Guest Opinion | Cheryl Auger: The Pasadena Zero Waste Plan Failed to Set the Right Goals

Published : Monday, October 7, 2019 | 3:52 PM

The Global Climate Change Week of Action just ended. I would be remiss to not mention how plastic pollution contributes to Climate Change since about 9% of the world’s oil is used to produce plastic.  In 2019, the production and incineration of plastic will release more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, equal to the emissions from 189 five-hundred megawatt coal power plants. If the current trajectory continues, plastic related emissions are set to more than triple by 2050.  92% of our plastic waste is not recyclable. It will end up in landfills, the ocean, or be incinerated. We also know that much of this plastic is used only one time (single use), which means that it will contribute much more to the waste stream than re-useable containers and products. We easily functioned as a society before these plastics were introduced, so we know that the continued use of single-use plastics is simply not worth the cost.

Cities are concerned about the plastic issue and are making changes. Marin, Palo Alto, Santa Monica, Malibu, San Diego, San Francisco, Solana Beach have all done more than just ban plastic bags, and right now Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and South Pasadena are determining what they can do to manage the plastics crisis. Immediately banning produce bags would help. On average, plastic bags are used for 12 minutes. Mandating sales of mesh reusable bags at grocery stores would be an easy next step since people have grown accustomed to the grocery bag charges. This seems small but since 700 bags are used by each person each year, Pasadena could reduce 98,959,700 plastic bags from the waste stream. This equates to about 11,875 barrels of oil each year. Sadly 14 plastic bags translate to driving one mile on gasoline which some might see as having a higher value. This wasteful practice is completely avoidable. Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) also hate these bags because they get jammed in the sorting process and organic facilities hate them because they get caught up in slurry applied to farms so it would be easy to get support from them.

MRFs are failing our communities. Using single-source waste streams is bad, not only because 92% of the plastics are not recyclable, but also because many items that are recyclable get contaminated. While some of this material ends up in landfills, it has been reported that much of it is illegally burned or disposed of. These industries are still targeting India and Southeast Asia for shipment, which is unacceptable. Commercial and Multi-family buildings in our area use these MRFs, since the City doesn’t manage their waste. The Pasadena Zero Waste Plan states that the City should expand commercial & multifamily recycling by 2020 but just the contamination of single-source streams alone limits the practicality of this goal. Since we know that the MRF process results in less successfully recycled material than divided waste stream systems, the City should ban MRF vendors within the City.

The Pasadena Zero Waste Plan has failed to set the right goals or targets and has failed in its planning attempts. In order to manage this plastic crisis, Pasadena needs to expand product stewardship efforts & EPR policies to only use Plastic Resins 1&2 in products sold and used in Pasadena. The City also has a duty to communicate relevant solid waste facts to residents and businesses. Continuing to use fossil fuels to create single-use products used for such short periods impacts air quality and contributes to global CO2 emissions and just doesn’t make sense. We need to rethink plastic.


Cheryl Auger is a Pasadena resident.

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