Guest Post | Reduce your Eco-Pawprint with Beth Terry

On January 1, Alameda County’s single use plastic bag ban goes into effect. The new law prohibits chain grocery stores and pharmacies from distributing plastic bags and requires retailers to charge a minimum of 10 cents for each paper or reusable bag given out. Our office is located in Oakland and many of our staffers make their homes in Alameda County, so we are especially ready to celebrate this bag ban here at Save The Bay. Beth Terry, Alameda County resident and author of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too is as excited as we are. She’s been working hard to inspire people to live plastic free since 2007. In this guest blog from October, when San Francisco expanded its plastic bag ban to all retailers, Beth shared general best practices for reusable bags with Save The Bay followers. In the guest post below, she takes on two of the thorniest issues for plastic users: What to do about trash liners and how to dispose of pet waste.

Dog waste sign
Getting rid of pet waste without plastic bags: Photo: Francis Mariani

I’m so inspired by Alameda County’s decision to enact a plastic bag ban. We’ve come so far since I started this journey in 2007 and I’m thrilled to help my fellow Alameda County residents live with less plastic. We all want to do our part for a healthier environment, but sometimes we need a little nudge to get us started. Alameda County’s bag ban should be seen as a nudge, not a hardship.

One of the most common questions I get about plastic-free living is what to line waste cans with if plastic grocery bags are banned, and the second most common question is what to do about pet waste.

Since we compost most of our wet garbage, and recycle clean cans, bottles, jars, and newspapers, most of the trash we produce is dry, which eliminates the need to line our trash cans with plastic bags at all. We collect all of our food scraps in a metal bucket that we keep near the sink and take them out to the city compost bins. Most cities in Alameda County offer food waste composting through the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, Check here if you don’t know if your city is one of them. If your city doesn’t offer composting, setting up your own compost system is easier than you think. Many different options are outline here in a more detailed version of this blog post.

For pet waste there is really no one simple solution.  For our cats we use SwheatScoop, which is biodegradable, flushable litter. This option should not be used unless your cats have tested negative for toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that is harmful to marine animals, and only if your cats live strictly indoors and cannot contract the parasite from other cats. Another option is to collect the waste in newspapers or paper bags and throw it into the city trash.

For dogs, one possibility is to pick up poop using compostable dog waste bags and dispose of it in a dog waste composter.  However, using compostable dog waste bags is not recommended if the waste is simply going to the landfill, as the bags emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Another way to handle dog waste is to collect it and flush it down the toilet, but check with your city first and make sure the water treatment plant can handle it. The easiest way to wean yourself away from using plastic grocery bags for pet waste is to collect other bags such as bread bags, chip bags, liners from cereal, newspaper bags, plastic produce bags, and other bags that are commonly found in daily life, and usually discarded empty. You can even use newspapers, or do as one of my readers does, and use discarded yellow pages to pick up dog waste.

I’ve learned that it really just takes a little creativity to live with less plastic. We throw so many items away without even thinking that they may actually be able to be used again. We do so many things habitually, including lining our garbage cans with plastic, that we don’t even stop to think that there might be another way. This ban is just a way to get us all to think a little harder about our impact on the environment. Learn more about what you can do to get involved in the bag ban movement.

— Beth Terry, Author of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too

Bag Ban-ometer: It’s getting hot in San Mateo Co.

Support for plastic bag bans is reaching a fever pitch in San Mateo County.  In the last two weeks, three San Mateo County cities have adopted the county’s bag ordinance – South San Francisco, Pacifica, and Belmont.  This regional effort, set in motion by San Mateo County Environmental Health, encompasses all of San Mateo Co. and six cities in Santa Clara County.  Several cities have scheduled a vote for December and January, and we will continue encouraging

Plastic bag bans are reaching record highs in San Mateo County.

everyone else to prioritize this important pollution issue.  If everyone jumps on the wagon, plastic bags will be banned from San Jose all the way up through San Francisco.

Many people don’t know that plastic bags haven’t been around very long – they were invented in the 1950s and became commonly used in the 1970s.  Convenience comes at a cost, however – Save The Bay estimates that over one million plastic bags are released into the Bay each year, suffocating wetlands and threatening wildlife. As momentum grows to stop this toxic trash at its source, this could be the final chapter of the plastic bag era.  How can you help make that happen?  Tell your city to adopt a ban and prioritize litter-free communities and creeks.

Update 12/12/2012: The regional trend continues.  Last week, Mountain View became the first city in Santa Clara County to adopt San Mateo County’s bag ban. The action doesn’t stop there – Daly City adopted the ban on Monday night, followed by Colma last night.

We’ll continue to update you as plastic bag ban fever sweeps the South Bay.

Update 12/13/2012: Another one bites the dust – Portola Valley adopted the ban last night!

Update 12/18/12: Some much needed good news  – Foster City wrapped up this year’s progress on plastic bag bans in San Mateo County by voting unanimously last night to adopt the county’s ban.  Here’s to more bans – and less plastic bags – in 2013!

Weekly Roundup September 14, 2012

weekly roundupThis week, we announced our 6th annual list of Bay Trash Hot Spots, creeks and shorelines that are so polluted they are in violation of the Clean Water Act. Check out the coverage below. As tens of thousands of volunteers prepare for tomorrow’s Coastal Cleanup Day, they may find tsunami debris and tiny plastic pellets present an extra challenge to clean up. Beyond plastic pollution, a strong case against a peripheral tunnel around the Delta. Finally, take a look at this reminder of the Bay that we are saving — a great place for birdwatching along the Hayward Regional Shoreline.

San Francisco Chronicle 9/12/2012
Coyote Creek tops list of dirty waterways
Forget the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We have our own version right here in the Bay Area.San Jose’s Coyote Creek is so clogged with candy wrappers, diapers, beer bottles, cigarette butts and other debris that, in some spots, one can practically walk across the waterway without getting wet. The creek, one of the two largest waterways in the South Bay, is likely the dirtiest waterway in the Bay Area and has earned the dubious distinction of making Save the Bay’s annual list of “trash hot spots,” which the group is to release Wednesday.

East Bay Express 9/12/2012
Three East Bay “Trash Hot Spots” Violate Clean Water Act
Forty years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act — a landmark law sparked in part by the work of Bay Area environmentalists — five local waterways identified by Oakland nonprofit Save the Bay are so cluttered with trash that they’re in violation of federal law.

KQED 9/13/2012
The 5 Trashiest Places Around the Bay
Save the Bay released its sixth annual list of Bay Trash Hot Spots on Wednesday. The places on the list are such major contributors to the flow of junk into San Francisco Bay that they actually violate the Clean Water Act.

Bay Citizen 9/12/2012
Nonprofit names the five trashiest Bay waterways
According to Oakland nonprofit Save the Bay, five local sites have such high levels of trash that they are in violation of the Clean Water Act.The Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972, lays out regulations for pollution in waterways and the quality of surface water nationwide. This marks the sixth year the organization has identified “Bay Trash Hot Spots” using data reported by the cities, as required by The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Oakland North 9/12/2012
Oakland’s Damon Slough named one of area’s most littered
Damon Slough, a chunk of preserved parkland in Oakland that stretches for more than eight acres along the Martin Luther King Jr. shoreline, was named one of the Bay Area’s top five most littered waterways in 2012, environmental groups said today.

NBC Bay Area 9/12/2012
‘Save the Bay’ Reveals Bay Area Trash Spots
Five Bay Area waterways top the list of “trash hot spots.” Arturo Santiago reports.
Watch >>

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CBS5 9/12/2012
Some Bay Area Waterways ‘Hot Spots’ For Trash
Some Bay Area waterways, including Coyote Creek in San Jose and the Hayward shoreline, have made Save the Bay’s list of trash “hot spots.” Don Ford reports.
Watch >>

Oakland Tribune 9/10/2012
Will California coast clean-up volunteers find debris from tsunami?
More than a year after a tsunami struck Japan’s east coast, California beachcombers are preparing for a wave of debris expected to hit the U.S. Pacific Coast in coming months.”It’s going to be a growing issue over the coming year as more debris starts to arrive in California,” says Eben Schwartz, California Coastal Commission outreach manager. “It will be a good opportunity to educate Californians about the ongoing marine debris problem.”

Bay Nature 9/12/2012
Tiny plastics pellets a big problem in coastal cleanup
On September 15, tens of thousands of volunteers will participate in California Coastal Cleanup Day, donning work gloves to gather up the tonnage of manmade debris along California’s coastal regions and inland waterways.

Huffington Post 9/13/2012
San Francisco Plastic Bag Ban Gets Go-Ahead From Judge
Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson on Tuesday upheld a San Francisco ordinance that would ban most retail locations in the city from distributing plastic bags and begin charging customers a dime for each paper bag (or comparatively more expensive compostable plastic bag) they use.

Sonoma News 9/10/2012
The case against the peripheral tunnel
We have warned in this space repeatedly about the dangers of rushing an ill-conceived peripheral tunnel around the Delta, but no one has made the case against the tunnel more clearly than Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sport Fishing Protection Alliance, who wrote the following column in the Sept. 5 issue of Capitol Weekly.

San Francisco Chronicle 9/12/2012
Cogswell Marsh Loop: great bird watching
Just minutes from the frenzy of Hayward’s Southland Mall, you’ll find serene Cogswell Marsh, a 250-acre restored tidal saltwater marsh that is part of the Hayward Regional Shoreline. The levees along the shoreline were originally built for salt harvesting, but they were breached in the 1980s, and tidal flow returned to the land.

Weekly Roundup August 24, 2012

weekly roundup

In this week’s roundup, Minane Jameson of Hayward’s shoreline agency speaks out against Cargill’s Redwood City plans. Meanwhile, NOAA proposes expanding marine sanctuary to just outside the Golden Gate. A new EcoCenter brings another meaning to restoration along the Bay Trail in Palo Alto. In the North Bay, Sonoma County moves ahead with plastic bag ban. Volunteering at Oakland’s Damon Slough makes 7×7‘s list of reasons to cross the Bay. And on the Outside blog, Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres Institute explores the Japanese tsunami’s impact on global awareness of trash in our oceans.

San Mateo Daily Journal 8/21/2012
OP-ED: Joining together to save the Bay
Some people say the San Francisco Bay will never be saved, but will always be in need of saving. I hope that’s not true. But there’s proof enough today that it is. Retired salt ponds owned by the Minnesota-based Cargill Salt Company in Redwood City are proposed as the site for thousands of new houses, even though ponds just like them in the Napa, Hayward and South Bay regions have all been restored to thriving tidal marsh.

Mercury News 8/22/2012
NOAA proposes to expand Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to Golden Gate Bridge
Twenty years after President George H.W. Bush created the largest national marine sanctuary in the continental United States, banning offshore oil drilling along 276 miles of California coast from the Marin Headlands to Hearst Castle, the Obama administration is trying to fill in the missing piece.

San Francisco Chronicle 8/21/2012
Historic preservation in Palo Alto
To see how historic preservation has evolved in America during the past 50 years, come with me to Palo Alto and consider the home of Environmental Volunteers on that city’s Embarcadero Road.

Press Democrat 8/21/2012
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors advance plastic bag ban
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday advanced a proposal to ban plastic bags now given out to shoppers at grocery and other retail stores, but called for a single ordinance that would apply countywide.

7X7 SF 8/18/2012
Three Reasons to Cross the Bay Bridge
Looking to get out of the city for the day? You don’t need to go all the way to Napa or Point Reyes, there’s plenty of entertainment, good eats, and natural beauty just across the bridge in the East Bay.

Outside 8/24/2012
A Tsunami of Plastic
Out across a plastic stratified strand, two surfers, silhouetted in the failing light, are finishing a session. A year and half ago, this wasn’t a surf spot. A tsunami destroyed everything around here, shifting the coast enough to create virgin waves. Above the beach there is nothing but houseless foundations and the hum of heavy machinery trying to dig out. But the tsunami had another effect, too: the world finally woke up to the everyday pollution our oceans endure as the plastic zeitgeist of convenience we seemingly can’t avoid flows unchecked from every stream, river and sewer outfall in the world.
Read more >> 


Weekly Roundup: June 1, 2012

In today’s Weekly Roundup, Cargill/DMB seek to avoid federal environmental protections after facing widespread opposition and rejection of their development plan by Redwood City.  Cargill/DMB are “just not listening or not liking the answers.” In other news, a recent study shows that wildlife refuges raise nearby property values. Plus, do you want to use less plastic? Beth Terry talks about her Plastic-Free Life.

Palo Alto Daily News 5/30/2012
Redwood City Saltworks developer seeks to avoid federal environmental rules
In a move that could allow it to elude some environmental regulations, DMB Pacific Ventures on Wednesday asked two federal agencies to declare whether they have any say over what happens to the Cargill salt flats in Redwood City it wants to develop.

The New York Times 5/30/2012
Wildlife Refuges Raise Property Values, Study Shows
Beyond the scenic views or flora and fauna, metropolitan area homeowners who live near a national wildlife refuge now have a different reason to appreciate the proximity. Research shows that such homes have higher property values than those that are farther from a reserve.

On Earth 5/31/2012
Beth Terry: Doyenne of Plastic-Free Living
Over the last few years, many people with good intentions, a bit of free time, and a modicum of Internet savvy have blogged about doing more with less, eschewing superfluous consumer goods, and generating less waste in the process. But no one has taken these goals to such an extreme as Beth Terry, a mildly obsessive Oakland accountant who in 2007 started a blog called Fake Plastic Fish as a platform for tracking her attempts to allow almost no new plastic into her life.