Old landfill littering San Mateo County beach with decades of trash

The trash issue stems from an old landfill that was in operation in the area from the 1950s to 1970s, until it was built over.

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Old landfill littering Peninsula beach with decades of trash
An exposed old landfill is littering San Mateo County's Mussel Rock Beach with decades of trash.

DALY CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- Watching the sun set over the ocean at Mussel Rock Beach, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd found a little piece of heaven.

But just under the surface of all that natural beauty is a persistent and worsening problem.

Trash, and a lot of it, making its way down the bluff and towards the beach and water.

"We can't treat the ocean like a supermarket and a sewer at the same time and expect no problems," said Liz Taylor.

The trash issue stems from an old landfill that was in operation in the area from the 1950s to 1970s, until it was built over.

MORE: Food waste filling up US landfills, creating most harmful greenhouse gas, EPA data shows

Over the decades, natural erosion and other factors have slowly chipped away at the terrain exposing decades of old trash.

"The really scary thing is in many of these old landfills, we don't really know what went into them," Taylor said.

Taylor is the president of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research in Alameda.

She says problems with former landfills are popping up all over the country, with devastating impacts on everything from the local environment to marine life.

"It comes back to us eventually. For people that consume seafood, we're consuming plastic at an alarming rate," said Taylor.

San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa tells us local leaders are well aware of the problem.

MORE: More waste is going to landfills, less is recycled. What's going on?

He believes that due to its massive scale, fixing it once and for all will require outside help.

"The only way we're going to solve it is if we double down with federal and state dollars," Canepa said.

But even with extra assistance, fixing it won't be easy.

"You're talking not tens of millions of dollars. You may be talking $150, $200 million," said Canepa.

For residents who live nearby though, they say they just want something to be done.

"We want to keep the beaches clean for everyone. We want to help build our tourism and stuff like that. That's one thing that helps the community out. We've lived here all our lives and we'd like to show people, look you come to Pacifica you're not going to see trash," said Aidan Harris.

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