On Earth Day (4/22/2019) I decided to do a little trail maintenance. We live near Buffalo Bayou Park, a beautiful 160 acre urban space near downtown Houston. In addition to the trails along the banks of Buffalo Bayou, there is a dog park, a skate park, a nice restaurant, The Dunlavy, the Houston Police Memorial, a Cistern, a nature play area for kids, gardens, sculptures, and many other things that allow thousands of people to enjoy the outdoors and view the skyline of downtown Houston while watching the river flow. While the trails are relatively well maintained, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a little litter and keep some trash from washing into Buffalo Bayou.
Buffalo Bayou is a slow-moving river, approximately 53 miles long, which flows east through Houston, the Houston Ship Channel, into Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. My wife and I recently took a short pontoon boat ride on Buffalo Bayou. It was a chance to see some of downtown from the water level as well as learn a bit of the history of Houston. The first thing our boat captain did was apologize for the debris in the water. He explained how street trash, e.g., plastic bottles, makes its way into the bayou through the storm drains throughout the city. That trash that’s not cleaned up ultimately makes its way to the Houston ship channel and into the Gulf of Mexico. The second thing the captain said was that if we ever had a chance to vote to eliminate plastic bags, we should do so. (Then he told us about the life vests and other safety things.)
All cities near waterways have to deal with watershed issues. In New Orleans, following the 2018 Mardi Gras parade, the city pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from just 5 blocks of storm drains. Someone should invent biodegradable beads and mandate they be used in lieu of the current plastic ones that too often, end up in fish.
Our boat captain made a good point regarding the impact regulations could have on reducing plastic products. A recent Earth Day article provided the results of several city initiatives. In 2009, Washington D.C. instituted a 5-cent tax (which funds river clean-up) and has seen an 85% reduction in plastic bag consumption. San Francisco was the first U.S. city to completely ban plastic bags in 2007 and later implemented a 10-cent fee for single-use compostable or recycled paper bags – all resulting in a 72% reduction in plastic bag pollution. In 2012, Seattle banned retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags. Grocery stores were also prohibited from providing plastic bags at checkout but were allowed to have single-use bags, as long as they contained 40% recycled material and were taxed at five cents per bag. Since implementation, Seattle has seen a 78% reduction in plastic bag use. Boston recently (December 2018) banned single-use plastic bags and a implemented a 5-cent tax on sustainable single-use bags. In other countries, similar initiatives have resulted in similar results. And since across the globe, two million single-use plastic bags per minute are distributed at store checkout counters, these initiatives make a big difference.
In my opinion, Buffalo Bayou is one of Houston’s jewels and I enjoyed spending a little time there this past Earth Day. And I’m glad that my effort, albeit small, just might make a difference to a fish. And if a vote to eliminate or tax plastic bags, makes its way to the ballot, I’m all for it!