The “Attenborough Effect”: How One Man Is Changing the Way We Think About Plastic

The “Attenborough Effect” is shedding light on the progress we’re making — and can continue to make — when it comes to plastic use. The term is named after David Attenborough, an English broadcaster, writer and natural historian whose work educates people about plastic and other sustainability issues.

Attenborough’s Impact on Plastic Use

Attenborough is especially well-known for his most recent work narrating Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Our Planet, and he also narrated a nine-part Life series on BBC that was released between the late 1970s and early 90s. However, the films he has worked on have done more than entertain millions worldwide. According to a new report, online searches in the UK for “plastic recycling” have doubled since Blue Planet II was released two years ago, and 53 percent of people have reported using less plastic after watching the documentary.

The Attenborough Effect is now seen as a larger global movement to reduce plastic waste. New regulations have been initiated that claim to be influenced by Attenborough’s work. The European Union, which encompasses 28 countries, recently passed a single-use plastics ban, accrediting Attenborough’s Blue Planet series as part of its motivation. Even the Queen herself has banned certain single-use plastics from the Royal estates after working with Attenborough on a conservation documentary about wildlife.

The Importance of Awareness

It’s beginning to get harder to ignore just how serious the plastic issue really is. Between the fact that over 90% of plastic has never been recycled, and so many marine animals are dying from accidentally consuming plastics in the ocean, we all need to start rethinking our daily plastic use.

Although the idea of cutting out all plastics is daunting to most of us, limiting how much plastic we use can be done in small stages. Start with the little things: Take a look at the plastics in our Recycling Guide and see if there are any items you can use less of.

As we begin to notice how prevalent plastic is in our lives, we can start to reshape our habits one decision at a time. If there’s anything that can help us turn things around, being more aware is the first step.

The Truth You Need to Know About Your Sunscreen

Protecting your skin from the sun is important. Not only does limiting sun exposure help prevent heat-related health risks, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, but it can also reduce your chances of developing skin cancer.

However, some sunscreens can do more harm than good, especially to our oceans. Here’s what you need to know.

Sunscreen Harms the Environment

As much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen is deposited in the world’s oceans each year. One of the biggest impacts it has on our environment is how it affects marine life and coral reefs. Some of the same chemicals used to prevent sunburn come off our skin when swimming in lakes, rivers and oceans or showering off afterward. Oxybenzone, for example, is a leading chemical that helps to absorb UV light but can also be absorbed by corals and lead to coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching is the whitening process that happens when coral reefs experience extreme changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature, light, or nutrients. As a result, they expel the algae that lives in their tissues, and that’s how they become white. If the conditions reverse, the corals can recover. If not, the algae do not return and the corals eventually die.

Another issue common with sunscreen chemicals is that they contain endocrine and genetic disrupters. In high enough concentrations, these may be damaging to the hormones, genetics and reproductive capabilities of fish populations.

Use Alternatives to Avoid Polluting the Water

Not all sunscreens are made equal.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are two of the most widely talked about sunscreen chemicals that act as pollutants, and in 2021 they will be banned as sunscreen ingredients in the state of Hawaii. However, many other chemicals can still be included even in products that label themselves as “reef safe.”

While mineral sunscreens that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are generally preferred, these ingredients are also harmful if they are nanoparticles, or “nano-sized.” Look for sunscreens labeled “non-nano,” or use the Consumer Products Inventory to find out if your sunscreen contains nanoparticles.

Haereticus Environmental Lab maintains a complete list of ingredients to avoid in your sunscreen. A few of the best-rated sunscreen brands without these toxic chemicals include Thinksport, All Good, Suntegrity, Badger and Raw Elements.

In addition to using eco-friendly sunscreens, you can also limit your sun exposure to begin with so that you don’t have to wear as much sunscreen. Use shade structures to get out of direct sunlight, and wear hats and lightweight clothing with UV protection.

Don’t Toss Your Old Socks — Darn Them Instead! Here’s How

If your favorite socks didn’t survive the winter hole-free, you don’t have to toss them! You can save your favorite socks through the simple, age-old process of darning. If you aren’t crafty, don’t worry — it’s much easier than you think. Watch this short video to learn how.

Toss That Old Garden Hose

garden hose

With summer finally here, many of us are realizing that our garden hoses are cracked, broken or leaky and need to be replaced. Although you might think garden hoses are recyclable because they’re made out of plastic, they actually need to be put in the garbage.

Garden hoses are one of the most dangerous items to accidentally toss in your recycling. Why? They are long, unruly and can wrap around sorting machinery. This not only damages the machinery, but it also endangers the workers who have to try to untangle them. Toss them in the trash, or, if you’re feeling creative, check out these ideas in the Recycling Guide for repurposing them.

When replacing your garden hose, opt for polyurethane (PU) or natural rubber hoses over PVC hoses. PU hoses can also withstand cold weather and high pressure better than PVC hoses do. Also, they are more eco-friendly because they do not contain chemicals that can leach into the environment.

Low-Water Lawn and Garden Ideas

According to the EPA, outdoor water use can account for as much as 60 percent of total household water use in arid regions. Do you want to replace your high-maintenance, water-thirsty lawn, but aren’t sure where to get started? You can use drought-tolerant plants or plant-free lawn options to save on water and lawn care.

Drought-Tolerant Plants

Create a lawn with drought-tolerant plants native to California. This low-water option will keep greenery in your yard while benefiting the environment, because plants help the soil absorb and hold more water while preventing erosion. They also reduce the heat your yard creates from reflecting sunlight. Native plant species in particular promote the health of local bee populations.

Want to try it? You can stick to grasses that look like your typical sod, such as the native California bent grass or Native Mow Free, a trademarked California grass. You can also search the California Native Plant Society’s map for native plants suited to your area.

Succulents and ornamental, drought-tolerant grasses are another way to add beauty without the extra water and maintenance. If you still want flowers, try planting native perennials that tend to be hardier and require less water, such as blanketflower, common yarrow, and a few varieties of sage.

Need more inspiration? Check out other Californians who have replaced their lawns in the State of California’s Reimagine Your Landscape. Worried about the extra work involved in replacing your grass? Don’t be! A study from the City of Santa Monica found that a native plant garden uses 83 percent less water and requires 68 percent less maintenance than a traditional lawn.

Plant-Free Lawn Options

Looking for a yard that’s entirely plant-free? Mulch is your greenest option, allowing water to absorb into the ground to replenish local aquifers. Its heating effect is neutral, and it also tends to be the most affordable.

Artificial turf, concrete, gravel and decomposed granite are other lawn alternatives that don’t require any water. However, they provide little to no benefit to local wildlife and contribute to the urban heat island effect, so it’s best to limit how widely you use them. Whereas gravel and decomposed granite both allow water to sink into the ground, most artificial turf and concrete products are not permeable, so they don’t allow water to replenish aquifers. However, by using a tiling pattern, you can create spaces in between these hard surfaces for water to seep through.

Do you already have turf grass and want to replace it? Visit SaveOurWater.com for information on how to get a rebate for replacing your turf grass with low-water or native plants.

More Water-Saving Tips

  • Collect rainwater in rain barrels and use it to irrigate your lawn and garden, cutting down on water bills and wasted runoff.
  • Create a dry creek bed made of smooth rocks. It will direct the flow of rainwater while creating a striking visual effect in your yard.
  • Terrace sloping areas of your yard or use small check dams to increase your yard’s water absorption.

To learn more about taking good care of our water supply, visit our Clean Water page.

4 Reasons to Kick That Plastic Water Bottle Habit

If you’re one of the millions of Americans still buying bottled water, don’t worry — now is the perfect time to kick that habit. Here are four reasons why:

1. In the U.S., bottled water is not subject to the same reporting standards as tap water. If you’re drinking bottled water because you think it’s safer, know that tap water has to be tested far more often than bottled water. Additionally, in most big cities, water facilities are required to filter and disinfect tap water, whereas bottled water is not required to be filtered or disinfected. If you’re not sure that your tap water is safe, you can look up your zip code in the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database to find the local water report.

2. According to MoneyCrashers, bottled water is 600 times more expensive than tap water, on average. However, if you’re buying a 16.9 oz bottle for $1.00, you’re paying over 3,000 times what you’d pay for tap. Considering that a quarter of all bottled water is tap water anyway, that’s quite a markup.

3. Bottled water isn’t always tastier than tap water. In blind taste tests, tap water tends to trounce half or more of its bottled water competition.

4. Globally, about one million plastic bottles are bought every minute. Most of these plastic bottles end up in landfills or the ocean. Researchers have estimated that about 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, where it breaks down and enters the food chain and eventually our own bodies. Creating all those bottles also uses up a huge amount of energy, and produces toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases in the process.

Kicking your plastic water bottle habit won’t just be good for the planet, it’ll be good for you, too! It’s easy — just pick up a reusable bottle and fill it with tap.

What Is a Circular Economy?

A lot of folks these days are talking about shifting to a ‘circular economy.’ Not sure what that means? Watch this video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a quick rundown.

New York City Tackles Wasteful Fashion With #WearNext Campaign

This spring, New York City is tackling waste created by the fashion industry with its #WearNext campaign. Between March 4 and June 9, over 1,100 locations in NYC are accepting clothing, textiles, shoes and accessories for reuse and recycling.

To help people get rid of their clothing more easily, the NYC Department of Sanitation created an online map of the sites where New Yorkers can take unwanted clothing. Participating residents are encouraged to share their stories on social media using the #WearNext hashtag.

The goal of the #WearNext campaign is to reduce how many clothes New Yorkers toss, and motivate them to repair, donate, swap or resell their clothes instead. New York City alone dumps roughly 200 million pounds of clothing into landfills each year. That’s more than the weight of 440 Statues of Liberty.

Globally, only one percent of old clothing is used to make new clothing. An estimated $500 billion dollars worth of clothing is lost to landfills or incineration every year, even though it is barely worn. Additionally, washing synthetic clothing releases more than half a million tons of plastic microfibers into the ocean every year. In other words, the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles enters our water supply and food chain, just from washing our clothes.

We can all help the fashion industry move towards a more sustainable model. How? Avoid fast fashion and find ways to repair, donate, swap or resell your clothes. You can also consider buying clothing secondhand instead of new. Check out our options for mail-in donations as well as our local donation locations.

How to Keep Your Graduation Gown Out of the Landfill

At the end of every spring is graduation time. Schools all over the country will send their fledglings out into the world or onto their next degree. Students are typically required to purchase their own cap and gown, even though chances are they’ll be worn just once before getting tossed.

This year alone, U.S. high schools expect 3.6 million students to graduate. That’s a lot of caps and gowns to make room for in our landfills.

So how can you avoid buying a graduation gown that will end up in the trash? Here are some tips:

  • Ask if your school has a cap and gown rental program. If you can rent your graduation attire, you won’t have to find a way to get rid of it after the ceremony!
  • If you’ve already bought a new cap and gown, see if you can donate them to your school after graduation. If your school doesn’t have a rental program, encourage them to start one. It’s a great way to avoid unnecessary waste, as well as a way to relieve students from the financial responsibility.
  • Give your cap and gown to a younger friend or sibling, or hang onto it until the following spring, when people will be looking, and post it on a local sales app such as Craigslist, Freecycle, Letgo or OfferUp. You could also try taking it to a local thrift store.
  • Try giving your graduation outfit to a daycare or preschool where kids could use it for playing dress-up, or a theater or drama club that could add it to their costume collection.

10 Surprising Things You Can’t Flush Down the Toilet

We all know what the toilet and its plumbing were designed for, but a lot of us can’t help it — sometimes other things seem like they can be flushed down the drain, too.

However, there can be a lot of unwanted consequences from flushing things down the drain that don’t belong. (Hint: most things don’t!)

First, there’s the expensive mess of an overflowing toilet and damaged pipes. If you don’t have to pay for the clogging, chances are that the City of Ukiah does.

Second, there’s the environmental hazard of adding foreign substances to our water supply. Whether they’re chemicals or plastic, water treatment plants aren’t equipped to filter out all of these substances, so they build up in our drinking water over time.

Skip the mess — and contaminating our drinking water — by keeping these common offenders out of the drain, whether it’s your toilet, a shower or a sink. Click on each one to learn the best way to dispose of it.

1. Medicine

2. “Flushable” Wipes

3. Paper Towels & Facial Tissue

4. Diapers

5. Hair

6. Cooking Oil & Grease

7. Cigarettes

8. Cleaning Products (including bleach)

9. Paint

10. Contact Lenses