or for more in-depth information, EBMUD's Clean It Guide (PDF 1.6MB). You can request a hard copy by calling (510) 287-1651. At BayWise you will find an "eco-home" with ideas for keeping your family, and the Bay, healthy — inside and outside your home, as well as a search engine for locations to properly dispose of items you no longer want.

Antibacterial and Antimicrobial Products

Reduce or eliminate your use of products containing triclosan and triclocarban.

Antibacterial ingredients are common in everyday products like hand soaps, dish and laundry soaps, toothpaste, mouthwash, cutting boards and countertops. The American Medical Association reported there is "little evidence to support the use of antimicrobials in consumer products such as topical hand lotions and soaps."

EBMUD has phased out purchases of triclosan and triclocarban-containing products for its facilities. For more information, see the Watershed Management Initiative's white paper on triclosan and the triclosan-triclocarban fact sheet below.

Document Type Size
White Paper on Triclosan PDF <1 MB
Triclosan-Triclocarban Fact Sheet PDF <1 MB

Choose less toxic gardening products

Grow it.jpgLook for less toxic alternatives for fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Never pour gardening products down any indoor or outdoor drain, and be careful to never apply them before a storm.

For tips on environmentally-friendly gardening, check out Our Water - Our World to get an expert's opinion about your pest problem, or find a green pest control operator at Ecowise Certified.

Consider the effects of nanomaterials

Hundreds of products, such as toothpastes, skin creams and sunscreens, contain nanomaterials that may get washed down the drain.
Nanosilver and nanocopper clothing may release metals when washed; nanosilver present in some washing machines, and myriad nanomaterials found in personal care products, can wash into the wastewater treatment system. For this reason, EBMUD does not provide rebates on washing machines that use silver nanoparticles or ions.

Nanomaterials (as small as 1/100,000 the width of a human hair) hold promise for improved medical treatment, energy efficiency, pollution reduction and prevention, and stronger, lighter materials. However, there is little regulatory oversight for products using nanotechnology, little information on how nanomaterials behave in the environment and if and how they degrade over time, and whether they pose dangers to fish and wildlife.
For more information on nanomaterials, see the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Nanotechnology and the Environmental Protection Agency's Nanotechnology site fact sheet.

Dispose of paint, motor oil and other household hazardous wastes properly

Do NOT dispose of household chemicals, such as paint thinner, pesticides, fertilizers or automotive fluids (new or used), down the drain. Take these items to a household hazardous waste collection center. Go to the recycling search tool at BayWise for nearby disposal locations.

Be careful with car care

Wash your car at a professional or "do it yourself" facility. Car wash facilities treat their dirty water to remove most pollutants. Their wastewater is then further treated at a wastewater treatment plant to remove remaining contaminants. Washing cars at home can send soap, grease and other pollutants down storm drains, and directly into the bay. Also, make sure to dispose of automotive fluids at a recycling center or household hazardous waste facility. Automotive fluids should never go down any drain. Instead, use the recycling search tool at BayWise to find a nearby disposal location.

Keep your pool, spa and fountain copper-free

Resolve persistent algae problems in your pool without copper algaecides. Use chorine or other copper-free alternatives, such as polymeric and ammonia-based algaecides and sodium bromide.

Residential Pollution PreventionIf you've owned a pool for any length of time, you've probably dealt with the occasional algae flare-up. Your cure may have included a dose of copper-algaecide. While that may do the trick, it limits your options when it's time to drain your pool.

Copper is highly toxic to most aquatic life. Water containing copper from pools, spas or fountains should never be discharged to the storm or sewer drains. Wastewater treatment plants can remove some, but not all copper from discharges. Reducing or eliminating the use of copper in pools, spas and fountain will better protect our San Francisco Bay.

Here is more information to maintain copper free pools, spas and fountains, so you can ensure your pool practices protect aquatic life in the Bay.

Manage mercury

Dispose of mercury-containing items at household hazardous waste collection centers or a thermometer exchange event. Find nearby recycling locations for mercury thermometers, thermostats, and washing machine switches at BayWise. If you'd like to organize a thermometer exchange for your school, church or community organization, email cleanbay@ebmud.com.