Ultimate zero - Page 2

San Francisco promises that by 2020, no garbage will end up in a landfill. But is that really possible?

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Too much trash: Recology workers sort through tons of the city's waste.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

Krausz argues that San Francisco has no comprehensive plan for achieving Zero Waste, while at the same time having little control over "top of the pipe" consumption, which generates a glut of trash. "While the city has achieved success at managing waste at the end-of-pipe, it has thus far failed to address the fundamental problem of consumption, which is driving waste generation," his study notes.

Guillermo Rodriguez and Jack Macy of San Francisco's Department of the Environment counter that there is a strategy, involving a host of different measures ranging from education, to policy initiatives, to incentive programs aimed at reducing waste. They think zero waste is possible. "We're probably at 99 percent diversion here in this office," said Macy, who serves as the city's Commercial Zero Waste Coordinator. "At least 90 percent of the discard stream is recyclable and compostable," he added. And as for the last 10 percent, "that pie will be shrinking as we find more markets" for recyclables.

Krausz also raised skepticism about Recology's bid for a landfill contract that would extend until 2025, five years beyond the deadline for all waste elimination. To that, Recology's Eric Potashner responded that state law requires 15 years of disposal capacity to guarantee a safety net, regardless of municipal aspirations.

Krausz is critical of San Francisco officials for promising zero waste, but he acknowledges that manufacturers of disposable goods, not city officials, are to blame. Ambitious legislative measures such as San Francisco's mandatory composting program and a ban on plastic bags have been enacted and achieved tangible results, but for items like ubiquitous thin-film plastics, dirty diapers, synthetic materials, and the like, good solutions have yet to be found.

Krausz' study also determined that no city on the planet that's set out to do so has ever actually succeeded at achieving zero waste. "If you are a city that is a member of Western civilization as we know it, you're not going to be zero waste to landfill, because you participate in the global economy," Krausz states plainly.

 

 

SF'S TRASH PIT

On a recent Friday morning, Recology's Potashner and Paul Giusti led a tour of the city's recycling and waste processing facilities. It featured a stop at the transfer station, housed in a large warehouse off of Tunnel Road where all the refuse from the black trash bins is deposited before being carted off to the Altamont Landfill. A sweet, pungent aroma hung in the air. "We call this the pit," Giusti explained as we approached a sunken area that could have contained multiple Olympic-sized swimming pools, extending a story or two below us into the earth. "This is the last frontier," Potashner added. "The last 20 percent."

It was filled with an astonishing quantity of trash, making a tractor that ambled awkwardly over top the mound to compact it down appear toy-like in comparison. The sea of discarded material contained every hue, and floating around in the debris were orange juice containers, cardboard boxes, and thousands upon thousands of (banned) plastic bags. Between 200 and 300 garbage trucks eject their contents into the pit each day, and a single truck can hold up to four tons of trash.

Giusti started working for Recology, formerly NorCal Waste Systems, in 1978, following in the footsteps of his father. Back then, the pit was more like a mountain: "When I would dump my truck, I could walk up this pile," he said, gesturing toward a set of sprinklers suspended from the ceiling to indicate how high it once extended. State data confirms the story: In 2011, according to CalReycle, San Francisco sent 446,685 tons of waste to the landfill. That number has steadily declined over time; in 2007, it stood at 628,914 tons.

Comments

The garbage companies and the recyclers want you to believe two important things, neither of which is true. First, that garbage is divinely ordained and will always be, must be, cannot ever be eliminated and all that matters is what you do with it (bury it, burn it, recycle it). Second, because this so conveniently justifies their backwards looking programs, that waste happens when an apple core goes into a dump. Nonsense! Wasting is roaring past us now on every side and it has nothing to do with the act of throwing away, therefore even totally recycling everything is a meaningless and useless goal. Keep in mind, what the recyclers don't want you to think about, that recycling is GARBAGE MANAGEMENT. Given the pollyannish pronouncements of the garbage dumpers and the recyclers (they are the same organizations) you would think recycling somehow eliminates garbage creation. Noooo, it increases garbage because our wasteful society now can pretend it's okay to make even more garbage - and they do! It's called Jevons' Paradox, the more you manage a problem the worse it gets, to compensate, so long as the basic thrust to continue the problem remains in place. It's often applied to the problem of increasing gas mileage, only to have miles driven increase even more.

Waste happens when gigantic quantities of resources are extracted in order to be processed in factories to produce crap that is not needed. Or even stuff that is needed, but that is designed to self destruct soon after first use. Gobbling up trillions of dollars of every kind of raw material to feed the maws of endless factories around the world incessantly is a huge waste compared to how things could be organized. My work at the Zero Waste Institute shows how all manner of products can be designed for near-perpetual reuse. It really works once you stop trying to find ways to manage garbage more painlessly. The waste comes in the extraction, the operation of the factories, the unnecessary use of electricity, power, water, air, chemicals etc. to make and make and make over and over for discard. And all the while billions of workers are consuming goods for their lives to make stuff that could have been made once and reused many times. The materials, that the recyclers love so much, are almost worthless. Putting those together into enormously complex products are where all of the labor and the expense go and recapturing only the materials is useless.

And that is the real reason why SF's recycling program is and will be a failure.

But don't expect rational thought from the recycling enthusiasts. Think about this. There is no theory of recycling. It's all just superficial baby thinking. Zero Waste on the other hand is a deep, scientific theory with many ins and outs. I should know. I was the first person in the world to use the term Zero Waste publicly.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

The mendacious recyclers of SF want to pretend that they can contemplate - as a vision as distant and grand as the Golden Gate Bridge nestling in the Marin hills - a day in which every piece of garbage coming out of SF is recycled. What arrant nonsense!

If you ignore 95% of your goal then you can accomplish great things. You can jump out of an airplane and fly with your hands if you only need to succeed 5% of the time. Well you know what I mean. Sometimes the airplane could be low over water.

San Francisco is chock-a-block with buildings. Those are routinely demolished in their helter skelter rush to find new ways to invest capital. What happens to old buildings? They are designed to be destroyed and they are. They proceed directly to GO (Garbage Operations). The dump! A little steel is removed first. Big deal!

Even more deception. In 1996, a bill by Bustamonte, AB 1647 was passed. It says that if you use garbage for covering a "dumpface" (the top of a pile of garbage) to protect the other garbage from gulls and rats, it counts as - guess what? - recycled! If you use garbage to build a wall or a road inside the dump, it counts as - guess what? - recycled! This bill had to be passed because the recycling bill, AB 939, demands that recycling rates had to increase every year and that was impossible. So they decided to count garbage dumping as recycling. And the citizens of SF are actually falling for this stuff.

Then consider all the millions of computers and coffee makers and electric ovens and cars and trucks and thousands of other common articles used in SF. These are made somewhere, don't you think? In factories. Which by usual reports produce about 70 times as much garbage as the end users of the goods produced. Is anyone counting that garbage (chemicals, machines, scraps, solvents, rejects etc.) in the list of garbage NOT being recycled. Of course not. Too inconvenient!

So if you do the math, San Francisco's REAL recycling rate is around 5% and that's generous. Recycling is a fraud from the beginning. But a profitable one, so don't wake up folks. Keep dreaming!

There are real, scientific, effective and simple ways to handle the garbage crisis but it doesn't create the huge profits that faux recycling does, at least not concentrated into politicians' pockets. It creates a better, less wasteful, more intelligently organized world for all of us, where the benefit is spread around in a cleaner, less contaminated life and a healthier planet. But without concentrated profit, no one cares.

For some real information, not lies, go to www.zerowasteinstitute.org.

Paul Palmer

Posted by Paul Palmer on May. 18, 2013 @ 11:09 am

Here we go again, tilting at windmills. There is nothing wrong with putting our garbage in landfills.

Posted by Guest on May. 20, 2013 @ 6:11 am

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