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Josephine Miller Has a Brand New Bag  

By Gene Williams

December 1, 2010 -- In her office above the carousel on the Santa Monica Pier, Josephine Miller has a set of shelves filled with samples of such things as bamboo cutlery, compostable corn cups, fabric tote bags and old-fashioned paper confectioners’ cones. A window near her desk looks down on the cafes of Ocean Front Walk.

It’s a unique work place, but so is the woman herself. A former chef with a Masters degree in psychology, Miller joined the City’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE) in 2007 to help restaurants ease their way into the then newly-established local ban on polystyrene food containers.

Now, with a similar ban on light-weight plastic bags set to go before the City Council, the environmental programs analyst is ready once again to help Santa Monica businesses find alternatives.

Miller doesn’t think Downtown will have a hard time adjusting to the proposed ordinance, which applies to plastic bags that are less than 2.25 millimeters thick commonly used by grocery stores and food markets.

“In implementing the food container ordinance, some of the most exciting models in the community came out of the Bayside District,” Miller says. “And I’m already seeing that again.

“I see Bayside businesses providing reusable bags and getting away from single-use bags without this ordinance even going into effect,” she says. “They’re already doing it, and I see more doing it every day.”

Polystyrene food containers and light-weight plastic bags pose similar problems for the environment, Miller says. They don’t decompose and tend to end up in the bay where they become litter and eventually pollute the beaches and threaten marine life.

With the City Council poised to pass the bag ban as early as this month after a similar statewide ban failed in the California legislature, Miller is geared up for workshops and outreach.

“This is one of the things that I’m most proud of,” Miller says, holding up a pair of cloth shopping bags, “because it’s not just about replacing plastic bags; it’s about supporting the people in the community too.”

The OSE is handing out thousands of these reusable shopping bags to stores arcross the City affected by the proposed ban. In a model of sustainability, the bags are made of recycled scrap material and are sewn locally by a company that employs vets from the West LA Veterans Administration Hospital.

Finding solutions with that kind of combined benefit is typical of Miller.

The daughter of a physicist father and a political caricaturist mother, Miller was raised in Washington D.C during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. There she learned to see the world from both a scientific and artistic viewpoint, and to approach problems with a sense of idealism tempered by practicality.

“Where I grew up had a real influence on what I do now,” Miller says. “I learned that no one single person has the answer. There is no one right answer. We all have to work together.”

That philosophy has guided her through a life of community involvement and service.

After earning bachelors and graduate degrees from UC San Francisco, Miller worked to establish hospice care for AIDS patients who were shut out from hospitals during the early 1980s.

But soon, she found her life taking a different direction, and in 1984 Miller traveled to Europe where she trained in the culinary arts for several years.

“It was my background as a chef that led to my interest in environmental activism through food,” Miller says.

In 2001, she went to work for the Sierra Club to create documentary films about sustainable food practices.

Before coming to the OSE, Miller worked in the City’s Human Services Department where she served in the 1990s as staff liaison to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But it was her volunteer work with the West Los Angeles Veterans Garden -- a 15-acre fruit and vegetable farm run as a business by vets at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Westwood -- that caught the attention of the OSE and led to her present post.

“They saw my commitment to outreach and communication with the community,” Miller says. “It was really a great fit for both of us.”

At OSE, Miller quickly went to work helping businesses adjust to the then newly-established polystyrene food container ban, and she helped implement zero-waste pilot programs. Through recycling and composting, the City has kept many tons of solid waste from entering landfills.

In addition to helping businesses prepare for the proposed bag ban, Miller is busy helping develop sustainable food policies for Santa Monica – a follow-up to the Cool Foods Pledge which the City signed onto last year.

Sponsored by the Center for Food Safety in Washington D.C., the Cool Foods Campaign seeks to ease global warming by educating people to make smart choices in what they eat -- such as cutting back on meat and dairy, avoiding packaged and processed foods, and buying organic and locally grown produce.

The campaign is in response to industrial food practices that environmentalists say consume about 20 percent of the energy used in the United States and create a significant amount of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

But whether it’s food containers, waste management, reusable bags or environmentally friendly foods, Miller says Downtown Santa Monica plays an important role in modeling sustainable practices.

“What we do in the Bayside District has a tremendous effect on the tourists that come through here,” Miller says.

“It has a dramatic impact on what people take back to their own communities. So these businesses aren’t just models here, they can be models worldwide.”

In addition to being an environmental analyst at the OSE, Miller is a member of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Environmental Affairs Committee and the Buy Local Steering Committee. She is also a judge for the Sustainable Works Sustainable Quality Awards and a Certified Resource Management Professional.

To learn about the single-use plastic bag ban and other local issues affecting the environment, visit


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