Heidi Sanborn for SMUD Board

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

I am fond of our planet. Sure, Earth is the only planet that I have lived on, but when I think of the alternatives, I shudder. Venus is too hot. Mars is way too cold. Saturn has an ammonia problem, and do not get me started about Pluto.

So of course I am concerned about global warming, the ongoing destruction of our fresh water and our president with the Mars-colored-hair’s environmental policies. I am worried about what homo sapiens as a species are doing to our planet.

But as Earth Day approaches, I want to say a few words about a member of our species who has given me some hope in these seemingly hopeless times. She is Heidi Sanborn, the director of the California Product Stewardship Council.

The Product Stewardship Council promotes a simple idea: Those who create and sell products should take some responsibility for what happens at the end of their products’ lives. If your company makes paint or mattresses or carpet or plastics, then your company should pay a share of the cost of recycling those products.

The concept of product stewardship has led to the California bottle bill, as well as mattress, carpet and paint recycling programs. We are developing a new way of thinking. A “save the Earth” way of thinking. When companies pay a share of the costs that result from disposing their products, they tend to change their ways. They make their products more recyclable and they find more environmentally friendly ways to do things.

Europe and Canada are already ahead of us on this. Canada has a small fee on batteries that pays for a battery recycling program. They have a pharmaceutical take-back program paid for by drug companies.

N&R Publications has been working with Heidi and many of the waste haulers recently, producing publications about our plastic problem. For years, we have been collecting plastic and sending it over to China. But now China has started rejecting much of our plastic. China will only accept less contaminated plastic that can be environmentally and economically recycled.

So we have a plastic problem. We can collect it. But no one wants it. The waste haulers and recycling centers are sitting on an ever-increasing amount of plastics. Who should pay for our plastic problem? Should it be the taxpayers? Should it be the plastic manufacturers? Or should Mother Earth and our grandchildren pay the ultimate price?

The answer in my mind is obvious. When faced with paying the cost of recycling their product, I am sure that the plastic industry will develop a better, more recyclable plastic, and we may even return to more environmentally-friendly practices like reusing glass bottles.

Because of Heidi’s work and the work of the California Product Stewardship Council, we have a fighting chance to solve the plastic problem. This gives me hope for Mother Earth.

Heidi called me recently to tell me that longtime SMUD Board member Bill Slaton had asked her to run for his seat on the SMUD Board. Bill wanted to find someone to carry on his great work at SMUD, helping make it one of the most progressive power companies in the country. Luckily, Heidi is willing to take on this challenge. And we, living on this planet, will be very fortunate to have someone with Heidi’s vision and experience on the SMUD Board.