By Mark Stone, originally published in the San Jose Mercury News
POSTED: 09/02/2013 12:01:00 PM PDT
Our region is among the most proactive in the country working to shrink the amount of plastic garbage at the source by encouraging people to use fewer disposable plastic products.
In 2011, San Jose and Santa Clara County adopted bans on single-use plastic bags. Just last month, the San Jose City Council adopted a ban on plastic foam food containers. But even with these laudable efforts, too much plastic garbage doesn’t make it to recycling centers; it clogs our landfills, lands in our waterways and on our beaches and ends up in the ocean.
At beach cleanup events, volunteers pick up cigarette filters, plastic bottles, food wrappers and other non-biodegradable plastic products. While local governments have slowed the flow of this garbage into the environment, we need to do more at the state level to help save our precious beaches and oceans from plastic pollution.
Even in our environmentally conscientious state, we discard far more plastic than we reuse. This trash kills marine animals that eat or get tangled in it. Floating plastic “garbage patches” create navigational hazards for cargo ships, recreational boaters and fishermen. Chemicals leaching from the trash may harm Californians’ health. In addition, marine plastic pollution hurts taxpayers, whose local governments spend millions of dollars each year to clean up rivers and coastlines.
A recently released analysis commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council surveyed nearly 100 cities throughout California and found that they spend nearly a half-billion dollars annually cleaning up litter and preventing trash from entering waterways. A similar 2012 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that California’s coastal cities and counties spend about $420 million each year to combat litter and curtail plastic ocean pollution.
The City of Santa Cruz spends nearly $800,000 per year to address plastic pollution — money that otherwise could be invested in public services like schools, firefighters, police, or better protecting our beaches, parks and open spaces.
Earlier this year I collaborated with ocean protection groups and local coastal governments to propose a law requiring plastic packaging producers to help address the pollution for which they are responsible.
Since they can redesign products and packaging to create less waste, as well as to boost recycling and collection, it’s reasonable and necessary to require them to do so. I proposed incentives to reduce packaging, create recyclable packaging and ensure that it actually be recycled. The measure allocated the fair share of trash cleanup costs to producers so that taxpayers wouldn’t carry the cost burden alone. Unfortunately, my bill did not pass the legislature this year. However, I will continue to work to pass it and other legislation to reduce plastic ocean pollution.
Millions of people and local governments across California now bear the costs of cleaning up trash to prevent it from polluting our waterways. It’s time for producers of the most frequently littered products to do the same.
We all have a stake in keeping our communities, beaches, rivers, lakes and oceans clean so they thrive — from the marine animals that depend on a healthy ecosystem to the families who relish sunny days at the beach and the coastal communities whose economies benefit from attracting tourists. We need to work together.
Mark Stone (D-29) represents portions of Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties in the Assembly. He chairs the Select Committee on Coastal Protection and serves on the Assembly Committees on Natural Resources and Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. He wrote this for this newspaper.