Paper or Plastic? Or The Great Pacific Garbage Dump
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Paper or Plastic? Or The Great Pacific Garbage Dump
In a recent documentary on the National Geographic Channel, NatGeo, there was a story about a floating island of plastic and other debris floating around in the North Pacific. That island of junk was called “The Great Pacific Garbage Dump.” The images from that show stayed with me because I could not imagine an island, some estimate to be as large as North America, floating aimlessly while creating havoc for birds and fishes.

When the City Council started to deliberate about adopting an ordinance to ban plastic bags here in Foster City, the Great Pacific Garbage Dump came into my mind. Although we may be a small city in the scope of a huge floating island, I still felt that our small effort, along with other communities in San Mateo County who also adopted similar legislation, could result in somewhat reducing the size of that ugly, floating debris of plastic bags and bottles.

Let me also tell you about other “green” projects that we in Foster City are proud to acknowledge. Let’s first talk about the new LED street lights that have been recently installed in our streets. Not only do they provide better illumination, but they are saving the City around $90,000 a year in energy costs. We’ve installed synthetic turf baseball and soccer fields in three of our parks and are designing a synthetic turf field for a fourth park. These synthetic turf fields have been installed with Park-In-Lieu fees so our General Fund balances were not affected. They have also saved millions of gallons of water (which provides a savings to our General Fund).

Finally, we are in the early stages of planning for solar panel installation on the roof of the Library/Community Center and on car shades in the adjacent parking lot. Early estimates have said that we could save in the lifetime of those panels over $800,000 in utility bills.

The plastic bag ordinance will become effective on April 22nd, which is Earth Day. When that date arrives you will no longer be asked the question, “paper or plastic?” If you choose to use the retailer’s bag, your purchases will be put into a recycled-content paper bag and the retailer will be required to charge you 10 cents for each bag that you use. That charge will continue until the end of the year 2014, and then the 10 cents charge will increase to 25 cents. As an alternative, you can avoid the bag charge by choosing to bring your own bag!

The City has a fund called the “Construction and Demolition Fund”. Construction contractors pay a deposit to the City that requires them to recycle 50% of the material they demolish as part of a construction project. If they do not reach that goal, the City gets to keep all or part of that deposit. These unclaimed funds are then used to pay for projects and programs that seek to reduce the amount of waste that goes to our landfills. When I learned of this fund, which is totally separate from our General Fund, I thought that this might be a wonderful opportunity to provide all residents with a free reusable bag as this would further the City’s efforts towards recycling and waste reduction, and also save residents from having to pay the 10 cent fee.

With the assistance of staff and Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Joanne Bohigian, we researched reusable bags that met several key factors. First, they must be either biodegradable or made from recycled material. Plus we wanted to purchase them locally and, if possible, to be manufactured locally or at least in the United States as well. Several bags met the criteria, and with funding available from the Construction and Demolition fund, the program was brought to the City Council for final approval. However, it was thought that providing reusable bags for the residents was unnecessary because it was felt that everyone already had their own bag. Also, some residents might get the wrong impression that in today’s economy and budgetary challenges that we would be spending money unwisely.

I understood all the comments and each person’s objections, so I asked the Council if I personally approached and solicited the business community for sponsorship of this project, would they then reconsider my original proposal. The Council agreed.

Therefore, I am now reaching out to the business community to ask for your support. I have already heard from a couple of excited businesses who are ready to join me in this effort! Please contact me if you would be interested in sponsoring this project, which would be a great way to promote and drive customers to your local business, and support a worthwhile effort to create a more sustainable Foster City.

I may be reached at sokamoto@fostercity.org or my cell phone, 650-468-8184. I look forward to hearing from you.

Council Corner

April 17, 2013
Paper or Plastic? Or The Great Pacific Garbage Dump
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