Plastic Free July – Week 1

Plastic Free July has crept up on us! Haven’t heard about Plastic Free July? Find out more, here. Why live plastic-free? To improve human health and the health of the Planet. Plastic is made from petroleum extractions and does not biodegrade; it pollutes land, water, and air. Mirobits of plastic can be found in deep ocean canyons and in icebergs. It’s in every plastic beverage bottle you drink.

Once a week this month we will cover the 4 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, ReUse, and Recycle, and include tips for avoiding plastic packaging during the pandemic, which has likely impacted almost everyone’s purchasing habits.

To help us decide what to Refuse, we kept a log of our household’s plastic usage for a month. It’s pretty easy to do: just note the date, the quantity, and type of plastic item(s) that comes into your home. We did ours on a spreadsheet that tallied up the daily totals between 2 people. The first screen shot shows one person’s log for a week.The next screen shot shows the sum of two people’s log by the day and a graph of the numbers.

Another way to keep track is to keep a bucket or basket where you collect all the plastic items that you discard/recycle throughout the month. This gives a good visual representation. At the end of the month, you’ll know a lot more about where you need to focus to change your habits and reduce your plastic consumption.

So what does refusing plastic mean? Ideally this would mean refusing to purchase anything that is packaged in plastic, or made from plastic. Since plastic packaging is generally single-use, and much of it is not recyclable, it is considered one of the worst environmental offenders when it comes to plastic. With Shelter in Place and more home deliveries, more plastic has come into some people’s homes than usual.

Food shopping is an area in which it’s hard to refuse/avoid single-use plastic packaging. When shopping at farmer’s markets, you can bring your own reusable bags or baskets and ask vendors to explore non-plastic packaging options. For example, berries can be packaged in cardboard containers vs. the typical green plastic cartons. Sambrailo Packaging in Watsonville makes cardboard packaging for fruit.

Because grocery stores are currently not allowing shoppers to bring their own bags into the store due to the pandemic, you can put your groceries, unbagged, in your shopping cart and transfer them from the cart to bags at your car or bike, instead of having them bagged in plastic bags at the checkout counter.

If you’re shopping for food online, as many of us are doing during Shelter in Place, you know that this poses its own set of problems with plastic packaging. Look for vendors that use recyclable packaging materials. Fragile items are often packaged with styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap, but what did people do before these items existed? An “old fashioned” and much more sustainable approach was to wrap the fragile item in paper, padded with crumpled or shredded paper, place it within a cardboard box, and then place the box within a larger cardboard box with additional crumpled or shredded paper stuffed in between the two boxes.

It will take time to change your habits and find alternative sources for items that are not packaged in plastic. It may seem overwhelming at times. One approach is to focus on one area of your life at a time, such as “food” or “toiletries” or even “clothing.” It took one member of our group 1.5 years to reduce her household’s plastic consumption by 70%. Just do your best and keep trying!

Here are some great resources for reducing plastic in your life:

Beth Terry, formerly from the Bay Area, has an informative blog and comprehensive book dedicated to living plastic free. The recent film, The Story of Plastic, “takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it.” Berkeley’s Ecology Center is a wonderful local resource.

Rebecca Anaya for the Environmental Justice Committee



URGENT ACTION REQUESTED for June 16 City Council Meeting




Item 7B on the June 16 El Cerrito City Council Agenda is about revenue, expenditures and costs.

COVID-19 and Climate Change

The COVID-19 pandemic has brutally revealed the connection between individual and public health, the economy, and the health of our environment. People of color are most impacted by the coronavirus, polluted water, dirty air, and contaminated soil. Around the world, people demonstrated that they could change their behavior instantly when their health was threatened by an invisible force of microscopic size.

Unlike the coronavirus, the Climate Emergency is a visible, palpable threat: rising seas are already affecting coastal communities that in turn will impact the salinity of bays, estuaries, rivers and creeks. Temperatures are the hottest this year since they have been recorded. Deforestation is causing widespread damage to air, water, and soil quality.

The  Climate Emergency has already started—higher temperatures and another drought year spell trouble for everyone, especially unhoused people and people without access to AC or who are living in places with few windows and cross-breezes. In El Cerrito, our  library and community center have been our cooling centers. Their closure means no place for people to cool down on super hot days.

One benefit of the shelter in place health order has been clearer skies which means easier breathability for people with respiratory ailments and allergies. More wildlife has come out to delight us—birds, bees, butterflies, and more.

UNFORTUNATELY, IT TOOK DESTROYING OUR ECONOMY TO GET PEOPLE TO CHANGE BECAUSE WE WERE NOT PREPARED. El Cerrito did not plan for such an emergency.  We have no alternative power system for the City; we haven’t invested in green business initiatives that could save our small businesses and do good by the environment; we have no alternatives for cooling centers, and clean drinking water; we have no plan for how to feed people should food scarcity occur throughout the community; and we have no local health center.

Despite all this, the City Manager in her June 9 City Council Budget Study Session directive wrote, “ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS This section is not applicable to this agenda item.”  The Consultant hired by the City Manager further put in his PowerPoint presentation, “Foster environmental sustainability citywide” at LOW priority in the short term (6 months).”  In the mid-term he put it at MID priority, and only in 5 YEARS did he assign HIGH priority.

El Cerrito and the world do not have 5 years to start thinking about environmental sustainability. The progress we have made in recent years can easily backslide for lack of attention.

The City has a Climate Action Plan that was supposed to be reviewed this year. With the fiscal cliff our city is working to alleviate, this is the best time to re-imagine our city—not just slash expenses, but how we treat our environment for improved public health, social equity, healthier jobs and a healthier economy.  Here are 4 things that can move us quicker into integrating

-the integration of climate action in all operations by including it in every city government job description

-the City Council Sub-committee on Climate Action report to be released immediately for public discussion and action

-the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 50% by the year 2030

-the city to allow El Cerrito resident volunteers to work with city staff to activate GHG reductions, greening of local businesses, and educating the community

If you believe the City should include climate change actions in its 2020-21 budget as a priority, please email comments by Monday, June 15 to the City Clerk at

Subject heading must state “Public Comments – Agenda Item #7B” in order to be included in the City Council members’ packets.

Let’s advocate for Community Emergency Responsiveness Training (CERT) for Society!

Coal Transport from Utah to Oakland update 11/13/2019

We have been watching the case of Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal LLC against the City of Oakland play out for several years.  This project, started by Phil Tagami and his investment-developer group years ago to reinvent the old Oakland Army Base, was to build a large terminal to accept coal from Utah that will be exported to Asia.  Oakland terminated his lease in 2018 because of concerns over air quality, pollution, and health of residents.

ECP Environmental Justice supports Oakland’s efforts, and Richmond’s as well, to keep coal from crossing through our neighbor cities and causing coal dust pollution that will affect air quality not only for those cities, but ours, and every one of the cities in the Bay Area. Coal dust is dangerous for people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and for normally healthy people too.

For the latest news, see

Please write your elected city, regional, and state officials and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the California Air Resources Board and urge them to support the banning of coal transportation through the State and the Bay Area.

Repeated Pipeline Leaks – Take Action

When El Cerrito Progressives first started meeting, the Dakota pipeline was one of our first environmental justice campaigns outside El Cerrito. Although much of our work focuses on local issues, everything and everyone is connected, whether it’s coal being transported from Utah through neighboring Richmond, plastic being used to serve our food, or pipelines 1000s of miles north and east of us. We wrote letters to the CEOs of the banks that invested in the pipeline and sent letters in solidarity with people whose lives would be affected by the XL.

Reading the Reuters article about the permit that was issued to allow extra pressure beyond the standard in the Dakota pipeline leads me think the Keystone Pipeline permit should be investigated, especially because of the major spill reported on October 31 in the NY Times.

During my visit to Alaska in August, a friend took me to see the above-ground pipe in Fairbanks. I am not an engineer. Although I marveled at how the design and construction could support the pressure and flow rate over 1000 gallons per day, I could see how leaks could occur because of land movement and other acts (e.g., vandalism, which has been reported). There have been leaks along this pipeline, and it is being considered for pipelines coming from the Arctic Refuge after it is opened to drilling.

On Sept 12 it was reported that the Trump Administration cleared a legal hurdle about drilling in the Arctic Refuge, claiming negligible negative impact on the environment. A day later Congress voted to block drilling

Given the multiple leaks and negative environmental impacts of pipelines and drilling along the Alaska pipeline, Dakota pipeline, and elsewhere, the administration’s claim has no foundation.

Take a stand against the pillaging of our natural resources for monetary gain and stand in favor of social and environmental wellbeing, whether it’s writing a letter write letters to elected officials, organizations like EarthJustice, NRDC, Sierra Club, and the Audubon Society , donating money, or going to sites to protest.


Barbara Chan
Convener, Environmental Justice Committee
El Cerrito Progressives
Progressive Civic Engagement’



Tuesday, August 20, 2019

7:00 pm

El Cerrito City Hall, City Council Chambers

10890 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito

The El Cerrito City Council will be voting on a Resolution to Declare a Climate Emergency and to endorse emergency mobilization efforts to restore a safe climate.   The core elements of the proposed Resolution include:

– citywide climate emergency education and actions that can be taken to transition to zero greenhouse gas emissions;

-reduction of city greenhouse gas emissions to zero as quickly as possible within the forthcoming Climate Action Plan Update; and

– support for climate emergency mobilization and collaboration efforts to reverse global warming at the City, regional, state, national and global levels.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last fall that we had 12 years to maintain the global temperature increase below 1.5C, and that to do this we needed to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.  Governor Brown issued an Executive Order in September 2018 to achieve Carbon Neutrality no later than 2045. We must ACT NOW to address the Climate Emergency!

Support the city council members in joining the 9 other Bay Area cities* and over 900 jurisdictions across the globe that are providing leadership and taking action to address climate change as the global threat that it is. Come to the meeting or write the Mayor and City Council members about why this issue is important to you and encourage the city to follow-up with actions as rapidly as possible:  Mayor Pardue-Okimoto, and city councilmembers;   If you would like your letter to be part of the public record, cc it to the city clerk

The link to the city agenda materials can be found here.

Toward a safe and sustainable climate for all,

The Environmental Justice Committee of the El Cerrito Progressives

*Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley, San Francisco, Hayward, Fairfax, Petaluma, Cupertino and Richmond.  (Other CA jurisdictions include Santa Cruz and Mendocino Counties and the cities of Chico, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.)