A geography lesson for both of us!
I completely agree with your working definitions of discards, waste, disposal, etc. As a bureaucrat, those words have specific meanings in our bureaucratic reporting world, but for me, I could care less what you call stuff as long as more of it stays in the marketplace and out of landfills. Admittedly, our waste disposal per capita metric for the county in which I work is pretty embarrassing but regardless of whether it's scavengers, publicly traded hauling companies or entrepreneurs, if the end result is more of the materials remaining in the marketplace, then so much the better, and I don't consider landfills to be part of the market but instead an end-of-life destination.
I've always enjoyed your posts and admire your operation there in Berkeley. (Wasn't sure where it was until you pointed that out.) It sounds like humble beginnings have been transformed into a model recovery operation.
Thank you for your well informed discourse on scavenging. It certainly puts things into a different perspective for me and provides some food for further thought. I'm not sure what you mean by "fully sanctioned by contractual agreements of long standing." Since you put it in a sociological context, I assume it may refer to the tacit agreement amongst people that the rewards go to those who get out and do the work, regardless of whether they are sanctioned by the authorities or not. I await enlightenment on that.
Despite it being an old solid waste concept, the description of [municipal?] curbside recycling programs as a 'baseline alternative' is interesting. I think what it lacks though is recognition that local government employees who oversee these programs can have the same passions, promotional inputs, labor inputs and desires to have their programs succeed as anyone else. We bureaucrats can get just as invested (socially, emotionally, even financially if you're a fiscal conservative like me) in the programs we design and oversee as our private world counterparts. We can suffer the same disappointments when volumes decline because of apathy, economic conditions, competition or 'service pricing' issues regardless of our role in the overall diversion effort. I think what we bureaucrats (speaking for myself) need to do better though is take a few more lessons from our private sector counterparts in order to see the changing market landscape a little bit sooner and adapt more quickly. Innovation remains a primary key to success regardless of the industry in which we work.
>>> Dan Knapp <email@example.com> 10/30/2008 4:51 PM >>>
Thanks for the clarification; I had no idea that the counties you were talking about were in North Carolina, and I didn't know until Dan De Grassi's posting that California has only 58 counties.
There's nothing wrong with "trying to prove" that the economy has a bigger effect than population growth on the discard supply. In science it's called a working hypothesis, which the data can then either prove or disprove, confirm or not. In your case I take it the predicted relationship was not supported by the data. That's OK too; grist for the mill. We go on from there. Your conclusions actually help me in discussions about counting methodologies that are ongoing here.
Conceptually, and speaking as a person immersed through my business in the hurlyburly of resource trading and competitive disposal service pricing, I always use the word disposal in it's larger sense to denote reuse, recycling, and composting as well as wasting either by landfilling or by burning. All are forms of disposal, and all compete both for the discard supply and for disposal service fees. Waste isn't waste until it's wasted. Prior to that, discards are resources. Poor handling practices turn resources into wastes, which by definition have less than no value.
Since you raised the scavenging issue, I'd like to comment. First of all, my company, Urban Ore, puts three well-paid professional scavengers on the floor of our refuse transfer station every day it is open, governed by a contract with the City of Berkeley, which was just renewed yesterday. We've done this for 28 years. I started the company as a scavenger at the landfill. Our payroll is now about $1.4 million a year, and the lowest-paid worker makes about $12 per hour. Scavenging supplies a declining percentage, currently about 10%, of our supply. The rest comes through dropoff and buyback activities at our site.
I'm not in the can and bottle business, but I take my source separated materials to a dropoff site next to a refuse transfer station rather than put it out commingled at the curb for my local publicly traded garbage company to pick up. I don't like commingling the way they do it. Anyway, the dropoff site I frequent also features a buyback. Every day I go there, about once a week, a few dozen itinerant scavengers are there with me sorting their loads to make a few bucks. Sometimes I give my loads to them, invariably in exchange for a heartfelt blessing. Our city has a curbside program run by a different company; they park their trucks on the same site within a hundred feet of all this scavenger sorting. I go regularly to zero waste commission meetings, and listen as program managers for the two companies talk about the "problem" of scavenging. I agree it's a problem, but as a sociologist I would only say it is structural, and fully sanctioned by contractual agreements of long standing. Anytime you have a buyback and a curbside program in the same town, itinerant scavengers are going to try to cherrypick the goodies out of the curbside bins. The police won't enforce private property rights for bins left unattended out on the street, so the problem goes on. I would argue that the scavengers deliver a superior product, already source-separated to the buyback's specs, so there is no recycling reason for stopping the practice. It's just a matter of service pricing. The curbside program should be regarded as the "baseline alternative", to use an old solid waste concept. Or call it the default resource collection program, pay the curbside operator accordingly, and work the scavengers into the picture by concentrating city services for the homeless at or near the buyback, where these folks collect and do their thing everyday it is open.
Thanks for giving me the chance to say this, Wayne.
Dan Knapp, Ph.D. and CEO
Urban Ore, Inc., a reuse and recycling business in Berkeley, California since 1980
On Oct 30, 2008, at 6:10 AM, Wayne Turner wrote:
Dan et al,
I think it's safe to say here in NC where I work and play that your first statement is true. Sorry for not mentioning where I was.~
As I was doing my analysis of the data it occurred to me that something was slightly inconsistent with gross retail sales - doesn't include service related data - and that a more accurate indicator for the economic side would be gross county product. North Carolina does not compute gross county product, only gross domestic product at the state level. Be that as it may, it's still interesting that gross retail sales and population are both very strong indicators of waste trends and vice versa. I have to admit, my initial reason for studying this data was to attempt to prove that the economy had a stronger impact on waste generation and disposal than population. That simply isn't the case, so far. Here in NC our waste reduction goals are measured in waste disposal per capita so that's why I was going down that road. I was thinking tons disposed per $1,000 gross retail sales might be a better metric to measure the success of our recycling and other diversion programs. I did not analyze the volume and velocity issue in detail but by comparing the graphs of the two data series I did see seasons where it appeared the waste data lagged the sales data by a month or two. (holidays, vacations?)
Private landfills and transfer station competition notwhithstanding, our MSW tonnages have remained fairly level too until this past FY when they began showing declines. Was this a harbinger of the slowdown in the economy? Maybe landfill disposal data is our new economic crystal ball.
I think the fact that our residential compost/yard waste program still continues to thrive is because it's a free (general fund/property tax based) program with no user fee attached. The residential sector is the primary contributor to our yard waste tonnages, on the order of 95+% of the total. In a sour economy, everyone will continue to use free services I suppose. On the other hand, the small business person or resident who no longer wants to pay a tip fee or flat rate to dispose of waste at the landfill - and save gas - may illegally dump waste. I agree with a compost facility in every county and even with a fee imposed. I'm a believer in paying for what you get but when the economy goes to hell in a handbasket, our behaviors change just as dramatically. Anyone want to bring in the scavenging issue now?
In response to David's inquiry, we track generation and disposal data for the county every year. Generation has increased every year here in the county for the past 10 years. Disposal has also increased but not quite at the same rate while diversion seems increase only minutely. So the net result is more LF disposed.
Would it be correct to say that for 100 counties in California over the last decade, solid waste tonnages, population, and gross retail sales tend to stay in sync with each other? Put another way, for most communities, when population and retail sales go up or down together, do solid waste tonnages go up or down more or less with the same volume and velocity?
This would be interesting to know, because in our part of California, the San Francisco Bay Area, waste tonnages for most counties have remained more or less stable for the last thirteen years, since 1995. San Mateo's landfilling decreased .3%; Santa Clara County had no net change. San Francisco and Alameda County volumes have increased .1% and .5%, respectively. Meanwhile, throughout our area both population and retail sales have increased, I believe.
Your experience suggests compost facilities may turn out to be more or less "recession proof". This makes sense, because plants just keep growing and dying without much regard for the vicissitudes of the "real economy". That's a good argument for having compost facilities in every community instead of concentrated on agricultural lands. The tip fees and product sales from compost disposal can then act as a stabilizing force within the local economy.
Urban Ore, Inc., a reuse and recycling company in Berkeley, California since 1980
On Oct 29, 2008, at 7:51 AM, Wayne Turner wrote:
Good point Jerry. We own 3 public facilities, one MSW LF, one C&D LF and one Compost facility. All three facilities are large in comparison to other, similar facilities in the state and serve a large metropolitan area of around 250,000 people. Volume declines here apply to the MSW and C&D facilities. The compost facility does not currently show declines from this same time last year.
I have examined 10 years of state solid waste data county by county (100 counties) and compared waste tonnages against both county population and gross retail sales. The difference in the correlation between solid waste tonnages and population vs solid waste tonnages and gross retail sales is negligible. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues through this economic slump. Have other states done similar analyses and found the same trends?
When discussing the effect of current economic problems on waste flows, we need to distinguish between waste types. The publicly traded waste haulers are reporting more severe drop offs in waste volumes from their C&D customers than they report declines from commercial and residential sources. Thus, when a landfill reports a decline, we need to know the types of waste handled at the facility. That said, the history of waste flows during recessions shows a decline typically occurs.
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