Clean Roads Start with YOU: Simple Ways to Reduce Pollution

Photo Credit : Alan Dep, Marin Independent Journal

By: Vicki Dehnert

The debris you see on the shoulders of our Bay Area roads is more than just unsightly. It’s also a threat to our environment and natural habitat.  I co-founded Marin Clean Highways to help address this issue in Marin County. I’m also excited to partner with Save The Bay to highlight the failure of Caltrans—the agency in charge of our state highways—to keep Bay Area roads clean and prevent trash from polluting the Bay.

There are actions your community can take to improve areas that are not under Caltrans’ control.  In Marin County, we created a consortium, “Clean Marin” comprised of many other local organizations concerned with the environment (my organization, Marin Clean Highways, is just one of several).  By banding together, we now have a more powerful voice when we speak with our elected officials about our environmental concerns. We were so successful in growing our base of organizations that Marin County Department of Public Works now spearheads our efforts — a perfect example of private-public collaboration.

Our Successes are a blueprint for your successes.

Here are four strategies to rid your community of trash and save the Bay.

  • Push to get highway shoulder areas adopted through Caltrans’ “Adopt A Highway” program.

Keep a close eye on the adoptee areas—we found a few were underperforming with minimal cleanups and asked Caltrans to intervene. We are happy to report that things have improved.

  • Sound off about illegal unsecured loads being carried in the back of pickup trucks.

Debris spills out of trucks daily, and although state law requires loads to be secured, the law is often not enforced by local CHP due to workforce shortages. Our community is looking at ways to raise funds needed for hiring off-duty CHP patrol officers to specifically enforce these laws. Also, through our efforts, our local waste management company allows us to distribute tarps and educational materials to unsecured trucks entering their facility.

  • Rally local businesses and residents to raise funds that will help remove weeds and trash from highways and frontage roads.

In Marin County, many of the frontage roads to Highway 101 are full of trash and weeds. Marin Clean Highways raised funds from businesses and residents to contract with the San Rafael Downtown Streets Team to pick up frontage road litter on a weekly basis. What a difference this has made!

  • Attend city and county meetings to let your elected officials know how important clean highways are to your community.

In recent years, city and county budgets were pared down, and litter cleanup is not a priority. Share your sentiments and concerns with elected officials that serve your community.

We have a long way to go to get the clean roads and environment we want. But when we work together, across the nine Bay Area counties, our local success, however small, can become something much greater and help make the Bay Area better.

As Co-Founder of Marin Clean Highways, Vicky Dehnert is on a mission to reduce trash pollution across the Bay Area. She is a former educator who switched gears to high tech. Vicky has called Marin home for the last eight years.

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.”

 

Update: Water Board Agrees To Explore Trash Enforcement

At the Regional Water Board’s March 14th meeting, our Executive Director, David Lewis, addressed the Board and told them that over 3,000 Save The Bay supporters (and growing!) are calling upon them to take enforcement action against Caltrans for allowing trash to flow unabated into local creeks and the Bay. Good news: the Board did not hesitate: Chair Terry Young asked staff to compile information about enforcement options and present them to the Board this summer. While this is a promising step forward, we need to keep the pressure on. Sign our petition today and share with a friend!

The Board also expressed concern about the cities and counties that failed to meet the 70 percent stormwater trash reduction requirement last year, some of whom are years behind schedule and continue to allow toxic levels of trash to flow into storm drains and out to the Bay. The Board asked staff to explore enforcement options for these entities as well, including immediate installation of trash capture devices in storm drains and proof that funding for trash abatement has been secured.

We will keep you updated on progress toward Zero Trash in the Bay. Thank you for your support!

Celebrating Bay Heroes: Meet The Family Behind “Drain Robot”

Ocean Beach cleanup, photo: Aaron Hazlewood

“I’m not sure how Will came up with ‘Drain Robot.’ We have fish named Sharky and Stripey? I think 5-year-olds just have a really good knack for names.”

Eva Holman’s voice lifts when she describes her son’s passion for sweeping up trash in their neighborhood, his decision to “adopt” a nearby storm drain and name it: “Drain Robot.” But she deserves at least a little credit for these accomplishments.

Eva, after all, has two undeniable talents: naming campaigns and preventing pollution. A recent example blending both? “Plastic Straws Suck.”

A San Francisco native, Eva has “always been a beach person.” But she didn’t catch the “beach cleanup bug” until her 30th birthday. Eva was celebrating with friends in Indonesia when she spotted something she’s never been able to shake: “cows living on piles of plastic water bottles.”

“Message in a Bottle” artwork made by Bay Area students

Eva headed back to the states intent on sparking change. For two hours every morning, Eva walked Baker Beach with her dog Guinness and picked up every piece of garbage she could find. “Soon, I’d be carrying a huge black plastic bag full of trash, like Santa Claus.”

From the get-go, she and her husband, John, taught Will about the consequences of littering. At a very young age he grew fond of sweeping debris away from the storm drains along their block. Eva recently learned Will could adopt a drain through Adopt-a-Drain San Francisco. “They gave him some training, a vest, and tools. I was delighted to see Will empowered, almost like having a policeman or fireman outfit on. He feels like a pro when he’s out there.”

Eva also gives presentations in Bay Area schools to ensure many more children feel capable of making a difference. During a visit to a largely Spanish-speaking school, a teacher translated as Eva discussed the dangers plastic straws pose to local wildlife. Afterward, Eva chatted with a student whose dad was a restaurant worker, and “you could see a light bulb go off: ‘oh, I could talk to my dad and maybe… they won’t use those at his restaurant!”

William sweeps San Francisco City Hall!

A few weeks ago, as part of her work with Surfrider San Francisco, Eva joined colleagues and volunteers to host Message in a Bottle, a 3-day event featuring 1,000 pieces of art (made partly or wholly from trash!) created by Bay Area students. The works were displayed in the Venue at the Palace of Fine Arts, where, Eva admits: “my favorite part was actually seeing tourists” wander in. “I watched them go: ‘I think this show’s about the ocean. Oh, no, it’s about plastic pollution.’ Tourists use plastic to-go cups, lots of plastic, not thinking about it. So, to hear that narrative change – we really met our mission.”

Needless to say, Eva and William have a little trouble relaxing with so much trash pollution to tackle. When Will received a commendation from a San Francisco Supervisor for his work around “Drain Robot,” he saw his prize — a broom — as a tool. Eva says it was “pretty hilarious” to watch her 5-year-old suddenly take his broom, “and, this is a real symbol of what Will does, he went around city hall sweeping up the floors.

But mother and son have much in common. Describing her walks down Baker Beach, Eva confesses: “I would love to say my brain quiets down, but actually it’s when sparks go off – the need for revolution and change occurs.”

The Next Leap Forward for San Francisco Bay: Restoration Funding and Other 2018 State Legislative Priorities

With the 2018 state legislative session now underway in Sacramento, we are working hard to advance our top priorities for protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay. Our ambitious agenda is focused to achieve meaningful progress on our most important issues – from wetlands restoration funding to reducing stormwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – so that our Bay and Bay Area communities remain clean and healthy for future generations.

Bay Restoration Funding

Two years ago, we did what no one thought possible – we led an overwhelming majority of Bay Area voters to pass Measure AA, a $500 million investment in restoring the health of San Francisco Bay. Despite this momentous victory, Measure AA will cover only a third of the estimated cost to restore the tidal wetlands awaiting action around the Bay. It is now the state’s turn to step up and invest in San Francisco Bay restoration, ensuring that this natural treasure remains clean and healthy for future generations. Securing a significant investment in Bay restoration from the state is our top legislative priority.

Funding the full cost of restoration has long been a priority of Save The Bay, and there is more urgency than ever to get it done. As prospects for winning federal funding are currently poor, state matching funds are crucial to accelerating the pace of restoration so that the wetlands have adequate time to accrete ahead of rising sea levels that threaten to swamp them and make restoration impossible. Restoration projects can take years, and the pace of our changing climate compels us to act now.

We have a tremendous opportunity to win significant funding in 2018, working closely with our state elected officials to put together a financing package of $50 million in dedicated funding for Bay restoration projects. With a strong groundswell from you, our supporters, we are confident we can make real progress this year.

At a glance, here are our other major legislative priorities:

Bay Smart Communities: Restore Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) Funding

The Governor’s 2018-2019 Budget proposes zeroing out GGRF funding for key programs that support the establishment of Bay Smart Communities – environmentally just communities with housing and infrastructure that is ecologically sound, climate resilient, and improves access to the Bay. Urban greening, urban forestry, and climate adaptation programs play a vital role in advancing Bay Smart projects around the Bay, which produce multiple benefits like pollution reduction, water conservation, and urban open space for public recreation and public health improvement. We will work to ensure that the Legislature fully restores these funds in this year’s budget.

Keeping Trash Out of the Bay: Holding Caltrans Accountable

As cities across the region do their part to reduce the amount of trash that flows into the Bay, Caltrans is shirking its responsibility to keep litter out of our waterways. This state agency, which is responsible for maintaining California’s state roads and highways, has failed to address the trash problem in its jurisdiction, placing the burden of compliance on cities. Save The Bay is demanding the Regional Water Quality Control Board force Caltrans to comply with the Clean Water Act and clean up littered roads and install trash capture devices before the garbage piled up on its thoroughfares pollutes our Bay.

Reducing Plastic Pollution in Our Waterways

Each year during beach and river cleanups around the state, the biggest sources of trash are plastic items like cigarette butts and plastic beverage caps. If we can target the problem at its source, whether by discouraging smoking in places where cigarette butts can end up in our waterways or reducing the amount of single-use plastic straws we use, we can reduce this plastic trash that pollutes the Bay and threatens wildlife. For this reason, Save The Bay supports a package of plastics bills that would reduce source pollution keep it out of our waterways.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Committing to Renewable Energy

California has led the nation in passing aggressive climate change mitigation and clean energy policies, and we’re looking to make big progress once again in 2018. The Legislature will consider two groundbreaking bills to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and particulate emissions that pollute our Bay and threaten the health and quality of life of Bay Area residents:

  • Senate Bill 100 (de León), which would commit California to 100% renewable energy by 2045.
  • Assembly Bill 1745 (Ting), which would ban all new gas-powered cars in California after 2040.

November 2018 State Water Bond Ballot Measure

Save The Bay strongly supports the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018, a citizens’ initiative expected to be on the statewide ballot in November. The proposed bond measure includes nearly $200 million in funding for the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority to accelerate regional wetland restoration projects, in addition to funding for projects that improve water infrastructure, ensure reliable delivery of drinking water to underserved areas of the state, and restore critical fish and wildlife habitat. This bond would be the state’s largest investment in water infrastructure and wildlife habitat restoration projects since Proposition 1 passed in 2014. We are seeking legislative endorsements for its passage.

To read our full 2018 State Legislative Agenda, click here.