Lynne Plambeck | Help Tackle the Plastic Problem

This year SCOPE members (Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment) voted to make plastic pollution a priority issue. We wanted to add our local voice and actions to the worldwide campaign for clean oceans and plastic reduction.

With trash from plastic straws to throwaway utensils, plates, styrofoam cups, water bottles and of course, plastic bags, our oceans are predicted to have more plastic than fish by 2050 if we don’t change our ways. Sea birds and turtles become entangled in it. Whales and other sea creatures die when they ingest it. It breaks up into tiny particles and is now found everywhere on the ocean floor.

Not only is plastic a major source of pollution in the oceans that kills marine life, but it is hurting us right in our own back yard. Plastic trash is a huge source of pollution in our own Santa Clara River. Albatrosses accidentally kill their young when they feed them plastic from the sea that is the same color as their food. This same thing is also happening to our magnificent condors that we have all worked so hard in Southern California to save. 

Plastic is made from petroleum, so reducing its use will also reduce climate-warming greenhouse gases, and reduce the unnecessary waste that is filling up our landfills when it is thrown away after just one use. 

So what is the answer? First and foremost, we need to stop using single-use plastic to the greatest extent possible. Even just 50 years ago much of the single-use plastic items did not exist. If we could do without them then, why can’t we do without them now? With China’s recent refusal to take our plastic waste, we must deal with it ourselves. If we burn it, it creates terrible air pollution. If we throw it away, we fill up our canyons with trash. Better not to use it in the first place.

Second, we must encourage our own recycling industries. Already, a percentage of recycled plastic is required in those heavy duty 10 cent grocery bags. Can this be increased? What else can we make from recycled plastic? How can we incentivize its re-use?

Last, we must do a better job of recycling. In a recent Signal article “Recycling: You may be doing it wrong,” Signal reporter Emily Alvarenga did a great job of describing how to do it right. 

As SCOPE members looked around to see where we could make a difference in our own community, we decided to make plastic bag reduction a priority. I personally was excited about this, because SCOPE started a “Bring your Own Bag to the Grocery Store” campaign some 25 years ago as part of the successful fight against the Elsmere Canyon landfill. We supported state legislation to require bag recycling at grocery stores and county bag bans. But now, somehow plastic bags are back.

One little-known aspect of recycling is that plastic bags can’t go into the recycling bin because they gum up the recycling machinery. They must be recycled at grocery stores. This makes sense, because a clean stream of plastic bags or “film” as it is sometimes called, is required for manufacture of the new heavy duty bags (this information is even required now to be printed on each plastic bag.) These bags are also required to be made in the USA, thus creating local jobs.

But after doing a survey of local grocery stores, we found that many no longer have a bin in the front of the store as required by state law. You can still find bins at most Ralphs, Vons and Sprouts. Trader Joe’s doesn’t offer plastic bags at all. Thank you to these stores! (and apologies to any stores I missed). 

So we met with our state, county and local officials to discuss this problem, and are happy to say that we have been told we will all be hearing from Supervisor Kathryn Barger on this matter in an upcoming press conference soon.

We really need to stop single-use plastic. You can act locally to save the oceans, our Santa Clara River and the many animals it hurts, along with reducing climate change by bringing your own bags to the grocery stores. You can also take action by avoiding single-use plastics, (such as plates and utensils), and not buying bottled water (just use your own refillable bottle). If you do purchase a plastic bag, at the store, please re-use it or be sure to bring it back and recycle it in the bin at that store. Remember, you can’t put it in your recycling bin.

Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

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