If you drop and break an old-fashioned mercury fever thermometer in a sink, its mercury could go down the drain and get into the wastewater that flows through sewers to the treatment plant. However, the treatment process cannot remove all traces of mercury, so some will end up in local waters, causing harm to aquatic life.
Because of this, the sale of mercury fever thermometers was banned in California years ago. But some people still have them at home. Digital thermometers are much better for the environment.
Central San has identified four local businesses as shining examples of environmental stewardship, and will present each with a Pollution Prevention Award at Sustainable Contra Costa’s annual Leadership in Sustainability & Green Building Awards Gala on September 21:
Barrelista Coffee House & Café, 736 Main St., Martinez
They have dramatically reduced waste by using compostable food trays, cutlery and cups, and by serving iced espresso drinks in mason jars which customers can keep and reuse.
Kee’s Auto Body, 2171 Monument Blvd., Concord
They are conserving precious water resources by eliminating wet sanding and using wax in lieu of water to wash cars.
Mike’s Auto Body, 2140 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek
Their recycling system for washing cars saves valuable water, and they are conserving energy with new, highly efficient lighting.
Walnut Creek Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, 2404 N. Main St., Walnut Creek
They use a resourceful drainage piping system that greatly reduces spills while automatically transferring waste fluids (such as motor oil) to storage tanks, and have installed more energy-efficient lighting.
We love honoring local businesses like these that take extraordinary steps to safeguard the environment! Whether coffee shops, auto body shops, or car dealers, they are going above and beyond by recycling, reducing waste, conserving resources, and taking other actions to prevent water pollution in our area. We applaud this year’s award winners, and all businesses that make protecting the environment a top priority!
We present our Pollution Prevention Awards each year during National Pollution Prevention Week. Since initiating the program in 1992, we have recognized more than 100 environmentally friendly local businesses.
Cigarette butts are the most common item of trash collected during beach clean-up events. They also comprise an estimated 30-50% of all trash collected from roads and streets.
But they’re more than just a litter problem. When you throw cigarette butts on the ground or flush them down your toilet, you’re polluting the Bay.
When butts are dropped on sidewalks, parking lots, streets or into gutters, they are often swept down storm drains with rain or irrigation runoff. Our storm drains flow untreated into local creeks and the Bay.
When you flush butts down the toilet, they travel through sewers to the wastewater treatment plant. Treatment plants are designed to remove human biological wastes. They cannot remove all traces of toxic chemicals.
Yes, cigarette butts are loaded with toxic chemicals!
The purpose of a cigarette butt (filter) is to trap the toxic chemicals created in the smoke when the cigarette burns. Nicotine is the chemical most people associate with cigarettes, but that’s only one of the toxins captured by the filter. “Tar” refers to more than 3,500 chemical particles (including arsenic, vinyl chloride, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, mercury and lead) generated by a burning cigarette.
Those toxic chemicals, many of which are especially lethal to aquatic life, leach out of the butts when exposed to water.
But that’s not the only problem with cigarette butts. Most are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. Plastic is not biodegradable, but it does eventually break down into small pieces. Fish and birds mistake these pieces for food and eat them, often with fatal consequences and long-lasting damage to the ecosystem.
This is one type of pollution that is easily preventable.
If you smoke, please dispose of your butts properly. Don’t throw them on the ground. Don’t flush them.
Otherwise, that little flick of your wrist can do serious harm to our water environment.
We know they’re cute. They’re loyal and loving, and who can resist those adorable furry faces? But there’s another side to cuddly cats and dogs: the back side that produces poop pollution!
From Your Lawn to the Bay
According to the EPA, pet waste is a significant cause of water pollution.
When left on the ground, pet waste can be washed by water from sprinklers and rain into gutters and storm drains. Storm drains in our area are not connected to the sewer system; they funnel water directly into creeks, streams and the bay without treatment.
In water, the bacteria in decaying pet waste consume oxygen and release ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia can be harmful to aquatic life. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote excessive weed and algae growth, making water cloudy, green, and unhealthy.
Perhaps most importantly, pet waste contains bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make water unsafe for swimming or drinking.
The Solution Is As Simple as 1, 2, 3
It’s easy to prevent pet poop from polluting our water environment. Just follow these three steps:
1. Pick it up 2. Put it in a bag 3. Put it in the trash (never in the yard waste or compost bins!)
Landfills are designed to handle that type of waste.
Can You Flush It?
Please do NOT flush pet waste.
• Out treatment plant was designed to serve the human population of central Contra Costa County, not accounting for pets. Right now there are nearly 470,000 people in our service area. We don’t know the pet population, but if 50% of our customers have one pet, that’s about 235,000 additional little (or big) poopers. If all that pet waste were to be flushed, it would put an additional load on our system and could make it more difficult for our treatment plant to treat the human waste for which it was designed.
• Please do not flush Flush Puppies® or other brands of “flushable” dog poop bags. They may be biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean they dissolve quickly in water (one manufacturer admits this can take up to 96 hours). Even though they go down your toilet, they can clog sewer pipes!
What About Flushing Kitty Litter?
Typical kitty litter is made of clay. Clay mixed with water makes something close to cement which can clog your pipes. Even if it isn’t made of clay, nearly all litter is designed to absorb liquid, and when that happens, the particles expand; your pipes don’t. “Flushable” kitty litter may be more biodegradable, but can still clog your pipes. Sewer (and septic) systems just aren’t designed to handle kitty litter, no matter what it’s made of.
Aside from the litter itself, what’s in the litter – cat poop – may contain the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which can survive the treatment process and is known to kill marine mammals like sea otters. That’s why all cat litter sold in California is required to have a label warning people not to flush it down the toilet.
Put the litter into a bag, seal it, and put it in the trash.
Winter is over, and for many homeowners that means it’s time for spring cleaning. Unfortunately, many cleaning products contain metals, solvents, and toxic chemicals. If poured down your drain, these can pollute Suisun Bay because our wastewater treatment process is designed to treat biological wastes; it cannot remove all traces of those pollutants before the treated water flows into the Bay.
Many cleaners also contain unnecessary antibacterial agents (which are technically pesticides) that can make bacteria more resistant to antibacterial drugs!
But don’t worry, we have alternatives for you that use baking soda, borax, lemon juice and other ingredients that are friendlier to our water environment. These homemade solutions are also less expensive than commercial cleaning products.
• All-purpose cleaner: Baking soda mixed with a little water (paste consistency). For stubborn stains, work it in and let it sit for a while before you remove with a damp cloth or sponge.
• Disinfectant: Full-strength white distilled vinegar. Spray or rub on surfaces, door knobs, etc. Alternative: ½ cup Borax in 1 gallon hot water.
• Drain cleaner: Baking soda, salt, vinegar, boiling water. Pour ½ cup baking soda and ¼ cup salt into drain, add ½ cup vinegar, cover drain while fizzing (let sit overnight for best results), then flush with boiling water. To clear clogs, use a Zip-It drain cleaning tool, plumber’s snake, or plunger. Note: Do NOT use the baking soda combination or a plunger after using a commercial drain opener.Tip: To avoid clogs, use drain strainers to trap food particles and hair; collect grease in cans rather than pouring it down the drain.
• Glass cleaner: 2 cups water, 1 cup white distilled vinegar and 1 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent. Put in spray bottle; use to remove wax residue left by commercial window cleaners. After that residue is removed, you can leave out the soap for future cleaning. Alternative: lemon juice and water. Tip: Wiping with newspaper instead of paper towels prevents streaks.
• Grease remover: Lemon juice or vinegar. Spray or douse, let sit a few minutes, then scrub.
• Lime & mineral deposit remover: Vinegar and paper towels. Hard lime deposits around faucets can be softened for easy removal by covering the deposits with vinegar-soaked paper towels. Leave paper towels on for one hour before cleaning.
• Mildew remover: Undiluted white distilled vinegar. Use it on a cloth or sponge mop to wipe down surfaces.
• Oven cleaner: Baking soda and very fine steel wool. Sprinkle water followed by a layer of baking soda. Let stand overnight. Rub gently with a very fine steel wool pad. Wipe off scum with dry paper towels or sponge. Rinse well and wipe dry.
• Scuffmark/watermark remover: Toothpaste. Use to remove scuffmarks from floors and watermarks from wood furniture.
Now that you’ll be using these homemade alternatives, you can dispose of your unwanted commercial cleansers (as well as paint, pesticides, batteries, solvents, cleansers, and other potentially hazardous household products) free of charge at our Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility. Never put them down the drain or in the trash.
Did you know most produce stickers are made of plastic? If they go down the drain as you wash your fruits and veggies, they can get stuck in your plumbing, or in our wastewater treatment plant pumps, hoses, screens and filters. Worse, they can end up in Suisun Bay!
It’s extremely difficult for our treatment processes to remove small pieces of plastic from the wastewater. Please don’t let these stickers go down the drain!
Keep them out of compost piles and green bins, too. Even so-called “compostable” and “biodegradable” stickers take a very long time to degrade. They can also get washed into storm drains when it rains, and add to the shocking amount of plastic polluting our environment.
Keep your sewer system happy and trouble-free by throwing produce stickers in the trash!
Flushing unwanted medications down a toilet, or pouring them down a drain, is a bad idea (no matter what you read on the Internet). Wastewater treatment plants, including ours, are designed primarily to treat biological wastes; they cannot remove all traces of the sophisticated chemical compounds found in today’s pharmaceuticals.
If you flush your drugs, you will pollute Suisun Bay.
Putting drugs in the trash isn’t a good idea, either. They might spill, be found by kids or animals, or be washed down storm drains and into local waters.
Here’s what to do instead
Instead of flushing or trashing unwanted medications (including pet medications and vitamins), bring them to a freedrop-off site for safe disposal. Transfer pills to a sealable plastic bag before depositing them in the bin. Leave liquids in their bottles, but seal them in a bag to prevent leaks.
Please do not put sharps or anything other than medications in the container! A list of sharps disposal locations is here.
Pharmaceutical Drop-Off Sites in central Contra Costa County
Alamo: Sheriff’s Substation, 150 Alamo Plaza, Suite C.
Clayton: Police Dept., 6000 Heritage Trail.
Concord: Police Dept., 1350 Galindo St.
Danville: Police Dept., 510 La Gonda Way.
Lafayette: Police Dept., 3675 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Suite 130.
• Police Dept., 525 Henrietta St.
• Sheriff’s Field Ops Bldg., 1980 Muir Rd.
• Contra Costa Regional Med. Center,
2500 Alhambra Ave.
Moraga: Police Dept., 329 Rheem Blvd.
Orinda: Police Dept., 22 Orinda Way
Pleasant Hill: Police Dept., 330 Civic Dr.
San Ramon: Police Dept., 2401 Crow Canyon Rd.
Walnut Creek: City Hall, 1666 North Main St.
NEW! Walgreens stores now have collection kiosks for unwanted medications! Take advantage of their program in our area by visiting their Walnut Creek store at 2900 Main Street.