GreenYes Digest V97 #233

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GreenYes Digest Sat, 27 Sep 97 Volume 97 : Issue 233

Today's Topics:
GreenYes Digest V97 #232
New Jobs Through Recycling Site!
Zero Waste or Zero Tolerance?

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Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 12:17:35 -0400 (EDT) From: Subject: GreenYes Digest V97 #232

To Susan Kinsella at Conservatree- FYI - The Fall issue of the King County (WA) Business Recycling newsletter includes an article promoting tree-free paper, and the newsletter is being printed on rubicon (100% bamboo). The newsletter is distributed to approximately 35,000 business throughout King County, Washington. Let me know if you would like a copy. Susan Fife-Ferris Sound Resource Management Group


Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 15:08:52 -0700 (PDT) From: "David A. Kirkpatrick" <> Subject: New Jobs Through Recycling Site!

Check out for financing, market=20 development, recycling business development, state contacts, technical assistance etc. Just out from EPA's Jobs Through Recycling Program!


Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 16:42:54 -0400 From: NERC <> Subject: Zero Waste or Zero Tolerance?


Pardon the length of this message (about 3 pages). I thought I'd offer another personal memoir from the encephalitas tainted surrealism of Disney. This is in part a rebuttal to Steve Suess' on-the-scene reporting of the NRC conference, and the feeling of shock and horror many on this list expressed when told there were indeed zero waste hold outs in Orlando.

Monday morning, 9:45 a.m.

I'm sitting on a stage facing Lynn Scarlett, Frank Ackerman and Richard Dennison. Brenda Platt is on my right; Jonathon Greenberg on my left.=20 We've been asked about the role of zero waste, and whether it's an attainable goal. Only Brenda and I respond. As far as I can recall, this is the only time the phrase is uttered during the entire session.

Brenda argues persuasively and passionately that the question isn't whether it's attainable; it's an accurate formulation of the goal we're shooting for, and takes the focus off of other, more arbitrary goals.

I state that I like the phrase zero waste because it's simple and provocative, and because it does convey a sense of our broader long-term goals. I suggest that zero waste may be an appropriate frame for certain policies. For example, a federal law eliminating certain virgin material subsidies could simultaneously provide a high-profile endorsement of resource conservation under the banner of a long term goal of zero waste. But I also state that when I talk with government officials about zero waste they get concerned about the negative impact such advocacy could have on wavering politicians already hell bent on scaling back our commitment to recycling and waste reduction. So, I'm skeptical that zero waste could motivate politicians and, in fact, maybe now isn't the best time to push it.

(Contrary to Steve Suess' synopsis, broad environmental issues emerged as a theme by several of the speakers during this policy session. My own presentation focused on the need to be explicit about our long-term environmental goals =97 by establishing a clear, common vision for the future and identifying specific, quantitative goals to use as a foundation for strong government policies -- which will be chaotic in the marketplace, but unfortunately are necessary. I also focused on the need to quantify the activities we're promoting in commonly used economic terms, in the interests of establishing them as everyday components of mainstream industry and commerce.)

Monday, 12:00 noon

Steve Suess is bounding over tables towards me, waving his arms. He's grinning, and I can see the button which he is reaching out to give me, even though he's still at least 30 feet away. I've just finished facilitating a roundtable on the "economics of recycling," with well over a hundred people huddled around several large tables. The term "zero waste" didn't come up once.=20

Steve argues pursuasively, and is surprisingly civil. Apparently, my presentation has inspired him to rip up his speech, and prepare yet another draft. He's heard me argue for strong policies to move towards an "environmentally sustainable society." And, even though I actually lent some support to zero waste, all he heard was "zero waste blah blah blah, BUT....." He heard the "but" and therefore he heard me waver on zero waste. So I'm waffling, a typical liberal. I'm being evasive. =20

Partly I want to put the damn button on and be done with it. But I sense in my heart there's something holding me back. It's definitely NOT concern with taking a strong stand. It's more a concern that we should be focusing on the hard questions - HOW and WHAT. Because we're talking about building an economy that looks so much different than today's, the HOW must involve fairly radical changes in existing government economic policies, and we still don't know exactly what policies will do the job. Unfortunately, feel good slogans, even if they're apparently endorsed by individuals, corporations and trade associations, aren't sufficient to institutionalize the changes we seek, and won't sway congress members or state legislators who will have many corporate lobbyists shoving industry-biased quantitative reports before them, showing the down side of potential policies. I also feel that, beyond simple, visionary statements (like "environmentally sustainable society" or "zero waste") none of us really knows WHAT our vision is exactly. What mix of recycling, reuse, renewable resources, new production technologies, reduced consumption patterns, changing perceptions of material needs, redesigned products and services to meet old needs, global redistribution of wealth and ownership, new pollution abatement technologies, etc. will result in anything close to what environmentalists would consider "sustainable," social activists would consider "equitable" and humanists would consider "moral" or "spiritually grounded."=20

I want to articulate all this to Steve. But I'm just too tired, and still coming down from my brush with the debate pro's (who also were surprisingly civil). Steve's energy and enthusiasm are boundless. I take the button, but I don't put it on.

Monday, 1:30

I'm standing at a men's room urinal and two stalls down, Steve Suess is talking to me about zero waste. I've just left a session in which fairly technical, quantitiative information was presented in support of full cost accounting as a means of better documenting and reducing the cost of municipal recycling programs.

While we talk, I can't help but think that, however draining and boring quantitative analysis is, this is what it takes =97 changing the accounting system, providing a means for obtaining statistics to make our case, to understand the trends in economic terms. We need this information, not only on municipal recycling colleciton programs, but on all aspects of recycling and, even more importantly, on overall consumption patterns and associated environmental implications. We need an accounting system to provide key statistics and measure progress in a defined way. This line of reasoning seems so blatantly opposed to the mere adoption of catchy slogans =97 be they arbitary recycling goals (25 by 95!) or broader, provocative ones (zero waste!). =20

Steve notes that the policy session was rather bland. Even Lynn Scarlett didn't say anything he couldn't agree with. I have to agree, but then it strikes me -- that's the issue. She can nod and agree that wasting is bad. She uses the term "dematerialization" and everyone nods and says "wow - that's kinda a cool, catchy phrase." But she is fundamentally opposed to government playing a strong role in getting us there, and she puts all her faith in the efficiency of a "free" market.=20 She may even put on the button, but when we start talking about HOW to get there, she's off the bus. If this doesn't come out in a debate, then we haven't debated anything.

I begin to waiver in the face of Steve's intonations. Two buttons now clank in my shirt pocket =97 one says zero waste and the other america recycles day. At this point, they both seem hallow, and yet both so close to my heart.

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.

I'm standing in a hallway, sourrounded by the visionary titans of waste reduction =97 David Kirkpatrick, John Young, Rick Best, Brenda Platt and many more. Some are good friends; I respect and admire them all. Steve Suess is in the middle, and he's talking about zero waste. He assembles the crowd and motions me front and center. Am I gonna put the fucking button on or what?

At this point it becomes gut reaction. It's gone too far; become a witch hunt. Am I "with us" or "against us." "Part of the solution," or "part of the problem." Am I putting on the button, or am I soft on waste? I reach for the button, but then realize I'd only be putting it on to placate Steve and redeem myself in front of my colleagues.

Tuesday 8:30 p.m.

In a Disney bar now, and Steve Suess is explaining to me the virtues of zero waste. He is animated, and nurses a huge, neon margaritta, larger than the matterhorn. The conversation flows to the mood at NRC, and for the first time, a few themes emerge in my mind.

There is an inherent dichotomy in the mood here. On the one hand, this congress is yawning with a waning sense of purpose, and on the other hand, rejoicing in a return to the roots of recycling =97 visionary environmental activism. Most seem to agree =97 we're emerging from the evasion of the landfill crisis. An evasion which served us well over the past ten years, but which is now dead as a policy driver and a central rallying point. And good riddens =97our motivations for being in this field were always far beyond any short term need to dig a new hole for all the stuff. The problem is the stuff itself. Those wandering the NRC halls who haven't lost all zeal to cynicism are looking to the future, and trying to redefine the movement and the path for the next decade (never mind the next mellinium!). The zero wasters are at the forefront, but others are playing the same tune. The talk turns time and again to consumption =97 and the too vague challenge of influencing individual consumers and/or producers to meet our needs and wants in a more sustainable manner. There is talk about recycling in the context of achieving global warming targets, reducing energy consumption, reducing pollution. Admitions that recycling is but one strategy in an arsenal of strategies that we still don't understand. And an overwhelming sense that it must be mainstreamed =97 radical visions must become status quo. Even a sense that we may be succeeding in this effort.

Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. - zero waste resolved

The zero waste button still clanks in my shirt pocket, and finally the reasons for my reticence become more clear. And a resolution occurs to me too.

First of all, I hope I'm wrong. I hope zero waste captures the imagination of individuals, companies, corporations, trade associations and governments in the U.S. and throughout the world, AND that it is translated into action. Vive Australia! I still think "zero waste" is a bit trite, and itself evasive in that it conveys the vision, but not the enormity of the task, at hand. But if it's helping to get folks bought in, well, I can't knock that. =20

Second, while at its broadest level, the zero waste fervor sometimes seems hallow to me, it's obvious that underneath the "sell," it is, or can be, a focal point for discussing the hard issues. And clearly the Grassroots Recycling Network is an activist group seeking and obtaining real actions now. Maybe I should be adding my perspective to the soup, rather than drinking from a different bowl.

Finally, a word of caution. We need critical dialogue to move forward.=20 As much as I respect my mentors and colleagues in the zero waste camp, I don't think any of us has it all figured out. A witch hunt mentality can do much more harm in the long run than good. And, recycling has always suffered from a tendency to overstate benefits in a fluffy way and dismiss opposing views. That's what gave rise to the "anti-recycling" press, and it does a disservice to the cause. We need to tolerate and embrace a range of views, because we're dealing with a range of hard issues and entrenched perspectives =97 all of which are crucial to the long term goal. (Why does this sound so much like what the national republican party is currently going through???)

In short, Steve Suess can count another convert to his ranks. His perseverance hit the mark, and I agree: the zero waste campaign is a good thing (and I've sent my check in to GRN). But I know I'm not the only one with some reservations about how the zero waste message is being delivered, and the importance of not losing site of the harder questions.

So I hope we can avoid an atmosphere of zero tolerance, and embrace other, legitimate opinions that may help to shape the vision. Our task is too difficult, and our need for diverse allies too great.

Ed Boisson Northeast Recycling Council (802) 254-3636


End of GreenYes Digest V97 #233 ******************************