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Lynne Plambeck: Caring for the Santa Clara River

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: September 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: September 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.

This Saturday, Santa Clarita will once again hold its annual river rally, an event so popular the city no longer need advertise for volunteers. More than 1,500 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are expected to turn out to remove trash from the Santa Clara River, hear presentations from biologists on its importance and visit the booths at the environmental fair.

With their help, thousands of pounds of trash will not flow into the ocean annd choke sea animals and kill them when plastic bags or other foreign objects are ingested mistakenly as food. Our trash will not add to the huge swirling vortex of floating plastic debris hundreds of miles across where ocean currents meet or end up on other people's beaches.

Unlike the Los Angeles River, the Regional Water Quality Control Board has not had to set a trash total maximum daily load for the Santa Clara River. Although trash is a problem, good street maintenance, storm drain cleanouts and our annual River Rally have helped reduce the trash to manageable levels.

While Santa Clarita residents do a good job of recycling for the most part, one still sees the occasional plastic bag tumble-weeding through parking lots, strung high up in trees or mixed with leaf litter at the edge of storm drains. Imagine the problem these bags cause in communities that are not so careful.

Cities like Los Angeles and Long Beach spend millions of dollars to try to keep plastic bags out of their rivers and storm drains and off the beaches. That is why they formed a coalition along with environmental groups, grocery stores and others to support a bill in this last legislative session that would begin to phase out the use of plastic bags by charging a small amount for them (3 cents) and offering free reusable bags instead (check out the really cool ones from Ralph's and other stores). Small stores would have been given a longer phaseout time to adjust.

Plastic bags are made from petroleum. Yes, that same petroleum that caused the Gulf oil spill. Of all the ways we use oil, plastic bags are probably one of the most unnecessary.

They create air pollution when they are made, they pollute our environment with trash and they don't degrade quickly, so they fill up our landfills with needless trash.

Big Oil used its deep pockets and lobbyists to squash this bill at the last minute, arguing that it would reduce a market for petroleum products and hurt "jobs." What jobs? The millions spent to pay city and county workers to try to clean up the mess?

Even after the governor promised to sign this much-needed compromise package, our own Assemblyman Cameron Smyth voted against it. Little wonder since his former employer was an oil company.

But we can fool the deep pockets of big corporations and lobbyists that work for special interests. We can help reduce the unneeded expenditure of public funds to pick up trash. We can just stop using these bags that are so detrimental to the environment.

Instead, we can pick up one of the reusable bags from a local grocery store, put it under the front seat of our car for easy access when we shop and thumb our collective noses at the oil companies.

Just think about it. With some 70,000 families in the SCV each probably using an average of five bags a week (maybe even more), that's 350,000 plastic bags a week that mostly end in a landfill. (The statistics say only about 5 percent of the bags get recycled.)

Folks at the local farmers markets have gotten this idea. Most bring their own bags. The farmers have even been known to
throw in an extra piece of fruit as a "thank you."

Reusable bags are the norm at Whole Foods, too, but other shoppers have not really caught on to the new trend yet.
But our city is getting on the bandwagon. It has asked vendors at the River Rally not to provide plastic bags as part of their giveaways. It's no use adding to the trash that we are all trying to pick up that day.

So if you want to do something good for the environment, just give up plastic bags and bring your own bag to the grocery store. See you at the River Rally.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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