Monday, February 16, 2009

No Trash Dumping, Flows to the Creek

Some of my neighbors in the Campus Community in downtown San Jose recently posted a picture of a trash raft floating on the water surface in Mid-Coyote Creek, somewhere near the San Antonio Street bridge.

I posted a terse response to chide the comment that we should wait to see if the raft would move downstream before doing anything about it. The author was rightly miffed that I suggested her intentions might be indifference to the problem rather than waiting for a safer time to remove the raft.

After apologizing and giving a short history of the ignorance of this problem, I resolved to dedicate this blog post to pollution prevention of trash in our creeks. Consider this an extension of the work I did for my last eight years at the Water District as a contract employee running the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center.

In my own personal experience, plastic bags are the number one candidate for eliminating a serious source of creek trash. Walking along the creek one day in William Street Park, I picked up 22 plastic bags that had blown into bushes along the creek from tables, trash cans and ignorant park users. This is not a new problem. In 1995, the Pollution Prevention Center started giving seminar attendees high quality canvas tote bags silk screened Take Me Shopping.

A few months ago, I found a web site dedicated to getting the Clorox Corporation to start recycling the plastic-cased Brita brand water filters. Threatening to embarrass this major corporation for its lack of producer responsibility and product stewardship, this month Clorox set up a nationwide network to collect and recycle their filters, keeping this item from the landfills. Clorox contracted with a program called Gimme5 to collect the filters along with other # 5 plastics like is used in tooth brushes and prescription bottles. Collection kiosks are being set up in participating Whole Foods stores, which unfortunately does not include those in San Jose yet. (Call your local store and request they participate ASAP.) In the mean time, you can mail your filters and other #5 plastic directly to the recycling company.

One of the activists working on the Brita filter recycling is named Beth Terry of Oakland, CA, who has a blog called Fake Plastic Fish. In her post about the successful campaign on the Brita filter recycling, she includes this sample letter for folks to send to their local newspapers:

Plastic waste is a serious environmental problem. It is made from fossil fuels and does not biodegrade, lasting virtually forever and wreaking havoc in the natural world.

Fortunately, a new program called Gimme5 is attempting to deal responsibly with some of our plastic waste. Customers can return used #5 (polypropylene) plastic containers as well as Brita pitcher water filters and used Preserve products to select Whole Foods markets or mail them back to Preserve for recycling. Full details of the program are at

I am not personally associated with Preserve, Whole Foods, or Brita, but as an individual attempting to live responsibly on the planet, I highly recommend this program.


Read more about the successful campaign to get Brita filters recycled here. There is a great amount of information on Fake Plastic Fish regarding reduction of plastic consumption and its fugitive emission into the environment. I recommend spending some time reading Beth's posts to examine ways to reduce many types of plastic consumption.

In northern Santa Clara County, the cities, County and the Water District have formed a joint program to manage the regional storm water permit issued for the watersheds draining into South San Francisco Bay, called the Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program. In 1995, during the formative stages of this program, our discussions focused on the impossibility of treating all the storm water runoff generated in the South Bay watersheds, leading to the current name for the program. However, as the program has essentially failed to implement the necessary public education and local ordinances to actually PREVENT pollution, the current mandates for storm water inlet treatment devices are now the focus of the program as it relates to trash. Read more: Trash Evaluation and Management Fact Sheet (2nd Edition) With current budget shortfalls at the cities, funds to implement this approach are going to be a challenge and success is dubious.

For this reason, local action needs to re-focus on pollution prevention, which relies on attacking the source of the problem. Producer responsibility and product stewardship will be the key to reducing the flow of trash into our cityscape and the creeks. Carbon taxes or cap and trade approaches may assist this effort, but local governments are going to have to hang tough and resist the lobbying that is sure to come from the Chamber of Commerce. Activists that now are willing to endanger themselves pulling trash from the creeks must also pressure city officials to pass ordinances to reduce the flow of trash from business establishments into our streets and creeks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I grew up in San Jose and I always remembered Coyote Creek to be a pretty area, especially that road that goes up the hill. Hopefully they take care of it!
-Jon @ inlet filter