Going from individuals to businesses to protect the environment


Like many San Franciscans, Justin Mazzola cares about the environment. He prepares meals at home using ingredients he buys at the Clement Street Farmers Market. He travels around the city using his bicycle. And he’s asking drivers who idle their cars outside his Inner Richmond home to cut emissions by turning off their engines.

“I would understand at least if someone was idling to keep the air conditioning or heating on,” Mazzola told me. “But in San Francisco we usually don’t have very hot or cold days, so there’s absolutely no reason to let a car idle.”

This week marks my sixth year of writing Green Space for the San Francisco Examiner, and I have met many San Franciscans like Mazzola during my tenure. The City is full of people who care about the planet and want others to do the same. This philosophy has prompted lawmakers to pass a range of laws, from car idling regulations to bans on plastic bags. But contaminants continue to pour into our environment.

Perhaps this is a sign that lawmakers need to consider other avenues for change. The “greening” of individual behavior has raised awareness and helped push the market. But such rules are best combined with policies requiring companies to turn off their pollution engines as well. This is the goal of the new waste legislation being drafted by Supervisor Connie Chan. If successful, the new law could help clean up city beaches and sidewalks in the same way that policies that increase adoption of electric vehicles help clean the air.

I have written about the plastic crisis many times in this column. Despite laudable victories, such as the city’s plastic straw ban in 2018 and the San Francisco International Airport ban on plastic water bottles, the battle against single-use items is without. end. During the pandemic, plastic bags, containers and gloves proliferated because city leaders believed the industry’s unsubstantiated claims that the disposable is healthier and safer.

This must change. San Franciscans should refuse unnecessary waste, use bags and thermos, and support the city’s efforts by notifying the Department of the Environment when businesses use plastic bags and straws. But the industry that has taken its toll is also in need of reform. This is the goal of Supervisor Chan.

“We hope that by forcing companies to pay their fair share, they start to think about their profit margins and change direction,” Supervisor Chan told me during the Ocean Beach cleanup last weekend. . “Let’s look at who is really responsible for the pollution.

If new local law forces plastic manufacturers and distributors to pay for their pollution, it would be great to see that money flowing to small businesses. I covered expenses incurred by restaurants and cafes in San Francisco to reduce the environmental impact of napkins, take-out containers and straws. This is money that Nestlé, Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, which are primarily responsible for this waste, should pay instead.

Putting the burden on industry, not individuals and small businesses, is similar to environmental policies aimed at changing cars, not drivers. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035. President Joe Biden is also working to reshape the auto industry with the goal of making zero-emission vehicles the half of all sales by 2030. In response, manufacturers, like General Motors, have pledged to phase out petroleum energy.

In a world where tailpipes no longer emit pollution, people like Mazzola don’t have to feel so responsible. This is why source targeting is important. San Franciscans should turn off their engines and report idling of buses or commercial vehicles to the California Air Resources Board. But the burden of protecting the world should not depend on these individual efforts.

Lawmakers should continue to shift the burden to industry by making electric vehicles more accessible and affordable, taxing the sale of plastic used for single-use items, and supporting federal and state Break Free From Plastic Pollution Acts. I look forward to covering Supervisor Chan’s new legislation in a future column when it is presented.

San Franciscans deserve more opportunities to enjoy nature instead of fighting such an uphill battle to protect it. It would be great to also give environmentalists a moment of inactivity.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental lawyer, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is an opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. Find out at robynpurchia.com.

environmentPlastic wasteSan Francisco

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