Letter to Editor Regarding Plastic Pollution

A snapshot showing plastic debris in the mulch. I walked out my back door, knelt down in a random spot in the garden, looked for just a second to spot some plastic, and took the photo. So pervasive is the plastic trash in the mulch that I can find it anywhere I kneel within seconds of looking without even digging.

I have made a point of trying to keep this weblog free of politics and tightly focused on my experiences when recreating outdoors and my related interests in nature and history.

Believe me, you do not want to hear from me about politics!

I would for a moment, however, and I beg your pardon here, like to publish a letter I emailed to a local news outlet months ago regarding the issue of plastic pollution and drinking straws in Santa Barbara County.

Perhaps this here may serve in some tiny way to raise awareness and spur discussion about this issue.

For context readers may hit the link below to a Noozhawk story regarding the Santa Barbara City Council’s decision last year to ban plastic drinking straws, which is the story that spurred my letter.

The City’s action garnered national attention in print and television outlets and stimulated widespread discussion.

Santa Barbara City Council Bans Plastic Straws, Expanded Polystyrene

A small sampling of the plastic found in the mulch. This took about 10 seconds to collect while kneeling in one spot.

In 2008, I wrote an article published in a local magazine describing the catastrophic impact of plastic pollution in our oceans and the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” off the coast of California.

I had noted at the time that, in 2005, a scientist had found a scrap of plastic inside the stomach of a dead albatross. Countless marine creatures die from ingesting such trash, from fish to birds to whales.

By tracing the origin of a serial number on the shard of plastic, the researcher found that it had come from a World War II-era airplane.

The discovery served as a shocking testament to the longevity and lethality of plastic pollution. Six decades later the small piece of trash was still a killer.

Plastic is forever. It degrades in sunlight, breaking apart into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming minuscule particles, dust eventually, but never rotting or biodegrading.

A decade ago when I wrote that article, I described the problem as a “a global blight of epic proportions.”

At that time researchers taking samples of sea water in certain places found that bits of plastic outnumbered plankton by as much as 6-to-1.

What must the ratio be now?

In recent months, numerous international news headlines have chronicled shocking accumulations of plastic garbage washing ashore in various locales across the world, from Indonesia to the Dominican Republic.

The sea is awash in plastic.

On July 17, 2018, the Santa Barbara City Council banned plastic drinking straws. So serious does the council believe the problem to be that the new ordinance affords a possible six-month jail sentence for violators. See story here: Santa Barbara City explains jail time controversy over potential plastic straw ban.

As a side note, that’s the same jail sentence given to some rapists in this county.

See two different stories here: (1.) Former UCSB Student Receives 6-Month Sentence for Rape. (2.) Isla Vista Rapist Gets Six Month Jail Sentence.

Something seems a tad askew. Nevertheless, the issue of plastic pollution is a serious problem.

The City of Santa Barbara advises residents to spread free mulch on their yards, which is available for self-service pick up at a couple of locations.

The City even pays for its water customers to have mulch delivered by the dump truck load.

But there is a huge problem here: The mulch is contaminated with large quantities of plastic.

Surely I cannot possibly be the only one to have noticed.

Ironically, the City tells us that the mulch is made from the garden clippings we put in our so-called “green” yard and garden recycle bins.

The City promotes the use of this contaminated mulch wholeheartedly with a full-throated promotion of the practice under, of all labels, and once more ever so ironically, the tab “organic.” See the City’s page here: Mulch Does A Garden Good.

The City tells us this is “natural” mulch. See their page here: Santa Barbara County’s Mulch Program.

In other words, under the advice and financial sponsorship of the City and their dubious assertions of “natural,” “organic,” “green” mulch, plastic is being spread across the land in large quantities at the same time the City launched it’s anti-plastic drinking straw crusade.

Does this make any sense to anybody out there? It’s utterly, and obviously, senseless.

Day after day, year after year, the plastic is being spread.

I made the colossal mistake of mulching my garden with a load delivered to my home.

Now my yard is littered with bits of plastic. It. Is. Everywhere.

As the mulch biodegrades, more bits and pieces of the trash begin showing until I am left with native soil covered in a layer of microplastic confetti.

I have even found bits and pieces of hypodermic needles in this mulch in my yard!

And, considering how plastic photodegrades into dust, the pieces visible to the eye are only a fraction of the amount now on my property.

And what about the rest of the gardens and landscapes across all of Santa Barbara County?

It’s disconcerting to think about how much plastic has been spread over the land out there, as advocated and subsidized by the city for years on end.

There is no doubt that some plastic washes into streets, sewers, creeks and, eventually, the ocean.

This was precisely the concern the City had in mind when passing the straw ban; plastic pollution getting into streams and the ocean.

If we as as a community are serious about addressing the deadly and poisonous problem of plastic pollution, then this issue must certainly be addressed with resolve.

Something must be done.

Will something ever be done?

I have yet to see any public discussion about this issue at all. Please show me something I’ve missed. Where and when has this issue been raised?

I suspect that an immediate moratorium on the plastic mulch program, at least until this issue can be remedied, would do far more in reducing plastic pollution than the straw ban and the City Council’s lunacy of six month jail sentences for straw-use violators.

Such a halt would certainly be no more drastic than giving straw providers or users the same jail sentence as rapists.

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9 Responses to Letter to Editor Regarding Plastic Pollution

  1. Robert Hazard says:

    Jack, if you think plastic shredded in with organic material now is bad wait until you see what comes out of the County’s new “trash composter”. This 120 million dollar fiasco is being built next to Arroyo Honda out on the Gaviota Coast and is supposed to “prolong” the life of the Tajiguas Landfill by shredding the organic components of our every day garbage, food waste, paper waste, yard waste, etc, then stewing it in a chamber where little bugs eat it while farting out methane that the County will use to fire up big generators to create electricity. The resultant goo will then be dried and sold as mulch. Unfortunately the little bugs have no appetite for the ground up plastic, glass, and metal in the garbage.

  2. Your PMC write up seems to have Garnered attention, maybe this one does as well. I say keep fighting the good fight Jack.

  3. Guano says:

    Well, sorry to be the dissenter (alas, we all have our roles to play) but methinks that only when the herd is forced to wallow in its own filth (of which plastic mulch is a fine example) will it become apparent to them that their everyday actions have direct consequences. I am not unsympathetic to your predicament, Jack. My only point is we all suffer because of the fallacious materialistic philosophy and its byproduct of environmental detachment. Everything is connected. Use poisonous plastics that don’t biodegrade and it will come back to you. The ignorant mass deserve what they get. Want to not be an ignorant mass? Then take some responsibility for yourself and go plastic free. Then you can be a glorious martyr when the whole enterprise collapses because of the aforementioned ignorant mass and the tyranny of their democracy. God, Plato was so right about democracy.

    May God forgive us.


  4. randomhiker says:

    Hi Jack, I am replying directly back to you via email, since I don’t know if my replies make it to you via your yankeebarbareno site. I always enjoy reading your posts so first let me say that if you are not seeing my replies they are always positive. I think you do a great job of informing your readers. With regard to the plastic straw ban I can’t agree with you enough. I think it’s a good idea to ban plastic straws but what about the plastic lids and other plastics in restaurants. Then something the other day hit me even harder. I began to think recently after a business trip, what about all of the small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion in hotel rooms. What about all of the little butter, jelly, salad dressing, yogurt, and other containers hotels are stock with for their guests? What about all of the little plastic containers used by airlines, and in airports? And most ridiculous, they may not give me a straw at Starbucks but they sure keep on using those little green sticks to plug the sipping hold in the coffee lid. There are so many millions of small plastic single use items that it is a joke just to ban plastic straws. I think it makes someone feel good. Instead, we need to try and realize what we are consuming and say no to it if we can. I wonder though if we have the mentality, especially when I see a driver next to me, roll down their window and callously drop their garbage in the street rather than wait until they have found a place to properly dispose of it. Hell, I’ve even seen tourists at the Grand Canyon toss their trash aside even though there is a trash can maybe 25 yards away from them. Makes me wonder about people. So yeah, it seems like a joke for SB to ban the straw but spread the plastic in their mulch. I hope one day for the sake of the planet that an enterprising young person comes up with a way do dispose of plastic quickly and safely. I don’t see a day in my lifetime when we’ll stop using it.

    On Thu, Aug 1, 2019 at 11:21 PM Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure wrote:

    > Jack Elliott posted: “A snapshot showing plastic debris in the mulch. I > walked out my back door, knelt down in a random spot in the garden, looked > for just a second to spot some plastic, and took the photo. So pervasive is > the plastic trash in the mulch that I can find it anyw” >

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