Esther Collins

Lecturer’s Corner – Articles

Zero Waste
Save Our Trees
Foothill Foraging


In a throw away world, is there any such thing as “Zero Waste?”

Let’s start with PLASTIC.

Looking at the picture of the young lady holding up an empty large jam jar packed neatly with her yearly trash, I wonder, is that even possible? What does less waste look like?

I would imagine most of the trash is probably plastic.

It is a known fact that plastic is dangerous to the health of people and our planet.

The decades of untruths told to the general public about the re cycling programs makes one question just about everything to do with plastic use and waste removal.  The documentaries about piled up plastic, neatly strapped together, ready to be shipped … to where? The promised recycling plants?  

According to PHYS ORG only 6-9% of plastic EVER produced makes it to the recycling center.   Surprisingly only 2% is ever viable.  The plastic that is harvested from recycled products cannot fully replace the demand for virgin material because it is such lower quality.

A  report by Greenpeace ( and the International Pollutants Elimination Network has revealed how plastic is made with or actually comes into contact with toxic pollutants and is able to contaminate the process of recycling as well as just the fundamental use of plastic.

In the past many countries sent their “recycled” plastics to the poorest of nations which has caused much harm to their populations, as they have imported much more plastic waste then could be recycled.

The truth is the use of plastic is harming us. 

Most everyone has heard of and seen pictures of the floating islands of plastic trash in the ocean. Here is an article from National Geographic.   detailing the many problems with the plastic that makes it way to the oceans. 

Micro plastic particles are now everywhere, including our water.  It is a serious growing concern.

On the top end, the companies using plastics as their first choice need to be challenged to find another solution.  Consumers are really the ones to make this happen.  

HOW can we make a difference? 

Stop buying plastic. 

Sometimes that seems almost impossible; and at times is totally unavoidable. 

The focus here is mostly on plastic used for food.

One good standard practice is to really, really take a hard pass on ONE USE PLASTIC.  Including: plastic utensils, to-go plastic drink cups, straws, and containers. Plastic veggie bags at the grocery store, plastic shopping bags. Plastic wrapped Individual food items. One serving Yogurt cups. These are used once and tossed in the garbage. When senses are more attuned to avoiding one-use plastic, it becomes more clear what choices can be made without too much inconvenience.  And when a piece of plastic is unavoidable, use the item multiple times before disposing of it in the un-cycling container.  

A big bag that has been sold with coffee, tea, or sugar can be used to store other foods, especially those that need just a little covering in the fridge. Cheese, vegetables, maybe leftovers. Next time you reach for a baggie, look in the “used” compartment first. 

My Big Used Tea bag with a zip lock top holding various cheeses.

Here are some choices:   Glass over plastic, at every chance.  Reusable at every opportunity. 

Some ideas for saving on the use of plastic for food:

    • Cloth bags for produce
    • Wax paper for sandwiches and other snacks
    • Bees wax fabric wraps. 
    • A plate to cover a bowl in the fridge instead of cling wrap. 
    • Glass jars for EVERYTHING. Leftovers, lunches, drinks. Cleaned lettuce ready for use, other vegetables instead of plastic bags. 
    • Stainless steel lunch boxes and containers. 
    • Taking a jar to the restaurant for take-out or leftovers

Some people are pros at this … carrying their own drinking cups and water bottles and utensils, and the extra jar just in case. has a list of ideas to avoid plastic.

 Zero Waste is a journey.  We can make a difference in many small ways.  It does add up and adds less to the plastic hazard. 


In Nevada County over the last two years PG&E has systematically removed large older growth trees and smaller trees under their “Enhanced Vegetation Management Plan.” along the power lines and near poles.

PG&E was negligent in maintaining their equipment which resulted in devastating wildfires. The fires resulted in severe loss of life and property.

A judge ordered them to take care of their lines, poles, and equipment and to follow the already in place CPUC General order ninety-five, Rule 35.

Their form of repentance has been the destruction of our local landscape which effects our water shed and the climate of Nevada County. PG&E hired “outside” and “out of state” contractors, to do their dirty deed. According to the local head of this program, 60,000 trees are targeted in Nevada County alone.

We are not the only area to be affected by their so call “Enhancement” program.

Towering trees all over California have been targeted. Many property owners have called for help, on social media and on those in representative positions to save their trees.

A Senate Bill that would have increased utilities’ access to private lands and eliminated any possibility of landowner relief for damage caused by the removal of trees, and any oversite of the power company, was defeated in September 2022.

> Please see this article from Humboldt.

If we are to stop the taking of healthy and safe trees, we need, to stand against this travesty. At the beginning it was “dead or dying or hazardous” trees. Then it became any tree within striking distance of the lines or poles.

Please know your rights. Yes, we want safety. Yes, we are reasonable. But trees are not causing fires. It is PG&E’s equipment, and their failure to maintain this equipment that have caused this devastation.

What can we do???

      • Know that the contractors do not have any say over ANYTHING outside of the easement on the CPUC General Order 95 Rule 35. Which is quite limited.
      • Know that many property owners have been lied to and pressured into allowing these contractors to take down healthy and safe trees.
      • Know that contractors have been known to come back and take trees when permission has been denied by the owner.

Please learn to stand up. Private property is a right, and our right to protect our land is staunchly defended by law.

Please learn the phrases:

      • “Please leave my property.”
      • “Do not come past this point.”
      • “You need to leave now.”
      • “I will call the sheriff.”
      • “No you cannot have that tree.”


In general, the Power company has a 10′ (ten foot) radius around the base of the power poles to clear. They want 50’ and have been known to tell people they have a 50′ clearance, but they do not.

Brush, limbs, and foliage up to 8′ above the ground at the poles.

Any dead, dying, diseased, defective, or dried vegetation from 8 feet above the ground to the top of the power lines on the pole. Note: only dead, dying, diseased, defective, or dried vegetation can be taken.


It does not call for clear cutting. The trees can come within four feet underneath the lines.

No overhang of trees is allowed. It is not clear about the footage running beside the lines but from four feet to 12 feet according to their web page. AGAIN, NO CLEAR CUTTING REQUIRED.

> PG&E Links

They have drop downs to view each rule.

You are the boss of your land. You have the right to say no. PG&E have an easement and a duty to clear what is prescribed. They cannot take more if you do not give permission. If you choose to let them, take trees, that is your business, and it is your right to allow. But you DO NOT HAVE TO.


Last week as I was walking down my driveway, a pinecone in the small side run-off ditch caught my eye, it was so strikingly beautiful. The resin on the tips of the cone glittered in the sun like gold and enhanced the part of the tip right below, reminiscing of an amber jewel. I had to pick it up.

To my great surprise it was full of nuts!  I have been on my property for 20+ years and never saw this.  It was a large cone from the “Gray Pine” or commonly called “Digger Pine.”  Pinus sabiniana, which only grows in California and only grows inland. These Glorious Pines live in the surrounding foothills of the Central Valley.  There might be a few found in Oregon.

The Gray Pinecones are gathered in September or October, before the squirrels get them – when they are still closed and then stored in a dry place until they open. My cones are dropping now in August. I live in the South County, south facing at about 1,400 feet. Some of them are open and full of nuts! I am storing mine in a box in my pantry.

Once the cone is open, shake out the nuts, which have an outer ridge that pops right off. The shell is hard and elongated. I am using a hammer to tap on the side of the nut to break open the shell, being careful not to smash the shell.  The nuts are long and delicious and have a sweet mellow taste. I can see toasting these or shelling enough for pesto, or??

Golden Pinecone

Green, just dropped, pinecone.

A beautiful Grey Pine.