Columnist Phill Courtney

Instead of spending yet another Earth Day bemoaning grim news about our endangered environment, I walked out to my garage, grabbed my gripper tool — the one with the trigger and the arms at the end like the cleanup crews use at Disneyland — and spent a couple of hours thinking globally while acting locally, gathering up garbage in my own neighborhood. During that time I filled a trash bag with dozens of items, from cigarette cartons to the ubiquitous plastic straws.

Although I am happy to report finding no trash on my street, just one block over is a main thoroughfare leading to the freeway with a number of convenience stores along the way — the kind that generate much of the detritus that’s found on the fringes — trash that sits for long lengths of time until an environment wacko like me picks some of it up.

As frequent readers of my column know, I’m also a runner, and since I prefer running on roadsides instead of a treadmill, I observe just how much garbage litters our landscapes. One of the frequently overlooked aspects of the car culture is the way it insolates us from the world. It’s only when we’re out running or walking that we notice the discarded items, and, yes, sometimes people as well.

After that Earth Day’s haul, I decided to give Councilman Eddie Tejeda a call and asked him why Redlands doesn’t have crews constantly combing the cityscape for garbage and taking care of it with, yes, grippers, just like Disneyland does. When he told me that crews are sent out to deal with garbage complaints, I pointed out that such actions are reactive, while what we need is proactive. That’s true, he agreed, that would be the ideal, but, as we’ve heard so often, the city’s current budget constraints won’t cover it.

Eddie and I have a history here as well. For a number of years while running to workouts with the Lopers Running Club in Loma Linda I’d seen gobs of garbage behind some oleander bushes on Barton Road just west of Alabama Street where some homeless were camping. I called Eddie and he got it done. The garbage was gone although I still wish they’d left the bushes.

It was a small battle victory, but I’m afraid the famous “War on Litter” (which some of us remember from those TV commercials in the 1970s with the Native American shedding a tear when a thrown bag of trash lands at his feet), has been decided. Litter has won, for now. Just look around at the vacant lots of Redlands.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and it wouldn’t if enough of us decide that it shouldn’t. Yes, personal responsibility is fine, but we need laws as well. Just before the pandemic hit (and despite tremendous pushback from California industries), laws were passed cutting down on single-use plastic bags and straws. But the bug brought back the bags. They need to go, along with all the other plastic products the world is wallowing in.

Finally, here’s that good news. Faithful readers of my columns may also recall one in November 2019 bemoaning the loss of Redlands’ last recycling center in August of that year. Last month I noticed a new, popup recycling center just south of Walgreens at Church Street and Lugonia Avenue.

It's called Millenia and manager James Westley tells me that it’s the newest in a chain of their Southern California locations. He also assures me that they’re in it for the long haul and those who go there will not be. In other words, that 40-minute wait I had at 2019’s last center standing will be much shorter at Millenia.

Another small victory, perhaps, but maybe I’ll see a little less trash if I head out with my gripper during Earth Day next year.

Phill Courtney was a high school English teacher and twice ran for Congress with the Green Party. For more information about Millenia Recycling call (760) 220-2615 or see their home page.