Category Archives: Rethinking Plastics News

Coastal Cleanup Day: Sep 21, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACalifornia Coastal Cleanup Day may be the largest marine-related volunteer event in the world.  This year’s slogan is “Help make trash extinct”!  You can help reach this goal and contribute to citizen science while enjoying a day of fresh air and heart-filled service to the environment . . . and who doesn’t love beach-combing?

1. McNear’s Beach, 201 Cantera Way, San Rafael (among scores of locations around the Bay Area), a lovely bayside park overlooking the northern bay.
2. Damon Marsh, MLK Jr. Regional Shoreline,  a 741-acre park protecting the remainder of a once-extensive marshland at San Leandro Bay.  The park includes the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Grove, completed with community support and dedicated in 1993.  The 50-acre Arrowhead Marsh is a stop-over on the Pacific Flyway and is part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

When:  Sat, Sep 21, 9am – noon.  Cleanup starts with a brief orientation and safety talk.  Come early even if you can’t stay the whole three hours.

McNear’s Beach includes about one mile of shoreline, and is a relatively well-cared-for beach, but in 2012 we still managed to collect 91 pounds of trash and 6 pounds of recyclables!

More about McNear’s Beach here.


  • Sturdy, closed-toe shoes
  • Hat and other sunblock
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle (no single-use plastic, please!)
  • Jacket in case of wind

Also bring your own reusable supplies if possible, to help cut down on waste and save funds.  This could mean a bucket, trash bags, and gloves if you have.

Directions to McNear’s:  Drive out Point San Pedro Road from central San Rafael; signs will show you the park entrance.  Tell the ranger you’re volunteering with the beach cleanup, then park at the far (northerly) end of the lot.  We’ll be at the picnic tables by the snack bar.  Beach captain:  Maeve Murphy (455-9577).  Click here for a map.  Please consider biking, public transport, or carpooling to the site with your friends. Volunteers who drive to the cleanup can park for free (the normal weekend fee is $10 per car); just tell the rangers at the entrance that you’re a CCC Day volunteer.

You are invited to the Bay Model in Sausalito for an after-cleanup barbecue. To prevent waste, please BYO plate, cup, and eating utensils as only throw-aways are provided.

Shay Jensen on his way

Directions to Damon Marsh: 

·  If you’re driving on 880 take the 66th Ave/Zhone Way exit and turn toward the airport (west).

·  Drive to Oakport St and turn R (there will be a sign at the intersection).

·  Proceed ¼ miles and on the L side you will see a yellow gate and signs.

·  Go through the yellow gate and follow the signs down the entrance road to the parking area.

·  Sign-in area is by Damon Marsh Trail.

More information and additional sites listed by the California Coastal Commission here:  California Coastal Cleanup Day.



An easy way to reduce waste

Green Sangha has been advocating for plastics reduction since 2004.  And we have gotten results:  from the saving of over 8 tons of plastic produce bags from Bay Area markets every year, to plastic bag and foam food ware bans in Marin County, to changes in the consumer choices of thousands of Bay Area citizens.  Harvill bldg Sun 10-14-12

Allison Vogel has initiated the latest action, something you can do on your own schedule in the course of your day.  The idea is simple:  saturate our local stores and restaurants with friendly, firm calls to end the use of Styrofoam foodware.  We continue to advocate for local ordinances to accomplish this across the board, and eventually a statewide ban.  But we can hasten the process by reminding local business persons of their role in making the shift to sustainable packaging and an ethic of reuse.

Allison has written a letter that you can download and bring to restaurants that still use Styrofoam for take-out dishes.  Copy this letter, edit it to suit your situation (for example, you may participate in clean-ups at other locations than Damon Slough,  mentioned in the letter.  Print out a few copies, put them in your backpack or your backseat, and carry them into the restaurant or market you visit.

Re:  Take-out packaging; going sustainable

I enjoy your food very much, but feel sad when I see polystyrene (Styrofoam and related products) used by customers to take their servings home.  I’d like you to consider changing the packaging for to-go orders.  Here’s why:

Polystyrene is resistant to photolysis and never completely degrades.  It does, however, break into smaller bits which, sadly, look like fish eggs and thus are regularly mistaken for food by wildlife. As a member of Green Sangha, I regularly participate in clean-ups at Damon Slough on the Oakland Shoreline, one of the Bay Area’s “hot spots” for litter pollution.  The little bits of polystyrene are by far the most insidious form of litter, nearly impossible to collect.

Polystyrene is harmful to humans.  According to the EPA, styrene is a suspected carcinogen.  This chemical migrates from foam containers into our food. Heated food, food with fat content, and acidic food are all especially likely to have plastic chemicals leach into them.  Workers who are exposed to styrene report acute health effects such as irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory system, and gastrointestinal tract. Long-term exposure can lead to chronic effects on the nervous system, including headaches, depression, fatigue, weakness, and impairment of kidney function.

Recycling is almost impossible.  Although there is a recycling symbol on most polystyrene containers, the EPA reported in 2010 that only 1% of polystyrene was recycled.  It is not accepted in citywide curbside recycling because of difficulties in processing the material (sorting, transporting, cleaning, and re-forming into new articles).  Many citizens are not aware of these issues and put these containers in their recycling bins with the best of intentions.  Unfortunately these items contaminate the system, and must be weeded out and sent to the landfill.  Winds often carry these lightweight articles out of garbage trucks and away from the landfill, clogging storm drains and polluting the Bay and ocean.

Leadership.  Nearly 200 cities and towns in California have already banned foam foodware, including the Bay Area communities of Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Fairfax, Hercules, Oakland, Palo Alto, San Bruno, and San Francisco.  One restaurant in San Rafael charges its customers $1 for orders that require take-out containers.  Very few customers have objected; if someone does complain, they explain the reason for the policy, and waive the fee.  This allows the business to cover the cost of the slightly-more-expensive compostable containers, to encourage customers to bring their own tiffins for left-overs, and to spread the message of waste reduction in practical and understandable ways.

I urge you to consider these approaches and to talk with your supplier about a green alternative to foam food ware.  Copied below are some websites that offer safer biodegradable alternatives to Polystyrene and plastic. (Plastic can only be “downcycled” once and then it, too, is landfill forever.)

If we want to protect our health and our environment, we must stop pollution at its source.  I deeply appreciate your consideration of my request and look forward to supporting your business in a way that is non-harming to people and the planet.



A few Green Product Suppliers

For more information about ending plastic pollution, see


Turn the tide on marine litter – Plastics 360 Mar 7 & 16

Leila Monroe, staff attorney at NRDC, just sent us a 2012 paper by the Convention on Biological Diversity.  The Center reports that 663 marine species have been harmed by marine litter through entanglement and ingestion—a two-thirds increase in species from a similar study in 1998.  You can see the report here:  Impacts of Marine Debris on BiodiversitySea lion entangled - MMC

Another 2012 paper reports the annual expenditures of California’s coastal communities to combat litter:  over $418 million.  This report, presented by the EPA is summarized neatly here: 

West Coast Communities’ Cost of Managing Marine Debris.

We don’t have to keep living this way.  On Thursday, March 7, and Saturday, March 16, join fellow citizens and decision makers to listen, learn, and converse on ways to end the plague of plastic pollution.

Chris at micChris Pincetich, PhD, will be one of the local leaders at both events, giving us insight into the problem, and discussing solutions that are already at hand.  Come to Berkeley on Thursday, March 7, for an evening of Films and Conversation.  Then, come to Lafayette on Saturday, March 16, for a day-long exploration of issues and possibilities for action, from home to office to government, with Chris, Dr. Marion Guyer, author Beth Terry, and other luminaries. Register here.


Save the date: Plastics 360 this March

It is a great joy to announce this year’s conference on Plastics 360:  Impact and Possibilities. 

Local experts and activists will gather to share their findings and insights, and to include you in the conversation on what we can do to end the plague of plastic pollution.

Thursday, March 7:  Film Night at the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 7-9 pm.

Saturday, March 16:  Conference at the Lafayette Public Library, 9:30 am – 4:00 pm.

Cost:  Film Night $15.  Conference $30 advance registration; $40 after March 1 ($10 discount for Green Sangha members and students with current ID).

For more details, click here.  To register, call (510) 532-6574 or write

Plastics 360 is a continuing project of the Enviromental Forum of Marin, Class 39, and Green Sangha’s Rethinking Plastics Campaign.

Throw it away?

Land Wilson (children’s environmental book author and product-take-back activist) just sent me a poster:

our society has reached a point
where the effort necessary to
extract oil from the ground

is considered to be less effort than what it takes
to just wash the spoon when you’re done with it.
What if we actually took care of things, instead of throwing them away?  Thich Nhat Hanh gives us an idea. In The Miracle of Mindfulness, he says: “I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath” (1976, p. 61).   What is the benefit of such an approach?  “Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves,” Hanh says, “the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness” (p. 14). Is it possible that the litter and waste we see all dispersed around us are simply outward expressions of the inward dispersal that afflicts so many of us in an over-busy, over-hurried, over-crowded world?

Of course, we must remember that some effort went into the making of the stainless steel spoon, and that washing it requires water and energy, too.  Has anyone tried to prepare an LCA (life-cycle analysis) on these two divergent paths of material use?  It’s hard to imagine that throwing things away can be more resourceful than re-using.  That, however, is the argument now being promoted by “Bag the Ban” when it comes to grocery bags!

Perhaps you have some thoughts on this group’s contention that reusable bags cost more energy and use more resources than throw-away plastics!  If so, please write me:
Meanwhile, I’m using my reusable bag, my reusable spoon . . .  my reusable everything. 

Plastics conference 2013


Thu Mar 7, 7-9 pm, Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship Hall              Sat Mar 16, 9:30 am – 4:00 pm, Lafayette Public Library

Register for Saturday conference here or call (510) 532-6574

“We may not think about them often,” says the American Chemistry Council, “but versatile plastics inspire countless innovations that help make life better, healthier and safer every day.”  In this view, plastics provide cheap, hygienic, lightweight, and convenient materials for our growing economy.  But plastics are turning out to be anything but convenient.

 In 2010, American manufacturers produced over 51 million tons of plastic.  That same year, American households threw away (not recycling) over half that amount.  What are the costs and effects of this kind of waste in our daily lives?  What can you personally do to protect the environment and your health?

Join us for a comprehensive review of research on plastic in the oceans, plastic toxicity, the costs of disposability, and ways that we each can shift to more life-sustaining materials.  Local leaders in health, conservation, and resource recovery will describe issues and solutions to the plague of plastic pollution.

For students, teachers, business managers and owners, civic leaders, citizen activists, and anyone interested in sustainable living.

Thursday, March 7, 7-9 pm.   Introduction & film night.  $10 suggested donation.  Contact or call (510) 532-6574 to register.

  • Film shorts:  The Story of Bottled Water (Annie Leonard); Midway Island cleanup (Chris Jordan); We Can Recycle Plastic (Mike Biddle); and more
  • Where:  Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar Street (at Bonita Avenue)

Saturday, March 16, 9:30 am – 4:00 pm.   Conference fee:  $30 pre-registration by Mar 1; $40 after Mar 1 and at the door ($10 discount for Green Sangha members & students with current ID).  Register here.

  • A brief history of plastics.  Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic:  A Toxic Love Story
  • The oil-plastic connection.  Joe Mueller, MS, biology instructor
  • Marine litter.  Chris Pincetich, PhD, marine toxicologist
  • Plastics in our bodies.  Marion Guyer, MD, MBA
  • What we can do.  Beth Terry, author, Plastic Free
  • Plus!  Opening meditation and mindful movement break with Gerry Swan

WhereLafayette Public Library, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd.

Refreshments:  Light, earth-friendly snacks will be provided at registration (9:00-9:30 am).  BYO lunch!  We will provide coffee and beverages.  (BYO mug if you can.)

Reservations:  (510) 532-6574 or write

Co-sponsors   ° Clean Water Action  ° Generation Green  ° Sea Turtle Restoration Project

Endorsed by ECOlunchboxes, Lafayette; Jules Thin Crust Pizza, Danville

Plastics in the Ocean


By Chris Pincetich, Ph.D., Turtle Island Restoration Network
Tuesday, Sept. 25th 6:30 pm
Marin TV Comcast Channel 26/AT&T 99

Watch a captivating talk, recorded at the Plastics 360: Impacts & Possibilities conference this March, on the effects of plastics in our oceans.

The weight of plastic produced annually in the United States is more than twice the weight of our entire population.  Plastic waste is accumulating not only in our landfills, but also in our streets, parks, and waterways.  A 2001trawl of surface waters of the northern Pacific Ocean by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF) recovered six pounds of plastic pieces for every pound of zooplankton.  In 2008, the ratio had climbed to 48:1.  In this section of the ocean, the North Pacific Gyre, AMRF reports one million plastic particles were found floating near the surface for every square kilometer, up three times since the early 1990s.

Learn about the latest data and steps being taken to protect and restore endangered sea turtles and marine biodiversity worldwide.  Become informed and join us in taking action, from reducing our plastic footprint at home to persuading our offices to give up disposable plastics, to advocating for a statewide producer take-back law.

Plastics 360: Impact & Possibilities is co-sponsored by and the Environmental Forum of Marin.

Video Producer/Director: Cynthia Abbott

Coastal Cleanup success!

Coastal Cleanup Day, Saturday September 15, 2012:

At McNear’s Beach in San Rafael we had a great turnout for the largest volunteer event in California:  80 volunteers, breaking last year’s record of 55 by a wide margin!  Participants included Cub Scout pack 53, the Tam 4-H Club, whole families, and lots of other local folks who care about their beaches and Bay and the wildlife they are home to.

McNear’s is a popular and pretty well-cared-for beach and picnic area, but our dogged volunteers still managed to find 41 pounds of trash (about four large trash bags’ worth) and 6 pounds of recyclables.  When Ranger Jim showed up in his motorized cart with a 50-pound piece of dumped cyclone gate, the grand total came to 91 pounds!

Some of the more distinctive items among the 1790 individual bits collected:

– Eight-inch drill bit
– Easter egg
– Candle
– Nail file
– Cassette tape
– Plastic flower
– Ear bud

Shay Jensen on his way to clean the beach

The remaining litter tally:

408 food wrappers/containers
288 pieces of fishing line
212 plastic bags/pieces
135 cigarettes and filters
87 plastic eating utensils
75 caps or lids
58 paper bags/pieces
51 unidentifiable bits of plastic
49 glass beverage bottles/pieces
43 glass fragments
34 pieces of rope
27 plastic beverage bottles
27 metal beverage cans
27 pieces of polystyrene  foam
25 pull tabs
23 toys
22 pieces of paper
19 pieces of tissue
19 pieces of fishing net
17 balloons
17 straws and stirrers
16 pieces of plastic sheeting/tarp
15 pieces of wire
14 pieces of tape
13 items of clothing
11 strapping bands
10 cigar tips
7 shotgun shells/wadding
7 fishing lures/light sticks
7 pieces of building material
5 condoms
5 medical gloves
4 hair ties
4 pieces of fabric
3 combs
2 each of:
bait containers/packaging
tampons/tampon applicators
cigarette lighters
tobacco packaging/wrappers
dental floss
1 each of:
piece of medical gauze
garden pot
fishing hook

Whew! And let’s not forget the six pounds of recyclables we recovered, which will not end up in landfill.

It was striking how much less Styrofoam (a subset of plastic) was found compared to last year (580 pieces).  Could the increasing number of businesses switching to non-polystyrene food takeout containers be making a very real difference?

Thanks to Rangers Dan and Jim and their colleagues for helpfully supplying buckets and litter pickers, and the other ways they supported our efforts.  And a big thanks to all the volunteers who showed up with buckets, gloves, and their enthusiasm: you helped beautify McNear’s and make it safer for wildlife, while contributing to citizen science.  We salute you!


Coastal Clean-up Day

Mark you calendar for the nation’s most popular volunteer environmental event of the year!  Coastal Cleanup Day, Saturday, Sep 15, 9 am to noon.

Join Green Sangha members at one of two sites:  1) Damon Slough at the Oakland Coliseum, 2) McNear’s Beach in San Rafael (our 9th year!).   You may also go to any of scores of spots in the Bay Area (check the Coastal Commission’s web page here, and click on their link for “local coordinator” to find a site near you).

Wear sturdy, close-toed shoes, layers for changeable weather, a hat and other sun protection as needed.  Bring also a water bottle (reusable, of course), gloves, and a bucket if you have one.  The Coastal Commission is making a big push for zero waste at the clean-up, in response to many participants’ comments about throw-away plastic bags (replete with corporate sponsors’ names) being used in the past.

Last year at McNear’s Beach, we broke some records:

  1. We topped our ’08 & ’10 highs of 52 volunteers, with a total of 55 individuals participating.
  2. Volunteers collected more fishing line than ever before: 183 Pieces. Ugh!
  3. Biggest number:  Volunteers picked up 937 individual pieces of plastic (not counting whole items such as bottles or pipes). Double ugh!

The top item, though, was Styrofoam (a subset of plastic pieces):  580 bits.  If you have ever tried recovering littered foam, you know how easily these pieces break apart.

In 3 short hours, 55 volunteers recovered a total of 2511 pieces, ranging in size from large (a car tire, fishing nets, crates) to miniscule (Styrofoam bits, cigarette butts). There’s no way to know for sure the long-term impact of each piece of litter.  Some types (fishing nets, for example) appear far more hazardous to wildlife and boats than others.  But we might estimate an average cost of one animal’s life per piece of litter. If so, we saved 2511 animals’ lives on that sunny morning.

Here’s a special shout-out to Bernard, Maeve, and Sita, who combed the shore for those hundreds of plastic pieces; to Ishon and friends, who retrieved a long fishing net (and a balloon from a tree); to the Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, and everyone else who brought their gloves, buckets, and smiles.

McNear’s Beach litter tally, Sep 17, 2011

  • 580 Styrofoam bits
  • 357 plastic bags
  • 236 food wrappers/containers
  • 219 glass bits
  • 193 miscellaneous plastic bits
  • 183 fishing lines
  • 122 glass bottles
  • 116 cigarettes/filters
  • 92 caps, lids
  • 78 paper bags
  • 48 plastic beverage bottles
  • 47 foodware items (e.g., plastic forks)
  • 45 building materials
  • 42 paper/cardboard pieces
  • 32 beverage cans
  • 29 cigar tips
  • 24 clothing/shoes
  • 19 nets
  • 17 balloons
  • 16 pull tabs
  • 15 straws/stirrers
  • 15 toys
  • 11 rope
  • 8 each:
  • shotgun shells, wadding
  • tobacco packaging
  • fishing lures
  • traps (fish, crab, lobster)
  • 2 each:
  • batteries
  • crates
  • cigarette lighters
  • diapers
  • painted pictures
  • bait containers
  • 1 each:
  • bleach bottle
  • bee trap
  • tire
  • car part
  • syringe
  • feminine napkin
  • plastic glove
  • band-aid
  • comb

Awakened Action Tea

Come to the Awakened Action Tea on Sunday, July 1, 2012 at the Mill Valley Community Center!  Our featured speaker is Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free, How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.

Beth will tell us about her personal journey to near-zero plastic consumption, why this effort is vital for the planet’s life-support systems, and how you can easily adopt a lower-plastic lifestyle.  The program also includes a meditation and short talk by Green Sangha’s founder Jonathan Gustin.  Tasty organic, vegetarian snacks and beverages will be served.

Beth Terry, accountant and awakened activist, on the cover of Eastbay Express

This is our annual fund-raising event, supporting programs such as Less Carbon & More Compassion, Mindful Activism training, Rethinking Plastics and the Teen Environmental Leadership Academy.

Date:  Sunday, July 1
Time:  4-6 pm
Location:  The Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto, close to Highway 101, with easy parking and access to public transit as well as a marshland walking-biking trail.
Tickets:  $75 pays for Green Sangha’s programs of awakened activism, and an afternoon of inspiration.

To purchase: Go to our donate page; indicate $75 as the amount, and select “Awakened Action Tea 2012” on the Program Designation menu. Or mail your check to Green Sangha, P.O. Box 20261, Oakland, CA 94620. Thank you!

To see Beth’s home video of her 2009 plastic trash collection (she discarded less than 4 pounds in the whole year!), click here. You can also visit her website at:

On our way to plastic-free shopping . . .