America Recycles Day: Santa Barbara Style

Santa Barbara already diverts over 70% of its waste from the landfill, but that still leaves over 170,000 tons going into it each year.  On Tuesday, November 13, just in time for America Recycles Day, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors gave the approval to begin the environmental review of the Resource Recovery Project.   The project looks at the 170,000 tons of waste as an opportunity. Its objective is to reclaim resources currently being buried, increase recycling, provide compost, generate energy, extend the life of the landfill and decrease the generation of greenhouse gas.  After extensive review of  proposals from four different companies, Mustang Renewable Power Ventures was initially chosen by the County to construct and operate a project that includes 3 facilities:

  •  Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) – this facility would sort the waste into three streams:  recyclables, organics and residue
  • Anaerobic Digestion Facility (ADF) – this facility would convert all organics recovered from the waste into digestate (compost) and biogas.
  •  Power Plant – this facility would use the biogas generated by the ADF for fuel to generate electricity.

Recently, local waste management company Marborg Industries asked that they be allowed to submit their own proposal for the Resource Recovery Project and, according to Nick Welsh’s piece for the SB Independent, “MarBorg’s proposal will be considered in the alternatives section of the environmental impact report for the Tajiguas extension plan.”   The battle for the garbage begins.

John Hill / Foter / CC BY-SA

                I say three cheers for Santa Barbara. Hip Hip Hooray!

In the words of Supervisor Salud Carbajal, “This is another case of our community being a leader in sustainability by recycling even more than we do now and getting even closer to zero waste. This is a financially responsible local solution to managing our communities’ waste that places us back into a leadership position in environmental action.”

 Here are 4 more ways that we can increase our recycling…beyond the bin:

1) Recycle or Donate Electronics – Doing so conserves many valuable resources and materials, including metals, plastics, and glass.  It saves energy and avoids air and water pollution caused by the mining and manufacturing of virgin materials. For example:  For every million cell phones we recycle, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.

2) Recycle Clothes–   Every year Santa Barbara County throws away more than 11 million pounds of usable clothing and household textiles into its very limited local landfill space. Textile waste makes up approximately 8% of the total waste in California. The EPA estimates that about 97% of post-consumer textile waste is recyclable. Textile recycling requires less energy than any other type of recycling and does not create any new hazardous waste or harmful by-products. Compare that to growing conventional cotton which alone uses approximately 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides. Most communities do not have systems in place to address the fabric component of the waste stream but Textile Waste Solutions in Santa Barbara County offers an environmentally and economically friendly alternative. They make regular pick ups from local thrift stores giving clothing, bedding, belts, shoes, and soft toys – virtually anything made from fabric – a second lease on life. So even if your old t-shirt is stained and ratty..drop it off at the thrift store. If it is unwearable, Textile Waste Solutions will recycle it.

3) Recycle Food–  Food waste when buried in a landfill creates potentially wastefull greenhouse gases. Alternatively when food waste is composted, it becomes a wonderful resource to build the soil and grow more food. Instead of tossing your food scraps into the trash, start composting. Don’t know how? Go to to learn about local workshops, discounted composter bins and more.
4) Close the Loop-  Don’t stop at the bin!  After materials are processed and back on the shelf as new items, it is up to you to buy them.  Look for products and packaging with the highest recycled content.
Finally, if you ever have wondered where you can take those used batteries, or what to do with the little bit of leftover paint, Santa Barbara County Recycling Resource Guide  is a fantastic and very thorough guide to help you reduce, reuse and recycle just about anything. Happy Recycling!!


photo credit: Pete Prodoehl via photopin cc

If you live in Goleta..take action to reduce plastic pollution

Here is an important announcement from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper
Goleta Residents – Our Oceans Need Your Help!
Let Goleta City Council know you support an ordinance to reduce plastic pollution. 

Californians use over 14 billion plastic bags every year, and only 3% are recycled.  This translates into 150,000 tons of waste going to our landfills or ending up on our beaches, creeks and roadsides as litter. Taxpa yers and local governments spend millions of dollars each year to clean up this unsightly litter. Cities and counties across California are taking action to prevent plastic bag pollution by banning disposable plastic shopping bags, and the time has come for Goleta to join the growing effort to address this costly environmental problem.The Goleta City Council recently considered joining a South Coast region-wide effort to assess the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bag bans – the critical first step towards adopting an ordinance – but they delayed a decision until they hear whether Goleta residents feel the City should pursue a plastic bag ban.Channelkeeper has been a lead advocate for action to reduce disposable bags use on the South Coast since 2008.  To date, 52 municipalities in California have adopted single-use bag ordinances to stem the tide of plastic bag pollution, including Carpinteria and Ojai. Santa Barbara has also drafted a bag ordinance which will be adopted after the EIR is complete in early 2013.  Let’s make sure Goleta also takes action to protect our oceans and marine life by adopting a bag ordinance.TAKE ACTION!

Let Goleta City Council know you support an ordinance to mandate reductions in the use of single-use shopping bags. Send an email or make a personal phone call to Goleta City Councilmembers to let them know you support action.Goleta City Council Contact Information:

Phone: 805-961-7500


Sample email:

Dear Mayor and Councilmembers,

I am concerned about the environmental and economic costs associated with the use of disposable shopping bags. Cities and counties across California and the nation are taking action to prevent plastic bag pollution by banning disposable plastic shopping bags, and I believe the time has come for Goleta to join the growing effort to address this costly environmental problem. I strongly support and urge you to enact a plastic bag ordinance in Goleta as soon as possible.


photo credit: thebiggoodbye via photo pin cc

The 2012 Election and the Environment

The Democratic and GOP conventions are now over and both have produced very distinct written platforms.   I decided to actually read each of the parties’ documents and compare them, specifically in the area of environmental policy. (Don’t be too impressed…it is pretty light reading! )  I have to say while I anticipated some of the differences, I was fairly shocked at how stark the contrast was.  The Democratic platform is far from perfect on its environmental coverage, but compared to the GOP platform, they seem downright progressive!    I think I can suffice to say that If you care about the environment  (ie: clean air, clean water, addressing climate change, healthy food…)  the GOP is not for you. I think  Steven Colbert summed up Romney’s position on environmental policy perfectly.      

                            So let’s stick with the Dems.

How have the Democrats done in the last four years and what is being proposed for the next four?

Let’s examine what our most pressing environmental issues are. When Whit Gibbons, Professor Emeritus of Ecology at the University of Georgia, asked two dozen ecology graduate students what the top environmental problems were, he came up with a list that included:

  • Invasive plants and animals
  • Pollution of Marine Habitats
  • Air Pollution
  • Unsustainable Agriculture
  • Threat of Disease
  • Water Quality and Quantity
  • Habitat Loss Fragmentation and Degradation
  • Overpopulation
  • Global Climate Change

So how are these problems being addressed?  Well, we can cross out four of them from the start.

  • Invasive Plants and Animals
  • Threat of disease  (from an environmental perspective)
  • Unsustainable Agriculture
  • Overpopulation

are never addressed in the Democratic platform.

In the case of  unsustainable agriculture,  this is a monumental loss of opportunity.  Our current food system is devastating our environment and economy while ruining our health and well-being.  An overhaul of the food system could help save our environment  and enrich our lives.  Unfortunately, there is not much “hope and change” in this platform, or in the record of the last four years.  The platform’s section on rural communities and agriculture  includes the bragging point that “U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history.”  This misguided policy is hardly something to brag about!  It has been widely proven that biofuel made from corn and rapeseed actually generates more greenhouse  gases than diesel, and the conversion of food crops for fuel has caused the suffering, displacement and starvation of poor around the world.

The platform also supports a proposed increase of  “funding for research and development to improve agricultural productivity and continue to pursue global food security.”  This is most likely a reference to funding Obama’s buddies in bio-tech. The big players here are the so-called “Big Six” agrichemical companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Bayer, and Pioneer (DuPont). They have a huge global presence, but the biotech-friendly US is their profit center.  Tom Philpott  writes in Mother Jones that  “two things could mess up the Big 6 here in the US:

  1.  any delay in the regulatory process for a new generation of seeds engineered for resistance to multiple herbicides
  2. any major move to require labeling of foods containing GMOs…”

Regulation and labeling fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA and FDA respectively,  and big business fully understands the role these agencies play. When asked about the regulatory philosophy at Monsanto, Phil Angell, director  of corporate communications, declared that  “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.”  The trouble is,  it doesn’t seem like biotech wants the FDA and USDA to do their job. Since 1999 they have spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying Congress not to regulate genetically engineered crops.  They have also heavily contributed to politicians campaigns…including Obama’s.  How is this paying off?

  • In 2009, much to the disgust of many of his supporters, Obama appointed Michael Taylor, a former vice president for Monsanto, as a senior advisor for the FDA.  Cries of the “fox guarding the hen house” were ignored.
  • In 2011,  as detailed in a piece by Robbie Hanna Anderman for,  “Obama pushed the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets in the United States. The USDA came through as he directed, totally deregulating these Monsanto-patented genes in early February. In so doing, Obama and the USDA have chosen to override and ignore decisions and injunctions made by the U.S. Supreme Court that banned planting of genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets without consideration of the Environmental Impact Assessments, which showed high risks to organic and conventional (chemical) farmers.”   Since sugar beets provide over 50% of the sugar we Americans use and alfalfa is used widely in animal feed and to enrich soil in organic farming, “Obama’s push for deregulation potentially also means the end of the organic meat and organic dairy industries as we presently know them. Essentially, he is choosing to favor the profits of big agribusiness over the survival of America’s family farmers, and especially America’s organic farmers.”
  • Despite his campaign promises to label GMO’s, Obama has done nothing to promote labeling and neither has his FDA.  Mind you, 91% of voters favor labeling.  With such overwhelming support obviously cutting  through partisan lines, it is hard to imagine why Obama has failed to keep his promise.  Many who voted for him feel betrayed, …or maybe we were misguided from the beginning. Perhaps as Anderman posits, “When Obama cried, “Yes, we can!” he obviously was speaking for a different “we” than those who voted for him imagined.”

Looks like big bad agribusiness is breathing a little easier with the President on their side.

billb1961 / Free Photos

The unhealthy food coming out of our current food system has been contributing to a myriad of health problems including childhood obesity. The Obama administration, with the help of First Lady Michelle Obama, initially seemed to be strong advocates for children.  Unfortunately, according to a Duff Wilson and Janet Roberts’ article for Reuters, “In the political arena, one side is winning the war on child obesity.  The side with the fattest wallets.”  After intense lobbying, “the White House all but abandoned a multi-agency effort that recommended healthier food be marketed to children,” according to Wilson and Roberts.   Only two years ago Michelle Obama was telling the Grocery Manufacturers Association that they needed  “to step it up.”  She demanded that “we need you not just to tweak around the edges but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products and how you market those products to our children.”  By last November however, “Mrs. Obama was praising the manufacturers for product improvements.”   The First Lady (with free advertising from broadcasters)  was now emphasizing not choice of food but exercise. This is just what the companies that lobbied against stricter food guidelines wanted.  Kelly D. Brownell, a Yale professor and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said he believes the First Lady has become too friendly with industry even as she has been a passionate, effective advocate for healthier food and exercise.” He continues that “with the Citizens United case and the companies being able to lobby almost without limit, it’s not surprising that the White House is more friendly toward the industry.”  Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest had a similar view: “I’d focus more on exercise, too, if my husband was up for re-election.”

Meanwhile, according Wilson and Roberts, “Congress declared pizza a vegetable to protect it from a nutritional overhaul of the school lunch program this year. The White House kept silent last year as Congress killed a plan by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children.”

On the upside,  the Democratic platform does address:

  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution and quality
  • Protecting public lands
  • Protecting environmental standards in global trade
  • Climate Change

Air Pollution: The platform states that  “President Obama has taken the most significant strides in decades to cut pollution and advance public health—protecting our children and communities from harmful pollution by restoring and advancing safeguards for clean air and water and by working to reduce carbon pollution. Pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury are a threat to human health, and Democrats will continue to stand up to polluters in the interest of environmental and public health.”  Generally Obama has supported the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.  Some greenhouse emissions have declined under his watch, although, according to the piece Obama’s Environmental Report Card, most of the measurable declines are due to the slowdown in the economy and can not be attributed to any policy from Obama.

Water pollution:   “Democrats will continue working to ensure the integrity of the waters Americans rely on every day for drinking, swimming, and fishing, by supporting initiatives that restore our rivers, oceans, coasts, and watersheds.”  In fact Obama has been effective at implementing his clean water agenda, including reinvigorating the drinking water standards that were weakened under Bush, helping to restore better federal financing for water and wastewater treatment infrastructure, and protecting the Great Lakes. Unfortunately Obama has been a strong advocate of hydraulic fracturing, a highly polluting practice which is shockingly exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Protecting Public Lands: The Democrats promise to “continue to work with local communities to conserve our publicly owned lands and dramatically expand investments in conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and wetlands across America for generations to come.”   The Democrats tout the restoration of  “landscapes like the Great Lakes, the Florida Everglades, and local wilderness areas.”  They also promise they will be  ” preserving sensitive public lands from exploration, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pacific West Coast, Gulf of Maine, and other irreplaceable national landscapes.”

Protecting environmental standards in global trade:  The Democrats strongly support the creation of green jobs along with supporting local communities with “developments such as passenger rail, bicycle and pedestrian paths, and other projects to support livable cities.”  There are promises to protect environmental standards when participating in any trade agreements.  Generally,  the similar promises made by Obama in the 2008 election have fallen short. His promise to include labor and environmental standards in any trade agreements, was unfortunately abandoned.

 Energy: The platform outlines an “all of the above”  approach to energy, including using “wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas.”
  • The nation’s first offshore wind farm was approved under Obama. US  wind and solar power capacity  increased 39 and 52 percent (PDF) from 2008 to 2009 and Obama’s decision to extend tax credits and create a new grant program for residential renewable energy  likely was a factor in this increase.
  • The current policy on biofuel needs to be reexamined for the reasons stated above.
  • Whether or not nuclear should be considered in light of the terrifying ramifications associated with waste storage, accidents etc… is another long (or short..depending on how you look at it) debate.
  • Obama has been promoting “clean coal”  since the 2008 election which I consider to be a huge mark against him. “Clean Coal”  is a lie. It does not exist, nor does any viable plan to create it yet.  Enough said.
  •  Natural gas is being heavily promoted. Unfortunately, the practice of fracking, although known to be highly polluting, is completely unregulated and citizens around the country are joining in an effort to ban the practice from their communities.   The platform makes some concessions to these environmental concerns.   “Harnessing our natural gas resources needs to be done in a safe and responsible manner, which is why the Obama administration has proposed a number of safeguards to protect against water contamination and air pollution. We will continue to advocate for the use of this clean fossil fuel, while ensuring that public and environmental health and workers’ safety are protected.”  The administration has done nothing so far to ensure the health and safety of the public in the arena of natural gas production. It remains to be seen if they will.
  • There is a general tone of support  for expanded oil-and-gas drilling,  including “expediting the approval process to build out critical oil and gas lines essential to transporting our energy for consumers.” This could be a troubling hint at a softening on Obama’s  position to reject the rapid approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Climate change is strongly addressed in this platform, although it is noteworthy that it is generally weaker than the platform of 2008.  Since the evidence in support of the dire threat of global warming has only grown stronger, one can only read this as an unfortunate continuation of Obama’s history of  deserting or toning down difficult positions when they are perceived as “politically risky”. An analysis on the blog “Get Energy Smart! NOW!”   states that “the silence from the administration and the Obama-Biden election team on climate issues has been deafening.” Joe Romm comments in his piece  for that “recently, climate change has been the Voldemort of the Obama Administration: The Threat-That-Must-Not-Be-Named  In January, the President omitted any discussion of climate change from his State of the Union address, since, what really does the gravest threat to Americans and indeed all homo ‘sapiens’ have to do with the state of the union? Then the White House edited climate change from Obama’s Earth Day 2012 proclamation.”

The 2008 platform included multiple pledges to free the nation  from the “tyranny” of oil,  while the 2012 platform echoes Obama’s frequent statements of support for expanded oil-and-gas drilling as part of a wider energy strategy.  Obama has had some success with climate change policy, especially with the raised fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. But his overall performance has been spotty.  This was recently addressed  in a brilliant piece for Rolling Stone written by Al Gore. He commends President Obama for his initial work on climate change such as “including climate-friendly initiatives in the economic stimulus package he presented to Congress” and the fact that “during his first six months, he clearly articulated the link between environmental security, economic security and national security”  However Gore concludes that  “in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that ‘drill, baby, drill’ is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil.   The failure to pass legislation to limit global-warming pollution ensured that the much-anticipated Copenhagen summit on a global treaty in 2009 would also end in failure.”   He goes on to say that  “without presidential leadership that focuses intensely on making the public aware of the reality we face, nothing will change. The real power of any president, as Richard Neustadt wrote, is ‘the power to persuade.’ Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.”

I think this brings up an issue that is problematic for many disappointed Obama supporters.  It is generally understood that Obama has had to battle a very strong, well-funded and entrenched opposition when seeking to enact many of his promised policy changes.  I think that many supporters forgive some of his failures at passing meaningful legislation because there is an underlying belief  that change might not  be possible in the current landscape, and that he has “done his best”.  But  there is no excuse for not using the “bully pulpit” to inform and educate the American people and to fight for the policies that he purportedly supports.  When considering the possibly devastating effects of ignoring global warming, Obama’s consistent caving on the issue makes one wonder how much he really cares.

When Professor Gibbons compiled his list of the biggest environmental problems,  number one was apathy.   He explained: “A clear indicator of our foremost problem is that world leaders seldom acknowledge, let alone propose solutions to, environmental problems. For those leaders around the world chosen by a democratic election process, that apathy is condoned and mimicked by the people who elect them.”

It is hard to tell whether or not we can really trust Obama and the Democratic party, but at least their rhetoric about the environment is heads above Romney and the GOP.  In any case, we the people, cannot be apathetic.  Educate yourself about the issues at hand, hold your representatives accountable for their decisions, and where the system is not working, organize to create one that does.

opensourceway / Free Photos

Occupy Our Food Supply

Today an alliance of food justice groups, environmental organizations and the Occupy movement are calling for a Global Day of Action to Occupy Our Food Supply.  It is a call to resist corporate takeover of our food supply and to create and support a sustainable healthy food system for all.  A recent op-ed piece  by Willie Nelson and Anne Lappe highlights the importance of this issue:

 Our food is under threat. It is felt by every family farmer who has lost their land and livelihood, every parent who can’t find affordable or healthy ingredients in their neighborhood, every person worried about food borne illnesses thanks to lobbyist-weakened food safety laws, every farm worker who faces toxic pesticides in the fields as part of a day’s work.

When our food is at risk we are all at risk.

Over the last thirty years, we have witnessed a massive consolidation of our food system. Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one companyMonsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.

What does this matter for those of us who eat? Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, the destruction of soil fertility, the pollution of our water, and health epidemics including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer. More and more, the choices that determine the food on our shelves are made by corporations concerned less with protecting our health, our environment, or our jobs than with profit margins and executive bonuses.

This consolidation also fuels the influence of concentrated economic power in politics: Last year alone, the biggest food companies spent tens of millions lobbying on Capitol Hill with more than $37 million used in the fight against junk food marketing guidelines for kids.

 The wellbeing of much of our planet is now at the mercy of companies like Monsanto which created  DDT, Agent Orange, Roundup, Bovine Growth Hormone, and PCB’s, just to name a few.  Not very reassuring!   We must take back control. It is going to take more than buying organic and going vegetarian. In his excellent piece “Big Food Must Go”  Christopher D. Cook, author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis,  writes “to truly ‘occupy the food system’ we will need nothing less than a fundamental restructuring of the economics and policies that currently enable our corporate food system.”  This would include “a radical overhaul….of how our tax dollars are spent on food”  and reforming anti-trust laws “so these companies can’t control entire food and seed markets.” So let’s get going. The time is now. This IS urgent.


  • GO to the Occupy our Food site facilitated by the Rainforest Action Network and see the list of events and actions that they are promoting including Occupying Cargill
  • GET POLITICAL  Contact your  representatives. Here is a list of them. Let them know that this is a crucial issue and that you expect them to do everything they can to create policies to support and promote a healthy and sustainable food system. Call back frequently!
  • Use your purchasing power. Stay informed and only buy products from companies with sustainable practices. Boycott huge agribusiness.
  • Support your local farmers. Buy your food from the farmers market and/or join a CSA. Here in Santa Barbara we are very lucky  to have many wonderful organic farmers growing a huge variety of food. Enjoy It!
  • Plant organic edibles. Support biodiversity and buy and grow heirlooms seeds. Island Seed and Feed is a great resource. Save and Share your Seeds.
  • Look into the Occupy Movement.  Read some of their declarations.   As Eric Holt- Gomez, Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, writes recently in the Huffington Post,  “The food justice movement has no strategy to address the inter-institutional (i.e. structural) ways that inequity is produced in the food system. By openly protesting the excesses of capitalism, Occupy does address this structure. This is why the convergence of Occupy and the food justice movement is so potentially powerful — and why it is feared.”

There is a power in working together. We can take back our health.  In the words of Santa Barbara beloved farmer and educator Michael Ableman, “We need to focus on what we are for as much as what we are against; occupying our land, our soils with life and fertility, our communities with good food. We need to work to rebuild the real economy, the one based on seeds and sunlight and individuals and communities growing together.”

Photo found here

Say goodbye to styrofoam food containers…hopefully

I have pretty much trained myself to carry my beloved ceramic travel mug with me for the times when the desire for a latte is too strong to ignore, but  I still periodically succumb to the 7:00 pm,  there is no food in the fridge,  let’s get Thai take-out.  Much to my chagrin I usually fail to follow through on my best intentions to bring some sort of container from home to transport  those yummy Phad Thai noodles, which means they often end up  in some sort of styrofoam container.

Have a nice century...this could be polluting the planet for hundreds of years!

There may be help on the way!

A bill (SB 568) passed the California state Senate on Thursday which would prevent food vendors and restaurants from using containers made with polystyrene foam (commonly known as Styrofoam).

So what are the repercussions of  using these containers anyway?

Polystyrene foam is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable resource. It’s manufacture is heavily polluting. It uses benzene, a carcinogenic chemical in its production.  It’s main building block is styrene, a suspected neurotoxin and a substance which is classified as a possible human carcinogen  by the EPA. According to the Earth Resource Institute when we use it to contain our food, toxic chemicals leach into the food.  After its one time use,  it is either thrown away, or possibly recycled.  Styrofoam advocates tout this ability to be recycled as one of its great attributes, but the truth is that most styrofoam simply does not get recycled. The market for used styrofoam is very small mostly because its large volume per unit of weight makes it cost prohibitive to recycle.   This is especially true if it has been used for food packaging, which requires the added cost of cleaning in order to be recycled.  Here in Santa Barbara, recycling centers do not take styrofoam food containers.  So if it is not recycled it is thrown away. It either ends up in a landfill, or it becomes urban litter and marine debris.

 Polystyrene comprises 15% of storm drain litter  according to the CA Dept of Transportation and according to a study by So.CAl Coastal Water Quality research Project it is the 2nd most common type of beach debris.  Animals are commonly killed from choking on it or having their digestive tracks clogged after ingesting styrofoam.  Here is the big catch, Polystyrene foam does not biodegrade.  It can last thousands of years, if not longer, and we make a lot of it.   Approximately 166,135 tons were produced and sold in one year in California for packaging and food service according to the Ca Integrated Waste Management Board. While styrofoam does not biodegrade, it does break down. The smallest of these pieces are called styrene monomers. Research has indicated that styrene monomers are carcinogenic to mice.  Styrene monomers seem to be widespread in the worlds oceans.   Samples of ocean water taken in the Pacific by Nihon University contained styrene monomers along with other products of Styrofoam breakdown.   According to researchers from the University of California in Santa Cruz, styrofoam can pose a threat to marine life even at the molecular level.

Seems like  it is high time to get rid of it.

The California bill is headed to the assembly this month with a floor vote by the end of August.  Let’s hope it does not go the way of  the California plastic bag bill which had passed the assembly in 2010 and had the support of then Governor Schwarzenegger but ended up failing after heavy industry lobbying.  It might be helpful to let your representative know of your support for this bill before the final vote.

Take Action

Since we often advocate contacting your representatives, here is a handy list of all of our government representatives from the local level here in Santa Barbara all the way to Washington.

City  Council of Santa Barbara

P.O. Box 1990 Santa Barbara, Ca 93102

Council Members and contact information found here

County Board of Supervisors

105 East Anapamu St    Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Boardmembers and contact information found here

State Of California

Das Williams, Assemblymember

101 West Anapamu St Suite A

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805) 564-1649             (916) 319-2035               Website

Tony Strickland,  Senator

225 East Carrillo Street Suite 302

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805) 965-0862                (916) 651-4019            Website


Lois Capps, Representative

1216 State Street Suite 403

Santa Barbara, Ca 93101

(805) 730-1710                   (202) 225-3601                 Website

Barbara Boxer, Senator

112 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

(202) 224-3553         Website

Diane Feinstein, Senator

331 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

(202) 224-3841         Website

Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington DC 20500

(202) 456-1111 comments

(202) 456-1414 switchboard

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Heal the Ocean, and yourself

Heal the Ocean, is an incredible non-profit based here in Santa Barbara whose mission is to end ocean pollution. They have a very hands on approach, actually  funding their own scientific studies to find the sources of pollution and commissioning engineering studies and environmental assessments to determine the costs of clean up.  After five years of research, they  recently released the California Ocean Wastewater Discharge Report and Inventory. The report, which encompasses all the wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into the Pacific along the California coast, provides an unprecedented overview of the state of our wastewater system. When the study was started, the issue of bacteria in the water was the primary focus but as time went on, the problem of chemical pollutants took on an increased significance.  Apparently our wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to treat these pollutants, termed Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC’s).  As  more research was conducted, it became apparent that the source of many of these CEC’s was personal care products. Turns out that many products we use everyday,  (think  shampoo, lotions, toothpaste,  sunscreens, antibacterial soap, fabric, canned goods,  etc. ) are loaded with chemicals, and they are not only poisoning the ocean, but may be very harmful to us.  Katherine Engel, a research associate  with Heal the Ocean, has written an excellent paper  “Bad for the Ocean,  Bad for You” which details many of these  CEC’s and provides tips on how to avoid them. This is a must read as is  her companion essay, Personal Care Products- A Research Journey. The ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products are not regulated in any meaningful way;  many of them include known toxins such as lead which has been found in many brands of lipstick.  Engel writes “consumers have NO idea they are bathing in toxins, smearing toxins on themselves, rubbing toxins into their hair,”  and when we are done with this toxic bath, the CEC’s “go down the drain from your house to a wastewater treatment plant, where for the most part they bypass the current treatment system and are discharged straight into the ocean.”  These chemicals also pose a threat to our drinking water . The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates 91 contaminants but it is estimated that there are over 60,000 chemicals used in the US.  While the wastewater treatment plants are not currently  treating these chemicals, it is possible that with higher levels of processing they might be able to effectively remove these contaminants. This would require an increase in funding, most likely through rate hikes on the sewer portion of our water bills.  I think that if people understood the problem they would support this. How much is safe, clean water  worth to you?   According to Hillary Hauser, the Executive Director of Heal the Ocean, ” A wastewater treatment plant is the most important environmental tool we have for the ocean, period.  And we have to help them.”   Heal the Ocean will be  hitting the road with their groundbreaking reports  and “will be talking to state water agencies, politicians, experts and regulators.”  Let’s help support them.  Obviously, if we can keep these chemicals out of the system to begin with we will helping to solve the problem and likely improving our health as well. These chemicals are ubiquitous in many of the products we buy, but they are not essential and often there are better alternatives available.


what's in your shampoo?


  • READ THE LABELS of the products you have been buying and if they are loaded with these CEC’s write to the company to see if they can change their formulas. If not, find a better replacement.
  • BUY WISELY Know what is in the products you buy and what went into making them. Support companies who are committed to the most  sustainable practices
  • VOICE YOUR CONCERN Let your representatives know that you care  about proper funding for our sewer systems

A big part of living a green lifestyle is being a conscious consumer.  Here is another chance to get it right.