The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 20, 2007

Mixed Messages – Assemblywoman Hancock’s Forum on the Health of San Francisco Bay

Last night, I attended a public meeting called “Troubled Waters: A Forum on the Health of the San Francisco Bay.” Along with Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, who presented the forum, the panel consisted of Harold Gilliam, a journalist; David Lewis, the executive director of Save The Bay; Shin-Roei Lee, chief of the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board’s South Bay division; and Dejal Choksi, staff attorney for Baykeeper. They presented information about sources of pollution in the bay, the largest of which is urban runoff, which brings huge quantities of wildlife-harming plastic trash, motor oil, pesticides, and other contaminants into our waterways. A Water Board pilot study found an average of three pieces of trash along every foot of Bay Area streams.

While I appreciated the thought that went into presenting these speakers to us, I was more struck by the irony of what I saw when I first stepped through the auditorium door. Knowing it was dinnertime, the organizers had been kind enough to provide snacks: individual plastic-wrapped granola bars! Several speakers mentioned that plastic wrappers are some of the worst trash entering the bay. Did no one notice the plastic wrappers just a few feet away?

What does it take to change behaviors when even the people who are trying to do good can’t see some of their own contributions to the plastic mess that we’re in? Perhaps one thing it takes is someone noticing and speaking up. So I filled out a question card, politely thanking the assemblywoman for the forum and the snacks and asking how we can address the source of plastic waste when the organizers themselves were sending mixed messages by providing plastic waste at this very forum.

Unfortunately, my question was never read. Neither were the questions of many other audience members. The forum was 2-1/2 hours long. Of that, only 50 minutes were allocated for questions, and of that 50 minutes, only about 25 were actually spent on the questions because Assemblywoman Hancock decided to change the agenda and have representatives from each of the non-profits tabling at the event come up and speak to us. There were a lot of words addressed to us but not a lot of listening going on.

So, me being me once again, I sent her this e-mail tonight:

Dear Assemblywoman Hancock,

I want to thank you for last night’s meeting, Troubled Waters: A Forum on the Health of the San Francisco Bay, and also give you some feedback on the event.

I appreciated the panel and the non-profit organizations tabling at the event. A lot of good information was given out. However, I wish there had been more time for questions. I wish that instead of having the representatives from the non-profits come up and speak to us, you would have stuck with the agenda, as there were many more questions than time allowed as it was.

Many people who come to an event like this already understand what a lot of the problems are, and they want answers to their specific questions. I kind of felt like we were “talked at” rather than listened to last night. I know this is not what you intended. But perhaps next time you could organize a more interactive forum in which your constituents’ concerns could be given more weight.

Additionally, I was surprised when I entered the auditorium to find a table full of granola bars that were individually wrapped in plastic. While I appreciated that refreshments were provided, I couldn’t help feeling that there were mixed messages being sent. Plastic wrappers were mentioned by several panelists as causing problems for wildlife in the bay. Yet, just a few feet away was a table full of them.

I am personally working very hard to reduce the plastic waste that I generate, and I’d like to see some support from our representatives for measures to curb this kind of waste at the source. But first, I’d like to see my representatives set the example for the rest of us by eliminating wasteful packaging and bottles from their own offices and events as Mayor Newsom has done in San Francisco.

I look forward to your response to these comments. Once again, I do thank you for putting on last night’s event.

Beth Terry

There I go again, being a little sh*t disturber. Wait’l tomorrow, when I tell you what I did tonight!

Oh, and I created a separate page to keep track of the Trash Challenge. Tomorrow, I’ll update it with the results from today.

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terrible person
16 years ago

I think that to really make the Trash Challenge challenging, you should have to run a half-marathon carrying all your trash!

I’ve adopted a new expression to mean “Get a clue!” or “Get a grip!” or just “Calm down and approach this rationally”: “Sort your trash!” It comes from my favorite Ramones song, “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg (My Brain is Hanging Upside Down)”:

“You’ve got to pick up the pieces
Come on, sort your trash now
Pull yourself pack together …”

It’s a propos, since it also expresses disappointment, even aghast disgust, with the hypocrisy of a politician.

Michelle Verges
16 years ago

Kudos, Beth!

Your post also reminds me of a similar issue I blogged about when GreenFest hosted an event in Philadelphia–the GreenFest organizers were distributing plastic water bottles to all volunteers at the festival. My friend counted 90 out of 120 booths containing these disposable bottles.

On one hand, I find this irritating because it’s so easy for someone who’s not concerned about the environment to point out this blunder and say that environmentalists are a bunch of hypocrites (or something to that effect).

On the other hand, I do understand why it’s easy to overlook this issue when you’re focused on other things (e.g., the agenda, coordinating everyone’s schedule, and so on).

That’s why it’s important to have an Event Coordinator, or someone who’s really good at noticing the small details so these sort of things don’t happen.

Well, I look forward to hearing the Assemblywoman’s response. I hope they’re receptive to your suggestion–you’re making a very good point, and I hope they’ll listen.

And thanks for letting me know about the Trash Challenge! I think I’ll also participate–I dunno, though–I think this is actually a very easy challenge. I already compost my food waste, conserve, and recycle everything I possibly can, so I don’t generate a lot of trash. But who knows? Maybe the results of this challenge will surprise me of my trash habits. We’ll have to share notes to see who generates the least trash! :0)


16 years ago

Keep up the good work, Beth. It’s one thing to grumble about the government and how they are doing, but it’s something else to take part and and be an active citizen.