by David Goldstein
Ventura County Public Works Agency
Integrated Waste Management Division

Some environmental issues seem so large, we wonder if we can have a role in affecting them. If we keep an “eye on the environment,” we can see how our actions have a role in the world.


The need for local manufacturing

How does Chinese industrial policy affect recycling in Ventura County? We can see the increase of global interdependence when we look at recent changes in China’s recycling strategy. Until about six months ago, China was criticized by some environmentalists for being part of a recycling “race to the bottom,” meaning that itslow labor and environmental standards were among its major advantages in attracting the flow of worldwide recyclables. It could cheaply sort, clean and remanufacture our discarded resources and profitably export them back to us in the form of new finished products.

Two things changed that strategy. Countries like Vietnam and India eventually beat China in the counterproductive race that critics said was, in some cases, defeating the environmental purpose of recycling. Secondly, events such as a 60 Minutes exposé that found computers labeled “L.A. Unified School District” were being recycled in ways that harmed workers and polluted Chinese waterways, caused policymakers to insist on domestic recycling for some items.

China’s new strategy now challenges the West with a race to the top. China began by helping its top entrepreneurs with the development of high-tech, clean, efficient recycling factories, providing land, subsidies, easy permits and other advantages. These new factories, often located in the same areas as the low-tech recyclers, are increasingly putting the old-style recyclers out of business, and the Chinese government accelerated this process with “Operation Green Fence.” Chinese customs inspectors started shutting out the lowest grades of recyclables. For example, Ventura County’s dirty agricultural film plastic was suddenly cut off from Chinese plastic recyclers.

When we export recyclables, we are exporting jobs and economic opportunity, while we make ourselves vulnerable to the instability of foreign markets. To encourage the development of local alternatives, the Ventura County Recycling Market Development Zone provides low-interest loans and other incentives to companies making products from recycled material.


Zero Waste advocate rallies Ojai Green Coalition

Earlier this month, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition brought more than 40 people together for a presentation by Richard Anthony, a fervent advocate of recycling, composting and waste prevention. Anthony’s presentation at the Ojai Retreat included stories of his inspiring 40-plus-year career in waste management, where he went from being a recycling center manager to the director of a public works agency, and eventually became a traveling preacher of the “Zero Waste Gospel.” He has been a featured speaker at the annual gathering of the elite in Davos, Switzerland. In Ojai he inspired a sympathetic audience to take action locally, both in their personal lives and in the sphere of public policy to increase recycling rates.

The Coalition’s next major event is the third annual seed and plant exchange on Feb. 22, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Chaparral Auditorium, 414 E. Ojai Ave.


Drought has local gardeners examining their turf

During this unusually hot and dry winter, many local gardeners have been considering a different type of plant exchange, replacing their lawns with less thirsty alternatives. Leah Haynes, coordinator of the University of California Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program, relayed the story of one local gardener who, with the help of advice from the Master Gardener Help Line, found a way to kill her old lawn without herbicides. Using heavy-duty plastic bags held down with rocks and powered by the heat of the December and January sunlight, this gardener killed an old lawn, then removed the dead turf, dug out the irrigation system, put down decomposed granite and planted succulents. One neighbor was so impressed, she copied the process.

The Master Gardener help line, 645-1455, can also help you with less radical solutions, such as those explained in its lawn watering guide, enabling you to determine the minimum amounts of water needed for your lawn.


Awards and memoriam to Christine Wied

Even as she was succumbing to cancer, Christine Wied worked for a better environment, continuing her educational efforts in local schools almost up until her death last month.

Always friendly, smiling and eager to work with children, she handled projects ranging from environmental education game booths at fairs to waste assessments at schools. One of her favorite projects was coordinating annual Green School awards. Jill Sarick of Ventura’s environmental sustainability office and Shana Epstein, Ventura water’s general manager, recently continued Wied’s work, recognizing E.P. Foster Elementary School for reducing the number of trash bags thrown away daily from 44 to just seven, and recognizing Will Rogers Elementary School for creating wildlife habitats on its campus and reducing stormwater flows with the installation of a new bioswale. 

The Eye on the Environment column is a public service of the Ventura County Public Works Agency.