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Getting on board zero waste train

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“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

— from “The Lorax,” by Dr. Seuss

Plastic accumulating in our oceans has become a global crisis, with a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. The single use plastics we use and discard, the consumer products we buy at the stores, even the clothing we wear that sheds microplastic fibers in the wash all contribute to the growing problem, and it’s not just fish and marine mammals who are consuming the plastic.

According to a recent article in Scientific American, researchers have discovered that polymers from microplastics are now present in very large numbers of the human population. One recent study revealed that the plastic polymer BPA, which is linked to declining male fertility as well as prostate and breast cancer, was present in nearly 90% of teenagers studied.

These disturbing trends are worthy of serious consideration as Petaluma’s City Council prepares to adopt a “Zero Waste” resolution next week that will ask residents here to cut their landfill deposits by more than 90% by reducing, reusing and recycling more than we ever have before.

Currently, Petalumans are recycling just 38% of what they leave at the curb for pick-up by the city’s waste hauler, Recology, according Celia Furber, the company’s Waste Zero Manager. That means that more than 60% of what is left at the curb heads to the landfill near Novato, which emits a considerable amount of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas that’s roughly 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Clearly, the Petaluma community has an opportunity to make a positive change.

By redirecting organic waste to compost, according to Patrick Carter, management analyst with the City of Petaluma, Petalumans can significantly reduce landfill methane emissions. It can be done by residents placing any and all food scraps, including bones, meat, dairy, egg shells, produce, baked goods, coffee grounds, together with garden and lawn trimmings, coffee filters, tea bags, untreated wood and soiled paper products like facial tissues, paper plates, paper towels and napkins, pizza boxes and wooden utensils, into the green bins provided by Recology.

(Plastics labeled “compostable” should not be placed in the green bins because, contrary to what some manufacturers claim, they cannot be reduced to compost in a reasonable time frame. For a complete list of appropriate and inappropriate items for composting and recycling, go to recology.com.)

Not only will increased use of the green bins directly reduce the methane gas emissions at the local landfill, the composting of their contents creates a soil enhancer that benefits local agricultural and gardening endeavors, says Furber, who added that compost actually soaks up greenhouse gases by sequestering carbon in the soil.

Regarding the recycling of plastic containers like jugs, cups, and bottles, as well as other recyclable materials including metal cans and glass bottles and jars, Farber encourages residents to make sure the items are “clean and dry” since lingering food materials make them impossible to market to overseas recyclers who have become increasingly resistant to accepting contaminated materials.

Reducing and reusing is also encouraged. Instead of buying a cup of coffee or a plastic bottle of water, bring your own coffee mug or water bottle, says Furber. Bringing cloth bags to grocery shop also helps.

So does buying certain food products in bulk at the grocery store, and avoiding the plastic containers altogether. When picking up food-to-go, bringing a Tupperware or similar container eliminates the need for single-use products.

If your organization is planning a fundraising event, consider going zero waste. Community groups hosting public concerts in Windsor and Sebastopol did this recently, and Windsor has successfully diverted 75% of all landfill waste to recycling and composting.

Polystyrene, known by the brand name Styrofoam, cannot be recycled and city officials will soon consider banning its use, a sensible policy deserving of wholehearted public support.

For more information on how to achieve the zero waste goal or how to reuse or dispose of items that cannot be recycled, such as hazardous waste, visit zerowastesonoma.gov, a joint powers authority for Sonoma County and its nine cities, or call their eco-desk at 565-3375.

Consider attending the North Bay Zero Waste Symposium in Rohnert Park on July 31 where keynote speaker Bea Johnson, the celebrated “Priestess of Waste-Free Living,” will inspire you to adopt creative steps forward towards a zero waste future. For more information, go to zerowastenorthbay.org.

It is easy to get frustrated with the existential threats from widespread plastic pollution and climate change. But composting can help lessen global climate change. And reducing, reusing and recycling plastic products helps curb global plastic pollution. By working together to empower ourselves and our neighbors on a zero waste goal, we can make a big difference and set an example for other communities across the nation and the world. Our planet’s future hangs in the balance. The time for action is now.

(John Burns is former publisher of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. He can be reached at john.burns@arguscourier.com.)

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