The Clean Water Blog

The author (left) and Waste Prevention Program Associate Dara Rossoff Powell (right), tabling on Wednesday, April 6 at the City of Oakland’s Earth Expo event, downtown.

What’s So Great About Oakland, California? (Apart From Everything, Obviously).

Clean Water’s California office is located right in the heart of downtown Oakland—a city that even green-minded Europeans are talking about as a center for reducing carbon emissions associated with commerce. 

For 21 years, the City of Oakland has organized an annual earth expo in Frank Ogawa Plaza right outside our office, and more than 3,000 people attended this week, where we tabled along with 100 other organizations focused on a variety of sustainability issues. 

It was a great chance to meet with people and talk with them about our work: We talked with 120 people, and signed up 28 new members. Our plastic bag monster also walked around, scaring people about the harmful effects that plastic bags have on our environment, and particularly, our oceans.

My role in California is as part of our Rethink Disposable program, which focuses on stopping the proliferation of single-use disposable items (many people call these “trash”) at the source, before they end up on our streets and in our oceans. We are innovators in an innovating City.

Think about all the straws, utensils, and plastic cups you see in restaurants. The bad news is that those items make up 67% of street litter here in the Bay Area. That litter makes its way into waterways and then the ocean where it harms ocean life and eventually returns to harm us.

The Rethink Disposable program is innovative because we engage with the business community, community members, and policy makers to put an end to the disposable lifestyle. And we will also now be tracking the carbon emission reductions the program saves.

We have now worked with 100 participants in the Bay Area, including food service businesses, food trucks, and even a high school. Over the last year, just 30 of those participating businesses have reduced targeted disposable items by an average of 70 percent, prevented a total of 30,000 pounds of waste, and saved participating businesses an average of $3,000. We also won the 2015 Governor’s Award for Environmental and Economic Leadership. 

I am grateful to be part of such an amazing global movement, in an amazing city, as a member of a terrifically innovative organization.

It’s sometimes possible to feel overwhelmed by the state of the environment, the risks to our health, and the injury sustained by our communities and by those who do not have a voice. Our work as environmentalists can be grueling and tough. But hope is achieved with action.

When I work with my colleagues, when my organization, in turn, works with other NGO’s and government partners, and when our city, Oakland, works with other global leaders, we’re leading in the right direction. 

See you at next year’s Earth Expo. And if you’d like to get in touch to find out more about the Rethink Disposable program in the meantime please, drop me a line.