Category Archives: Plastic bags

Getting to Zero Waste

Tip of the Month – April 2016

By Cynthia Ruzzi

As we approach Earth Day 2016—a day set aside for the past 45 years to channel our energy and consciousness towards caring for our planet—I find myself thinking about the Sustainable Danville Area motto, Every Choice Counts.  It is a phrase that has encapsulated the practices of many in our community and guided Sustainable Danville Area for the past six years. For some, it is a reminder that small changes contribute to a greater difference and for others it has led to lifestyle changes that deprioritize convenience in order to protect our special place for those that come after us. And while it is a reminder to make ecological and environmental choices that preserve our community and planet for future generations, the word ‘environmentalism’ is not the antonym to ‘luxury’ or ‘good-living’.

Not a plastic bagWhen I shop, I carry a natural cotton jute bag from Dean and Deluca—a stylish choice for a man or woman—or my favorite, Anya Hindmarch “I am not a plastic bag”, that she designed in the 1970’s to create environmental awareness. You have to admit either of these choices is better than a flimsy plastic bag from a local grocery store. And with Danville following Walnut Creek this July by banning single-use plastic bags, it might be time to start your very own collection.

If you’ve read Sustainable Danville Area articles about the importance of eating whole, local foods without pesticides, growing native, drought tolerant and edible gardens, driving electric, using LED lighting or creating art without chemicals, then you know our dedication isn’t just about what’s on the outside of the bag. However, with all our green practices, we still drink fine wine, coffee and eat chocolate—biodynamic, organic and fair trade but delicious none the less.

Which got me thinking…how far would we have to go to consider caring for our planet a sacrifice? In honor of this Earth Day, let’s find out! I’ve challenged myself and my family to be ‘zero waste’ for one week and to see which one of us can make the least waste. From Friday, April 15th – Friday, April 22nd, we will make choices that prevent any contribution to the landfill—and for extra points we’ll limit what we need to recycle. Here are some of the morning-to-night plans we’ve discussed to accomplish our goal:

  1. Food Shopping – Carry reusable bags for transporting food stuff. Buy only items with no packaging, recyclable or compostable packaging. We’ll use mesh or cotton bags for produce and other bulk items. I’ve readied a bunch of glass and BPA-free plastic containers that customer service at my local grocery store will weigh and tag for use for liquid and other items, like fish and meat. My husband already uses a French press for his daily coffee, so no filter to trash or even compost.
  2. compostCompost – Luckily, we will avert any food waste going to the landfill since Alamo and Danville have curb-side food scrap recycling. All food waste, including bones, cheese, citrus peels and other oily/fats (which I would never put in my backyard composting bin) can be included in our organics bin. If you are not already participating in this program, you can get a nifty plastic container for under your sink by calling Republic Services at 925-685-4711. Please do not leave this container outside for pick-up. Instead empty it weekly into your organics green bin. More details can be found online at
  3. Body and face care – I suspect this will be my area of weakness. Even though I use organic shampoos, face creams, etc. their packaging is usually no better than conventional products. Secretly, if I don’t run out of anything during the challenge, I’m fine…but I’m trying to negotiate a handicap with my husband just in case.
  4. Entertainment – I’m feeling good here. We love downtown Danville restaurants and with over 27 of them participating in the food scrap recycling program we don’t have to exclude this activity during the challenge. I’m notorious for having leftovers, so I’ll be traveling with my own ‘doggy-bag’. For places that rely on plastic utensils (my favorite yogurt shop), I’ll rely on the bamboo travel set of spork, knife and chopsticks I recently bought at Whole Foods.

I’m sure there will be other facets of our lives that we’ll find alternatives for during the challenge, but overall we don’t expect to be inconvenienced, just slowed down a bit. The extra time it takes for us to accomplish our daily tasks will allow us to be more mindful and grateful for what we have and hopefully live more in the present.

I welcome you and your family to join our challenge. Post pictures and comments to and let’s try to get to zero waste.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:


Running with the Green Dogs

TessBy Tesla Faraday-Einstein, Majestic Mascot, Sustainable Danville Area

Some environmental pundits say that the carbon impact of a pet can equal that of driving a large car. As an expert on the subject, I can pretty much say my people would be lost without me in their life. Not only can they count on a kiss whenever they’re feeling down; but once my stomach starts growling in the morning, I’m a punctual alarm clock. Most of my kind can entertain kids for hours with a Frisbee or ball—me, not so much. And while I don’t want to brag, my imposing size and bark keep my people feeling safe. I tend to get my people off the couch for a brisk walk every day. And since the average person burns about 150 calories in 30 minutes of exercise…add up five days and I’ve got them losing a pound a week! And ‘between dogs’—I pretend I’m interested in the squirrels just to pick up the pace.

But let’s face it, with over 78 million dogs in the United States it is important to make sure our people understand how ‘walking’ a little more lightly helps take care of us, the planet and the community we love. Let’s start with a subject near to my stomach, food.

Eating and living more organically these days? Shunning the chemicals from your foods and your cleaning products? Buying local? All these principles are important for us dogs as well. While you might think its cost prohibitive for you to feed me organic food, you might find that it’s just pennies a day that you’ll save in the end in veterinarian visits. It is important for you to know what goes into every food bag and where it’s produced. Food that is produced overseas requires an excess amount of energy to get it to our door and may not use processes that are environmental-friendly. Consider local brands that have limited ingredients with the majority being meat and vegetables.

Food produces waste, so let’s not beat around the bush—let’s talk poo. First of all, furry friends please talk with your people, tell them—It’s not okay to leave my poo ever, even in a bag, at the side of the road, street, trail—even if they plan to pick it up on their way back…nobody wants to see that, for shame!” Bags do add up, so please purchase bio-degradable ones. Better yet, designate a small area in your own fenced yard and fill it with pebbles and train your young ones to do their business there. Using a shovel to collect the waste into a stainless steel covered can reduces the number of bags needed and keeps our walks smelling fresh and embarrassment free. My people even considered a composting doggie toilet for their yard, but it turned out to use many gallons of water and that’s a precious resource in our continued drought conditions.

When not properly trained or allowed to roam freely, dogs can harm native wildlife or precious landscaping. Dog parks are a great alternative, as long as you’re not driving miles to visit a preferred venue. Playtime is a major priority for me—tired dogs are good dogs, so purchase a good supply of environmentally friendly toys and rotate them out every few days. Truth be told, I rather have a stick, a deer antler or a rope instead of a plastic toy any day!

I’m not one of those dogs that particularly like bath time, but once resolved that it’s gonna happen and I’m clean—I like the way my people nuzzle me. Unfortunately, just like human grooming products, dog shampoo, flea treatments and other care products can contain a large amount of chemicals which get washed down into our waterways and aren’t great for us dogs either. Most organic liquid soaps are fine for dogs, like Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap, but my people usually use Burt’s Bee shampoo to keep my coat shiny and clean.

Far be it for me to be politically correct—my people got me from a reputable breeder instead of a shelter. It’s a long story, but I’m happy we’re together. But there are lots of reasons to adopt a shelter dog. There are over 2.7 million adoptable dogs (and cats) that are still euthanized each year in the US because too many pets come into shelters than there are resources and dollars to care for them. Many of these are happy, healthy pets whose people could no longer care for them, not because the dog did anything wrong. Consider adopting one of these furry friends and not only will you get a great dog, but it’s wonderful for your self-esteem since you’ll be saving a life.

Have a great green doggie tip? Share with us at .

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

Preparing for the Ban: 3 Alternatives to Using Single-Use Plastic Bags

Sustainable Danville Area – Tip of the Month

By Loren McDonald

On August 29, the California State Legislature passed SB 270, a bill that will prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores. Governor Brown, signed the bill on September 30th, but the American Progressive Bag Alliance (a coalition of manufacturers) have taken steps to gather signatures and qualify for a referendum to repeal SB 270 on the November 2016 ballot.”


According to Californians Against Waste, there are currently 98 ordinances in the state that already ban plastic bags in 122 cities and counties. Locally Walnut Creek passed such an ordinance in March of this year and in August, the Danville Town Council has directed staff to prepare a local measure for review. Learn more about this at and send comments and questions to


So What’s The Problem With Plastic Bags?


Single-use plastic bags are convenient for consumers and inexpensive for owners of stores, however, their drawbacks are significant and include:


  • Plastic bags are believed to take hundreds of years to decompose.
  • In California, CalRecycle estimates that only about 3% of plastic bags are recycled.
  • They are a key source of litter, partially driven by their light weight and ease of flying away.
  • According to the Worldwatch Institute, each year tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals, and turtles die from contact with ocean-borne plastic bags.
  • They are made from non-renewable natural gas and petroleum.


3 Alternatives to Plastic Bags


One of the issues with single-use plastic bags is that they aren’t just used to carry items home from the supermarket, fast-food restaurants or pharmacies. Once at home, many consumers like to re-use these bags for other purposes, primarily to line trash baskets and for dog waste.


The following are some alternatives to the plastic bag for the above common uses:


  1. Re-usable shopping bags: With or without bans on plastic bags, consumers have been adopting the use of reusable bags in a big way, appreciating their larger size, durability and strength.


The biggest challenge for most consumers to make the switch is to remember to bring them into the store. Here are a few tips to consider:


  • Buy several bags and keep at least three or four in your vehicles.
  • When you get out of your car to go shopping, simply grab the bags and go. After a few months, this process will become second nature, and you will rarely forget to take them.
  • Wash your bags on a regular basis. Use soap and water when washing by hand – many can be tossed into your washing machine.
  • Preferably, purchase a ‘Made in the USA’ cloth-type bag, made of cotton or similar materials. Alternatively, opt for a bag made of recycled materials.


  1. Bi-degradable dog waste bags: One of the most common complaints about plastic bag bans is from people who like to use them for their dog waste. But if you put your dog’s waste into a plastic bag, then A) That bag is definitely not useable; and more importantly B) It is no longer recyclable.


The best alternative is to purchase biodegradable dog waste bags. Depending on the material used, biodegradable bags will break down typically within a few months or 1-2 years. They are widely available including most pet supply stores and online retailers.


If you buy in bulk, biodegradable bags only cost about a penny more than non-biodegradable bags. If you use 2 bags per day you would pay less than $4 per year (the cost of one latte).


  1. Paper or biodegradable compost and trash bags. A key problem with using plastic bags in trash bins and baskets in your kitchen, den, bathrooms and garage, is they inhibit the decomposition of items in the bag in the landfill.


A better approach then is to reuse compostable paper bags from the supermarket or other store. Even better, however, is to purchase biodegradable trash bags. Depending on the brand and quantity you purchase, 13-gallon kitchen or smaller 3-gallon biodegradable bags will typically cost just a few pennies more per bag than the traditional plastic trash bag. Biodegradable trash bags are a bit harder to find in your local store than plastic trash bags, so I like to order several boxes at a time from, which will last me for a year or so.


Like the end of using chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol spray cans in the late 80s, single-use plastic bags are rapidly being phased out across the U.S. and world. The transition away from plastic bags for both merchants and consumers will be an easy one, as the alternatives are many and widely available today.


We want to hear about your alternatives to plastic bags, write to us at or visit us at



Loren McDonald is a Danville resident, member of the Sustainable Danville Area and blogs about green issues at

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

How Plastic Are You?

Tip of the Month – January 2014

BY Cynthia Ruzzi, President, Sustainable Danville Area

Have you ever overheard someone referring to a woman as ‘plastic’?  The term just as easily could be used to refer to a man, but either gender, “she’s so plastic” usually describes the person as ‘fake’ or ‘phony’ – or that she has undergone one too many cosmetic surgeries!  However, if the world continues its love affair with plastic polymers, one day soon we might all be more plastic than a Barbie doll.

In the opening pages of Plastic, A Toxic Love Story, author Susan Freinkel attempts to go an entire day without touching anything plastic.  After touching numerous plastic objects during her morning routine, she revises her plan and decides to write down everything she touches that is plastic.  This strategy nets her four notebook pages of plastic items by the end of the day!  If you’re not convinced we all live in ‘Plasticville’, then consider that the average American uses between 330 – 500 plastic bags a year for an average of 12 minutes before throwing them out (that adds up to between 100-150 BILLION plastic bags used last year in the United States alone).

Unlike most other trash, plastic isn’t biodegradable and only five percent of our bags are recycled.  What happens to a discarded bag besides becoming a modern day tumble weed floating along our streets? They never go away!  Sunlight eventually breaks the bonds in the plastic polymers; a process known as photodegradation , but the plastic bits never really go away.   There is a floating “island” of plastic swirling around in the Pacific Ocean known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’.  And while you may not be planning to visit the island on your next family vacation, you may want to think about how this ‘plastic soup’ can visit us!  Fish in the Pacific Ocean eat the plastic bits (thinking that it’s plankton, better known as fish food) and then we eat the fish, so essentially we’re eating the toxins from the plastic water bottle someone chucked out.

San Ramon Valley High School Environmental Club (E2) students and Sustainable Danville Area bring the award-winning film Bag It to Danville.  Bag It, a touching and often funny documentary about how we use and abuse plastic, is the featured film to be screened on Tuesday, January 28th at 7PM in the San Ramon Valley High School Performance Arts Center 501 Danville Blvd. The group hopes to raise awareness of the impact of single use plastics, like plastic bags and water bottles, on our community.

The film is an eye-opening look at the environmental and health dangers posed by the global use of disposable, non-biodegradable plastic products. Told with wit and humor, Bag It follows “everyman” Jeb Berrier as he embarks on a global tour to unravel the complexities of our plastic world.  The film focuses on plastic as it relates to our throwaway mentality, our culture of convenience, our over consumption of unnecessary, disposable products and packaging – things that we use one time and then, without another thought, throw them away.  Remind me, what’s AWAY??  If  I remember that ‘away’ really just means ‘out of sight’ and ‘see you soon as fish food’ then I might remember to grab a few of those 10 re-usable bags sitting in my car trunk as I enter the grocery store.  I’ll even fill a re-usable water bottle if it keeps toxins out of my fish and it’s a bonus knowing that I’m not adding to the island vortex in our oceans.

General admission to the film screening is open to the public with seating availability on a first come basis.  A $5 suggested donation benefits the San Ramon Valley High School Environmental Club (E2).  Join the Near-Zero Waste Pre-show: Weather permitting, we’ll gather in front of the theatre for snacks and games.  Test your recycling knowledge and win cool prizes.  Learn how to protect our creeks and water resources. Please bring a re-usable container for beverages. Activities begin at 6:30PM. For more information regarding this event, or to donate to the San Ramon Valley High School Environmental Club (E2), please visit or follow us on Facebook.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News