Monthly Archives: January 2010

California Adopts First Statewide Green Building Code

On January 12, California passed the nation’s first statewide green building code,  which will cut water use, require recycling of construction waste and step up energy efficiency in new homes, schools,  and commercial buildings.  All new State buildings have been required to meet at least LEED silver standards since 2004.  The new regulations, which take effect January 2011, will help the state reach its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by 2020.  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a leader in fighting climate change and protecting the environment.

While some environmental groups protested that the standards did not go far enough – they are less stringent of standards already adopted by San Francisco, LA and more than 50 other California jurisdictions – the mandatory Green Buildings Code (CALGREEN) requires  developers to cut water use in buildings by 20 percent by using more efficient fixtures, would divert 50% of all construction debris away from landfills to recycling, and would require that strict building standards be verified by inspectors.  The California Air Resources Board projects that the mandatory standards will remove three million metric tons of emissions from the air by 2020.

no. of plastic bags used in the U.S. every 5 seconds

“Skip the Bag, Save the River”: How D.C. Succeeded Where Seattle Failed

no. of plastic bags used in the U.S. every 5 seconds

Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the U.S. every 5 seconds, from Chris Jordan “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait”

Beginning January 1, 2010, District of Columbia businesses that sell food or alcohol must charge consumers 5 cents for each disposable paper or plastic carryout bag. The business keeps 1 cent, or 2 cents if it offers a rebate when customers bring their own bag. The remaining 3 or 4 cents go to the new Anacostia River Protection Fund, which will use it to provide reusable bags, educate the public about litter, and clean up the river.

Although other cities have banned plastic bags or required recycling, D.C’s law is the first of its kind in a major American city.  In 2007 San Francisco banned plastic bags and Oakland and Malibu soon followed.  But in Seattle, an effort to impose a 20 cent fee on plastic bags failed to pass a referendum, and in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for a 5 cent fee went nowhere.  Mexico City enacted a ban on thin plastic carry bags last year.

So how did D.C. manage this environmentalism first?  According The Oregonian, D.C. council member Tommy Wells followed two basic strategies: First, focus the debate on a specific problem – in this case pollution of the Anacostia River – rather than the general environmental issue. Second, include incentives for businesses, which might oppose measures that alienate customers or raise costs – hence the 1 cent holdback for businesses’ administrative costs in collecting the bag fee.

The District promoted the program using the campaign Skip the Bag, Save the River,” referring to the heavily polluted Anacostia River.  The D.C. Department of the Environment found in a 2008 study that 47 percent of the trash in the Anacostia’s tributaries and 21 percent in the river itself was plastic bags.  Bags clog stormwater drains, get caught in vegetation, and harm aquatic wildlife.

China banned ultrathin plastic bags in 2008 and also prohibited all stores from giving out free plastic bags, to save the millions of barrels of petroleum used to produce them and mountains of trash they become.  China joined Ireland, Uganda, South Africa, Russia, and Hong Kong, according to

Lawmakers in Virginia  are considering measures similar to the D.C. bill. Could Syracuse or Onondaga County possibly become the first locality in New York State to enact this “green” and relatively inexpensive measure to save energy, reduce waste, and improve the environment?