2018-2019 Year of (No) Plastic

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DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH PLASTIC PASSES THROUGH YOUR LIFE?  Last year several members of our Environmental Justice group tracked 1-time use plastic items that flowed through our lives on a daily basis.  It was a real eye-opener. In my 31 days, the number of items ranged from 0 to 18. Besides the obvious items like plastic bags* from the produce aisles of your local grocery store, yogurt containers or water bottles, plastic comes with so many ordinary items we use every day. For example, a Kleenex tissue box has a plastic insert in the opening. I tried soaking it to remove the cardboard so I could put the plastic with my collection of clean plastic film– all plastic film has to be clean and dry and bunched up together in a plastic bag or wrapped together before being put in your grey bin or taken to the Recycling Center. A metal cap on a bottle of sparkling water has a ring of plastic around it. The batteries you buy come packaged in cardboard and plastic. Multiple rolls of toilet paper are packaged in plastic. Produce from Trade Joe’s comes in plastic containers (although now the company is finally responding to customer’s urges to stop that practice–I for one never buy produce there because of the plastic. When you get takeout food, does the restaurant stick in a plastic fork? What implement do you use to write? I would guess it’s a plastic-encased disposable pen. I could go on and on about the data our group has uncovered in more than a year of researching the insidiousness and dangers of plastic.

People were led to believe that recycling solves the problem of our over-consumption of stuff. The fact is that 91% of plastic worldwide is NOT RECYCLED. A recent study by marketing researchers at Citi found that only 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled. And when China declared in 2018 that it would not longer accept our “recyclable” trash because much of it was contaminated and they have their own garbage to deal with, America was stopped dead in our wanton wastefulness and confronted with mountains of so-called recyclables that are now being hauled to landfills.

Why?  Because so many communities, including our own, went to single-stream recycling. That is, we were told to place metal, glass, paper, cardboard, and plastic altogether in our grey bins. This resulted in contamination of many items, making it impossible to be recycled, hence they end up in landfills. Years back people in El Cerrito had to separate our recyclables into different bins; that was in the era before food waste was accepted. Then single stream recycling came into practice and new trucks were designed and built to accommodate one large bin and prevent workers from having to pick up and lift the bins and tilt them into the yawning rear openings of the recycling trucks. What used to take several workers now only takes one worker to run the truck and its grippers that pick up the bin and toss its contents into the side opening of the truck and then set the bin back on the street. When materials are contaminated, purchasers or recyclable materials don’t want to buy them and they have to go into landfill. Not only does this pollute our Earth, it loses money for our City.

Recycle processing equipment cannot handle small bits of plastic. 500 million straws were being used every day in the U.S.; they plus the ubiquitous plastic stirrers and plastic knives, forks, and spoons slip through the machines. And yet they can be found by the 1000s in our creeks, pathways, streets, at bus stops, and blown into people’s yards.

These are just a few of the reasons why last Summer we took our “Skip the Straw” campaign to El Cerrito’s Environmental Quality Committee, an advisory group to the City Council. Although we called it “Skip the Straw,” what we really want is for our city to ban all 1-time use and non-recyclable and non-compostable foodware. In July 2018 we started an awareness campaign at the One World Festival, and collected signatures of El Cerrito residents. We had a contest for people to guess how many plastic straws were picked up at the festival, and gave out organic plants as prizes. We made informal and formal presentations to the EQC, whose members acknowledged that we had done the heavy lifting for them by doing a lot of relevant research, complete with references to problems and cases where cities, states and whole countries are tackling the issue.  We showed them the environmental, health, litter, and economic consequences of so much plastic being used and tossed on streets, in creeks, in parks, and all around town. As a result, EQC set up a sub-committee on plastics and declared 2019 The Year of Plastics.

Other cities are way ahead of us. Richmond passed their food ordinance in 2010 that required food providers to stop using disposable foodware and use recyclable or compostable foodware, encouraging them to provide reusable containers. Polystyrene foodware was banned in 2018. In December 2018 they added bans on the use and sale of all plasatic straws and stirrers by retail establishments, food providers, and transient lodging, and added utensils and lids to the list of disposable foodware that must be compostable or recyclable and applies it to City facilities and events. In January 2019 after a council member  introducing the idea in April 2018, Berkeley passed an ambitious comprehensible Single-Use Foodware and Litter Reduction ordinance.  Among other things, the Berkeley Ordinance includes small items such as plastic packets of condiments (e.g., ketchup), customers are encouraged to bring their own clean beverage containers for takeout beverages or be charged 25¢ for a disposable cups. Disposable foodware must be BPI Certified Compostable starting January 2020. The details about their ordinance are a role model for other municipalities to follow to get to Zero Waste.

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Although we have urged the EQC to work on a comprehensive plastics and non-compostable foodware ordinance, the staff has told EQC and us that they are only willing to work on a plastic straw and stirrer ban this year.

Our belief is that it will take a lot of effort just to go this one small step, and question why we should not design a comprehensive foodware and anti-litter ordinance that supports the healthy and safety of workers, diners and drinkers, and helps business improve their bottom financial line. Rethink Disposables, part of Clean Water Action has helped businesses save money by eliminating disposable foodware.

If you care about the health of our city and its inhabitants, food providers and workers, please join our campaign. Contact us through this website.

Barbara Chan, Convener for Environmental Justice

* For years i have cleaned and re-used plastic bags, like my mother before me, taking them with me to the store. Lately I stopped putting my produce into bags and just pile apples and oranges on the conveyer belt and then put them loose into my large cloth grocery bag or my wicker basket.

 

 

Fix-it Clinics: Reducing waste one repair at a time

20180609_122049Last June’s Fix-it Clinic brought together neighbors and their items for repair, assisted by volunteers at local El Cerrito Library. (Photo Credit: Howdy Goudey) Below read a reprint from the Newsletter of Today at Berkeley Lab, featuring Fix-it Clinic extraordinaire, and El Cerrito Progressive member, Howdy Goudey.

Next Fix-it Clinic @ El Cerrito Library on October 17th, 2018   1-4PM

In Today’s ‘Throw-Away’ Society, Howdy Goudey Works to Create a ‘Culture of Repair’

— By Keri Troutman

Howdy Goudey, a scientific engineering associate in Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area (ETA) has always enjoyed “tinkering,” so he was intrigued when he first heard about “fixit clinics”— community events where people bring small broken items to get free repair help from fixit “coaches.” Goudey now volunteers as a coach with the nonprofit Fixit Clinic organization at numerous Bay Area events.

Fixit clinics, which have become increasingly popular across the nation over the last few years, help people fix all kinds of small items, from broken zippers, toasters, and electric toothbrushes to computer monitors, Blu-Ray players, and microwaves. The clinics are typically held in libraries, museums, and other easy-to-access community spaces, and staffed with an array of volunteer fixit coaches, equipped with tools and sewing machines at the ready.

“The Fixit Clinic philosophy is basically about empowering people to fix their own broken items and reuse them, in an effort to reduce waste and build a ‘culture of repair,’” says Goudey. Participants work alongside coaches to repair their items, creating an opportunity to learn new skills. A central component of the Fixit Clinic mission is to use small appliance repair to shift attitudes about consumption and sustainability.

Hands-on work has also been a part of Goudey’s career at Berkeley Lab since starting as a student here in 1993. Experimental design and setup, along with the inevitable repairs, definitely require tinkering skills. Goudey now spends much of his time doing physical heat transfer experiments and infrared thermography to collect data to validate thermal models that are used to rate windows.

“I grew up tinkering — taking things apart and putting them back together was a fun activity for me; something I did along with my dad,” says Goudey. “These days, it seems like not as many people have that fixit mindset.”

Organizations like Fixit Clinic and The Culture of Repair aim to change that mindset, both among the general population and at the product design level. Both organizations track repair “hacks” and monitor what leaves fixed so they can collect data around what is repairable. “It’s important to look at what kinds of failures are causing people to throw things away,” says Goudey. “And think about whether anything can be changed at the design level to reduce that.”

Go  hereto sign-up for a Fixit Clinic co- sponsored by El Cerrito Progressives, or to volunteer as a coach.

 

ECP Environmental Activists Work to Eliminate Toxins and Reduce Landfill

 

skip the straw
Skip the Straw!

 

The Environmental Justice group’s work this year involves:

  • Reducing landfill by promoting the diagnosis, repair and re-use of items through FixIt Clinics that we co-sponsor with our City’s Environmental Quality Committee and the El Cerrito Library. We held a very successful Clinic on June 9. Our next Fixit Clinic will be on Saturday, October 27 from 12:30 to 4:00PM at the library.

 

  • Eliminating toxic materials in El Cerrito. Plastic presents a health threat to the environment and living beings. It adds to the overwhelming amount of debris found on streets, in waterways, and on land, and in animals that ingest plastic. Micro-bits of plastic are found in humans who drink water from clear plastic bottles.  Plastic can only be recycled once, if at all, and 91% of plastic is not recycled globally. At the 4th of July One World Festival, our group launched our SKIP THE STRAW campaign to eliminate the use of plastic food ware at local food and drink purveyors, lodging, and other institutions, such as schools. We collected 67 signatures on our SKIP THE STRAW petition.

Our goal is to update our city’s Food ware Ordinance by eliminating 1-time use food ware and plastic straws.

After speaking about our concerns during the public comment time at the Environmental Quality Committee’s July meeting, we were invited to give a formal presentation to the EQC about our SKIP THE STRAW campaign on August 14. The presentation, led by Barbara Chan with Anne Ogonowski, Mei Mei Everson, Rebecca Anaya, and Robin Mitchell from ECP’s Environmental Justice group, was very well received.  The EQC acknowledged that we (Environmental Justice) had done much of the “heavy lifting” with our thorough research, providing usable data, compelling business case studies, and resources to move this issue forward.

stork with plastic bagWhile we are encouraging the City to improve the food ware ordinance from a policy perspective, we have been conducting a “soft” campaign with each of us talking to cafe and restaurant mangers and workers about not serving plastic straws with drinks, or using alternative straws.

ECP members are invited to join our group’s work. We meet on the 3rdMonday from 7 to 9PM. If you would like to join us,mailto:inspired@barbarachan.com for location and directions.

Barbara Chan

Convener, Environmental Justice Committee