The Zero-Trash K9

Bigges the litter-retrieving Australian Shepherd.
Bigges the litter-retrieving Australian Shepherd.

Three years ago, Diane Petersen was hiking up the well-worn trail of Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Fremont. Accompanying her was her dog Bigges, a two-year-old Australian shepherd.

Bigges was a relative newcomer to the idea of trekking up peaks, and was, by Petersen’s recounting, “kind of bored by hiking.” To make matters worse, his elder companion, the border collie Josie, was not present. Nevertheless, Bigges walked on, all the while wishing that the hike were over. Then Petersen threw a rock at the slope to her right, and Bigges’ life changed forever.

Today, Bigges is a celebrity in the East Bay Regional Park District. He was the subject of one of EBRPD’s most popular Facebook posts. In May, Bigges and Petersen were honored by the Park District Board for their service to our open spaces. The beloved pooch followed that up with a cover appearance and story in the 2016 summer issue of “Compass,” the official magazine for EBRPD’s members. And almost every day, hikers in Mission Peak, the Alameda Creek Trail, Coyote Hills, and many other East Bay parks get to witness his inspirational feats, and invariably burst into applause.

What does Bigges do to garner such recognition? Simple. He leaves no trace, cleans up our parks, and has a blast while doing it.

Bigges, quite by accident, has been trained to pick up plastic water bottles discarded in creeks, crevices, hills, and valleys in our regional parks.

When he was teething, Petersen gave him plastic bottles to chew onto distract him from chewing on her shoes and furniture. Tugging on them soon became his favorite pastime, and today, picking up discarded plastic bottles is still second nature to him.

Bigges playing a uniquely helpful game of fetch.

So when Petersen throws a rock at a plastic bottle, he runs over and grabs it. “It’s hard to stop him,” said Petersen. “Whenever he sees a water bottle he’ll go out and grab it.” Further training that channeled Bigges’ love of food now motivates him to give Petersen the plastic bottle in exchange for a yummy treat.

“He loves it,” said Petersen. “He thinks it’s great fun. He has a blast.”

Instead of ignoring this ability, or maybe even making Bigges unlearn it, Petersen decided to utilize it in an all-out effort to clean up our open spaces. Even before she had dogs, Petersen did her part to pick up litter and leave no trace. Now, she and Bigges visit Mission Peak, Garin Regional Park, and many of the other trash-filled parks and preserves in the East Bay, seven days a week. The duo always finds something to clean up. They also unvaryingly find tons of appreciation from fellow hikers.

“A lot of times when people see him they clap and seem amazed and go ‘What a good dog!’” said Petersen.  “And I say, ‘yeah, he’s trying to keep the trails clean.’”

In March, EBRPD noticed Bigges when Petersen made some suggestions to the District for a possible bottle exchange program, and included some pictures of the dog in her message. The District, inspired by the photos, asked Petersen if they could feature Bigges in a Facebook post. She assented, and the overwhelming response to the post led to the District promoting Bigges’ story even further. In May, Board President Doug Siden gave Petersen and Bigges a certificate of appreciation; Bigges was also recognized as a Leave No Trace superhero and given a dog-sized cape. He’s also an unofficial celebrity amongst frequent hikers in the East Bay.

Bigges’ trash haul.

But Petersen isn’t letting Bigges’ sudden fame distract from the true prize: a trash-free Bay.

“It just feels like the Bay Area is pretty darn trashy,” she sighs. “And I know it’s hard on all kinds of species that live out there, the fishermen that go out there, all kinds of different things out in the Bay.”

She pauses. “There’s just so much trash.”

And although committed individuals like Petersen and Bigges are doing all they can, the Bay won’t get cleaned until we all help out.

That’s why Petersen hopes that Bigges’ story will inspire us to go out and clean up after ourselves.

“I feel there are a lot of humans out there who believe we’re the mightiest creatures of all, and my thinking is that if a dog can help keep this place as beautiful as it once was – I feel that if a dog can pick up trash, we humans can do the same thing,” said Petersen.

“I walk along the Alameda Creek, Hayward Shoreline, Coyote Hills, and when it’s low tide, I can just see the trash and I know it’s bad for the animals that live there, for the shorebirds, for the fish, and for our animals – our dogs that swim out in the Bay.

“I know that’s not a good thing, so Bigges and I are doing our part, and I just hope that we can lead by example, and that if everyone pitches in, our parks in the Bay Area will remain beautiful. We get to use these places for free, and what they give us for our physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing is priceless. And the least we can do is try to give back, do our part, and keep it as beautiful as we found it.”

Petersen and Bigges are working hard, but they can’t rid the Bay of trash alone. Help them today.

Pledge your support for a trash-free SF Bay.

Are Butts the New Bottles? NY Proposes Cigarette Butt Redemption Program

A NY Cigarette Butt Redemption Bill stands to keep cigarette butts off the streets and out of the water. If the bill passes, this frog will be one happy croaker. CC image courtesy of Bradley Gordon 2008
A NY Cigarette Butt Redemption Bill stands to keep cigarette butts off the streets and out of the water. If the bill passes, this frog will be one happy croaker.
CC image courtesy of Bradley Gordon 2008

New York Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is not one to wait around for easy answers.  As a retired NYC Sanitation Worker, DenDekker knows firsthand the scale of America’s tobacco litter problem.  And, as a politician, he knows firsthand the impact this litter has on our economy.

His solution?  Create a redemption program (similar to the current CRV for bottles and cans) to incentivize smokers to properly dispose of their butts.  The bill (A3756) will add a 1-cent deposit on every cigarette.  The money generated will fund collection costs of the returned butts as well as an anti-litter public outreach campaign.  The returned butts will be recycled into solvents that prevent rust or raw material for making plastic molds.

The result?  A healthier environment, less litter in the streets, less public funds spent on cleanup of preventable pollution, and the creation of new jobs and new raw materials.  NYC spends up to $500,000 annually in solid waste cost to dispose of cigarette butts alone.  That’s a significant amount the city stands to save were all these butts recycled instead of landfilled or littered.  “The bill saves taxpayer money, creates new jobs, and has a positive environmental impact,” says DenDekker.  “That makes it a win-win.”

Save The Bay has been hard at work preventing pollution in the San Francisco Bay by advocating for polystyrene (“Styrofoam”) and plastic bag bans throughout the region.  Today, more than 50% of Bay Area residents live in communities that have banned plastic bags, and over 30 cities and counties in the area have banned polystyrene food ware in restaurants.  Save The Bay is proud of our accomplishments, but we know that the fight against pollution is far from over.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butt litter accounts for one in every five items collected during cleanups, making it the most prevalent form of litter on earth.  It is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts, representing 1.7 billion pounds, end up as litter around the world each year.  Cigarette filters are made out of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic which never biodegrades.

San Francisco estimates that it spends a total of 11 million dollars annually cleaning up butts.  Discarded carelessly on city streets and washed straight into the Bay through storm drains, tobacco waste is the most pernicious item to enter bay waters, costing our cities millions of dollars in cleanup, harming local wildlife, and creating a serious eyesore for residents.

Tobacco litter poses a major threat to the health of the San Francisco Bay, and the problem calls for creative and innovative policy solutions like that presented by Assemblyman DenDekker.  At the same time, there are multiple ways you can personally contribute to a more beautiful, healthy, and thriving San Francisco Bay.  If you smoke, always throw your butts away in trash cans and encourage others to do the same; ask your elected officials what they are doing to address the tobacco pollution issue, and join a cleanup day with Save The Bay.

Wonky Wednesday | On plastic recycling, read between the lines

plastic bags
Despite plastic industry claims, these bags are not being recycled.

The delaying tactics and last-gasp arguments made by the plastic industry can be breathtaking, as they work to defend their increasingly indefensible product. Among the industry’s favorite arguments is that plastic bags are recyclable. They try hard to seize the high ground and assert that their opponents can’t really be against recycling, can they?

But when it comes to plastic bags, Save The Bay’s research strongly suggests that almost none of this plastic is being recycled, let alone recycled into more plastic bags. When the plastic industry says “we are recycling plastic bags,” what they appear to actually mean is “we are spending a ton of money to process this stuff and send the film to a Chinese company that allegedly makes bags.” See, for example, this myth-busting information:

Many plastic bags collected for recycling are wastefully shipped to overseas processing facilities. According to a 2007 American Chemistry Council report, the US exports 57% of its postconsumer recovered film to China (25% of which consists of plastic bags, contained under the blanket term “mixed film”) where there once were “thousands” of plastic processing centers. However, when the economic downturn happened in late 2008, many of these Chinese plastic processors went out of business. Bottom line: there is a glut of this material that is not getting recycled, leaving material recovery facilities with bales of collected recyclable plastic with no one to sell it to.

Much of the talk about recycling plastic is aimed at making you, the consumer, feel better when you throw away your used container. But don’t assume that because you put something in the blue recycle bin that it doesn’t still end up in a landfill. Here is one plastic handler’s checklist for which bulk materials they accept for recycling:

  • Yes–clean HDPE grocery bags, retail bags, dry cleaner bags; pallet stretch film; LDPE merchandise over wrap shrink film
  • No–PVC or PVDC (Saran) films (meat wrap is PVC)
  • No–moisture – dry bales only
  • No–trash, paper or corrugated materials inside bales (attached paper labels ok)
  • No–strapping twine or tape (within the bale)
  • No–wood, broken pallets
  • No–polystyrene, polyurethane foamed, polypropylene
  • No–PETE trays
  • No–plastic bottles
  • No–oil or grease
  • No–hazardous materials, medical wastes, or packages of these products
  • No–metal
  • No–food or food packaging
  • No–produce packaging

That doesn’t look too easy for businesses to figure out.

When it comes to food packaging, the fact is that plastic recycling is complicated and filled with enormous waste. Save The Bay is focused on banning single-use plastics that customers use to hold or transport food. All the evidence suggests that these are NOT being recycled; see the list above (“No-moisture; No-grease; No-food”).

Our opponents’ effort to wrap themselves in a green veneer by talking about recycling turns out to be as thin and disposable as a single-use bag.