New environmental laws a big waste of time


The struggle to protect California’s environment continues to march blindly ahead. As of Feb. 9, the polluting masses of California residents are no longer allowed to place the most prosaic of items into the trash can, according to new recycling laws passed by the California Legislature. These new laws will not only fail to protect the environment, but will provide Californians with the opportunity to engage in massive and unwitting civil disobedience.

The new recycling laws prohibit waste disposal companies from dumping a wide variety of materials deemed to be hazardous by the state of California. Among the highly dangerous items are standard AA batteries, and fluorescent tube and mercury thermometers. This is in addition to the multitude of prohibited electronic equipment, such as TVs, computer monitors, telephones and VCRs.

Not even musical greeting cards are safe from the new law. Those too contain minute amounts of mercury and are thus enemies of the state as far as the environment is concerned. You had better be sure that any aerosol cans that you are throwing away are empty as well, lest you fall afoul of the law. I imagine that spraying them into a rain gutter until they are empty is an environmentally-friendly tactic, just so long as you do not throw them away half-full.

So what is a law-abiding, environment-loving, Birkenstock-clad Californian to do? The good news is that California is allowing you to dispose of your highly dangerous iPod batteries at designated facilities. The bad news is that there are not many facilities that do take these materials. Despite a rigorous search, I was able to find only one facility in Northridge that accepts used batteries for recycling, one that accepts electronic equipment and none that accept products containing mercury.

This means that the average citizen will have to travel long distances to dispose of their hazardous waste and they will likely have to visit several different facilities. It is hard to believe that people are going to travel ten miles to discard a handful of batteries.

This is assuming that they can actually find a disposal facility. Your average citizen is unlikely to try very hard. That part about being rigorous in my search for disposal sites? I actually spent about 15 minutes, and that was for the completely environmentally-unrelated reason of attempting to appear credible to my readers. For those who do not give a fig about mercury poisoning in the environment (i.e. 99 percent of Californians), they are unlikely to try even that long.

This is especially true given that California has no intention of enforcing this law. According to the Contra Costa Times, Ron Baker, spokesman for the state Department of Toxic Substances Controlb said, “We have no plans, nor do we have the resources, to go door-to-door to determine who is throwing away what in their trash.” Instead they are planning on the altruism of millions of Californians to follow an unenforceable law. These are the same Californians who regularly travel 80 mph in a 65 zone.

It may come as a shock when I say this, but no one is going to follow this law. Instead, they are going to do what they have been doing for decades: throw their old batteries and fluorescent tubes in the trash. If you listen closely, you can hear the death screams of hundreds of migratory orcas. No wait, that’s just my alarm clock.

At any rate, batteries and fluorescent tubes have been available since before I was born and people have been throwing them in the trash the whole time. We have yet to see a mass outbreak of mercury poisoning due to these harmful products. The truth is that this law is yet another feel-good environmental law designed to give our overpaid legislators something to pad their resumes with.

Now if you will excuse me, it sounds like my alarm clock needs new batteries. Time to chuck the old ones in the trash. Ron Baker, you know where to find me.

Sean Paroski can be reached at