Turning Trash into Something Beautiful: How Artists Richard and Judith Lang Fight Plastic Pollution

 “Judith is absolutely the most generous, open-arms-to-the-world person. But when we’re out on the beach looking for trash, she is ruthless (laughs).

“No, no! That’s not true!”

“She’ll find a beautiful piece of plastic, look back at me, and just wag it in my face!”

Teasing aside, Richard and Judith truly enjoy their fierce competitions to find the “rarest” piece of plastic on the sand. In fact, it’s their way of making up for lost time together.

On their first date in 1999, Richard and Judith discovered something startling: for the last three years, they’d both been combing North Bay beaches for plastic trash, turning their hauls into artwork – without ever crossing paths.

They’ve now spent just under 20 years scouring the same 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach together. Richard says there’s a good reason why they rival each other to find the most compelling plastic. “One has to make a game of this … or you could fall into a deep pit of despair.”

Indeed, “despair” got them started in this line of work. Judith was teaching art at the College of Marin, and she often ate her lunch on a bench facing Richardson Bay. But she was saddened to find the “lovely view of San Francisco” obscured by “plastic debris that would wash in.” One day, Judith started collecting some of that plastic and turning it into art – her way of transforming waste into something beautiful.

Richard had his “a-ha” moment when he was building a nine-foot sculpture out of aluminum for his M.F.A project at the University of Wisconsin. “At the end of it, I was in great despair because the U.S. had just celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970, and I attended at the National Mall, and I was aware of what was going on in the planet, and I thought: ‘I’m using all these materials — for what?’”

Now, like Save The Bay’s plucky Restoration team, Richard and Judith brave “blazing heat and blistering cold” as they work to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the way they know best. The couple also embodies Save The Bay’s spirit of collaboration, hashing out every idea until they feel strongly about the same vision. Judith admits this can entail a bit of “stomping around the house,” but the end result is well worth a little tension: “we both sign our names on every single piece we make.”

Their teamwork certainly bears fruit: the couple’s artwork has been showcased in more than 70 exhibitions across galleries, museums, and educational centers. During Save The Bay’s Bay Day celebration last year, the Langs donated a big pile of plastic so that people of all ages could try their hand at turning trash into art. Judith and Richard were delighted to hear that: “people took to it immediately – no instruction needed.”

Judith and Richard are always glad to see these scraps transform, as the artists believe deeply: “if you don’t give style to something painful, you’re just going to depress yourself.” Indeed, humor has been the driving force in their work on plastic pollution.

As Judith puts it, “we joke that we’re the world’s smallest NGO and we’re not even that well-organized. We’re just people who’ve devoted their lives to 1,000 yards of beach.”

 

From Dodging Cows to Driving Policy: Meet Jody London, Bay Role Model

Jody at Save The Bay restoration event

“There was a dairy ranch between my house and the middle school. I had to cut through the field every day, and on foggy mornings, I would sometimes not see the cows until they were just a few feet away.”

But Jody London was only dodging cows as an eighth grader. The following year, that San Jose ranch turned into a subdivision. Our former Board President says she couldn’t help but wonder: “where all those cows went.”

With development more and more on her mind, Jody refined her writing skills, reporting for her high school newspaper and majoring in English at UC Berkeley. All the while, she was “finding a way to use those communication skills for a higher purpose.”

Soon after college, Jody found her foothold in environmentalism, “working with the EPA on Superfund sites, one involving mercury in the Guadalupe River” running through San Jose. However, like Save The Bay’s courageous women founders, Jody wanted to drive change – not watch as others made the tough calls.

“As a consultant for the EPA, I would submit my best work to the decision-maker, who would modify it. One day, I thought: ‘I want to be the decision-maker.’” That’s when Jody turned the tables, earning a master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia University and starting a job with the California Public Utilities Commission.

Jody’s favorite view, Claremont Hotel

Jody says her work on Save The Bay’s Board (1999-2008) profoundly shaped her leadership style. “I think a lot about [Save The Bay founders] Sylvia, Esther, Kay, and their willingness to keep pushing: ‘you don’t wanna do this? Who else do I talk to’?” Jody says Executive Director David Lewis served as quite the model of tenacity.

“For Measure AA, David had that vision for 15 years and just kept working on it. He would let it go and pick it up again, putting pieces in place over a very long time, drawing on all the resources he could. It was brilliant.”

Jody showed similar patience – and persuasion – fighting to reduce plastic pollution as an Oakland School Board member. The goal: get Styrofoam out of school lunches. “I did my research and figured out where the contract was, and I framed the issue very simply to my colleagues on the School Board before our vote: ‘look, there’s a giant patch of garbage in the Pacific, and you don’t want to contribute to that.’” They got the message: Styrofoam was banned in a 6-1 vote.  

As Sustainability Coordinator with Contra Costa County, Jody now spends much of her time working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — also a focus area of Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities vision. She’s promoting idle-free driving as a simple first step for everyone behind the wheel.

Volunteers from Temple Beth Abraham

But Jody doesn’t stop at steering policy campaigns; she’s also empowering the next generation of environmental advocates. For more than 15 years, our former Board Member has been bringing young people from her synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham, out to the wetlands for volunteer events.

The groups have pulled non-native plants, collected seeds from our nurseries, and removed harmful trash from the shoreline. Jody says it’s been really rewarding to “see Arrowhead Marsh change, with the growth of native plants – what a feeling of accomplishment.”

In true Save The Bay style, Jody says the collaborative aspect is the most invigorating part: “the satisfaction comes in how you were able to bring other people along with you, so they understand the environmental issue and how important it is.”

***We are thrilled to feature Jody and other Bay role models at a special event honoring Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis on August 30 in San Francisco. Learn more at sfbayactionfund.org.

Spotting Turkeys, Shaping Tech: Meet the Bay Heroes of IBM

“I’ve been hiking the hills around here lately with co-workers, and we see a lot of turkeys.”

In the beginning, these birds came as quite a surprise to Danielle. She’d never spotted them on the sidewalks of New York City, her home before she started a job at IBM’s Silicon Valley Lab. Danielle would soon find that this tech campus, tucked away in hills south of San Jose, also boasted a bird nesting program and a butterfly garden.

Not surprisingly, Save The Bay sensed a kindred spirit from the start in IBM, a key Bay Day sponsor.

Thanks to IBM’s generosity, thousands of people will be able to celebrate San Francisco Bay at dozens of events across the region this Bay Day – October 6, 2018. In its third year, Bay Day seeks to empower everyone to #BeaBayHero and protect our breathtaking home.

More than 100 IBM employees did just that at a recent restoration event on the SVL campus. In two hours, these dedicated volunteers transplanted more than 5,000 seedlings – a major step toward building wildlife habitat.  Along the way, we chatted with many of the Bay Heroes who make up IBM: employees and interns with an equal passion for nature and technology.

We hope they inspire you to DIG IN at restoration events, tour a historic harbor at Portfest, register to VOTE for our Bay, explore 50+ community events, or DONATE to protect our home for generations – this Bay Day and beyond. Learn more at www.BayDay.org. Meet:



Juan 

Like Save The Bay, Juan believes small steps can make a major difference in reducing pollution.

“At home, I always tell my little sisters to fill up their water bottles and reuse them – not to buy plastic ones and toss them, because that hurts the environment.”



Sushmita 

Sushmita  believes deeply that we must be the voice for vulnerable wildlife. She’s right with Save The Bay in encouraging people to Iearn how their health and our health are intertwined!  

“The web of life — animals, people, plants — we all are a part of it. The more people go for walks and see the rarity of certain species, the more they’ll use their voice to protect them.”



Natalie 

Natalie takes after Save The Bay in bringing diverse communities together to protect the environment. She’s amazed by the connections people make volunteering outdoors.

“It gets people out of their hustle and bustle of the lab and pressure of the lab, talking about different things. Somebody might not realize, ‘hey, we both love to garden.’”



Vamseedhar 

Just as Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis enjoys walking his dog by the shoreline, IBM’s Vamseedhar is also convinced: outdoor spaces refresh us! He finds them key to his work-life balance.

“Nature gives you piece of mind. It gives you good sleep at night. Computers don’t do that. (laughs). It’s why people should have a mix of being indoors with tech and outdoors with nature.”

We couldn’t agree more with Vamseedhar! Bay Day, after all, is about celebrating San Francisco Bay – its people, wildlife, and remarkable natural beauty. That’s why food trucks, live music, and kayak trips are just part of the fun in store for Bay Heroes on October 6th! We’re so grateful to IBM for making all of this possible.

How can your company show its true Bay Hero colors and sponsor BAY DAY like IBM?

Learn more at BayDay.org/

Want to be a BAY HERO and support Bay Day today?

DONATE

Saving The Bay with Local Companies: Why a Former Staffer Got us Outdoors with Autodesk

Seth goes fishing off the coast of Marin County

“I’ve always had a love of nature, but my work at Save The Bay introduced me to the wonder of wetlands, which were off my radar before.”

A native of Marin County, Seth Chanin grew up just a block away from San Francisco Bay. As a kid, this former Save The Bay staffer spent weekends roaming the beach, kayaking the Bay, and biking rugged hillsides.  As an adult? Nothing’s changed for Seth. “Water really is a place of reflection, of solace for me.”

It’s why Seth spent his college years studying Environmental Science and Economics, the ideal combo for a self-described “business hippie.” Yet, Seth says it was his former role as Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Program Manager that inspired him to “always look at the landscape through ecologist’s glasses – understanding that we have increasing human populations, increasing demands on the land, and new challenges posed by climate change.”

Now, as Autodesk’s Employee Impact Engagement Manager, he seeks volunteer opportunities for his colleagues that are bound to spark a “high-impact experience.” Seth hopes these volunteer events “will open their eyes to important work being done in their communities, so they come back and do skill-based and pro bono volunteering with organizations like Save The Bay.”

Autodesk employees get outdoors to transplant seedlings

He’s convinced non-profits and leading Bay Area companies have much to gain from connecting – when they actually do connect. “There’s a huge need on non-profit side, resources and good intentions on the corporate side, but they’re often like ships passing in the night.”

Yet, Save The Bay and Autodesk recently broke through the barriers, proving these partnerships don’t just spark change – they get people smiling.

Of course, there was plenty of prep involved to share our work fighting threats from climate change. Save The Bay’s Restoration team essentially brought an entire nursery to the Autodesk campus. It meant sterilizing all the soil and pots it would take to transplant 10,000 seedlings.

Somehow, they got it done in time for 200 Autodesk employees to head outdoors last Thursday and help us transplant all 10,000. Their hard work translates to roughly 25% of the plants we’ll install for the year. Save The Bay’s Restoration staff was thrilled to share the science and importance of wetland restoration with so many new faces.

Seth pitches in with a former colleague at Save The Bay, Kristina Watson (photo credit: Ray Mabry)

The event fit right in to Autodesk’s Global Month of Impact and their offices happen to be just 15 minutes from our Bel Marin Keys restoration site where we’re using cutting-edge technology to build up more than 40 acres of wetland habitat.

Better still, Seth says he can already envision some long-term opportunities for both parties. “It’s exciting to expose our employees to something new and get them thinking about the design aspect of ecological restoration – because they make the tools used to design and make just about anything, including the barriers that will help protect Bay Area communities from rising waters.”

Save The Bay, meanwhile, looks forward to even more volunteer partnerships with Bay Area companies. We couldn’t agree more with Seth when he stresses: “it’s an important time to think about what’s happening in our backyard – and to apply our skills right here to solve those problems.”

Gratitude from the Ground Up: Meet the LightHawk Pilot Saving the Bay

Mike delivering flood relief supplies in Bangladesh

“I don’t like to climb mountains or go up walls. I just like to fly. It’s a neat feeling – controlling a plane in three dimensions. You get a neat view of the world.”

Mike Venturino has enjoyed this “neat feeling” for more than fifty years, and he recently won the highest honor in his industry: the Wright Brothers FAA Master Pilot Award.

Save The Bay couldn’t be prouder to have Mike at the helm of our LightHawk flights, ecological tours that highlight San Francisco Bay’s pressing threats from an aerial perspective.

Modest to the core, this Berkeley native would never boast that he pulled off his first solo flight at age 16 – before he got his driver’s license. Mike wouldn’t show off about holding two degrees from M.I.T. He’d be the last to mention his volunteer work with Angel Flight: regularly flying people hundreds of miles, free of charge, so they can receive much-needed medical treatment.

Mike with his stepdad, John Sparks

Mike caught the flight bug back in the 1960’s. It started when a man named John Sparks was pulling out every stop to woo Mike’s mom, a stewardess. John was so intent on marrying her, that he actually bought a small plane and took flight lessons. But once the couple said: “I do,” John no longer had an eye for his Cessna-175.

A teenager at the time, Mike felt differently from his stepdad. He couldn’t wait to take the small plane for a spin. “It just seemed like a cool thing you do – thought I’d give it a try. You ride bicycles, you drive things – obviously people fly planes.”

Mike started taking lessons, and he rapidly made his way from eager rookie to Air Force pilot to flight engineer, instructor, and consultant. Looking back on his 50 years of flying, Mike is glad the industry values collaboration more and more.

He says pilots are now “expected to put a lot more thought into acquiring data to solve problems. Your job isn’t to turn info off, but to solicit information [from the crew.]”

Mike has flown his wife across the U.S. four times!

Mike really enjoys learning from his LightHawk passengers. “Over King Tides, you can tell when you talk to people you’re flying with – this is important. I’m certainly now more aware [of environmental threats to the Bay] than I was ten years ago.”

Mike and his wife Michelle, a retired journalist, often walk Redwood City trails and express gratitude for their rewarding careers. “We both had jobs that made us happy to get up in the morning.”

But when Mike’s not “flying a massive machine through the sky for fun,” he still finds plenty of contentment at ground level. Indeed, it’s the simple moments that make Mike feel most grateful: “singing in church choir, playing ‘amateur’ music, going to Disneyland with my grandson, and, right now, I have a cat on my lap, and she’s been with us for 16 years, so… that’s pretty satisfying.”