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[GreenYes] Re: Zero waste goals alone are not enough

To Jerry and the GreenYes Listserve:

If anyone wants confirmation that a zero-waste goal can sometimes go badly awry, look to the case of Canberra, Australia.  When I was first invited to consult with them in mid-1995, the Australian Capital Territory government had not yet passed the world's first zero waste goal, but they had a visionary plan for a giant recovery facility that would incrementally reach zero waste by making materials recovery cheaper and more convenient than wasting.  I was able over the next year or so to help the planners with some practical modifications to the plan as it progressed seemingly smoothly toward implementation.  Then the ruling party was thrown out in national elections, and behind the scenes the wasters took over and marginalized or kicked out the zero wasters.  In Canberra, the government kept the slogan "Zero Waste by 2010" on its signage until just a couple of years ago, even as it cynically hooked its revenues to the waste tip fees rather than to managing the resource recovery park that it never built.  ACT NoWaste even began preying with ferocious hostility upon the main local proponent of zero waste, REVOLVE, to the point that that company was forced to shrink from over thirty employees to only a dozen or so this spring.  Now there has been another big change in government, so we'll see if the real zero waste movement will somehow find a way to rise again in Australia.

I brought the Canberra example to the USA in 1995.  Then-forming GRRN made Canberra (the national capital!) into the spark that ignited the prairie fire of zero waste goalism. It swept the USA starting in 1996.  To my knowledge, no USA zero waste fact checking team ever visited Canberra until Mary Lou Van Deventer and I did in April of 2007.   We were shocked and disappointed by what we found.  The Mugga Lane landfill that was supposed to be drying up had in fact filled its little valley all the way to the end and was now being enlarged with a huge new cell that would give wasting as usual another couple of decades of life.  I have pictures of all of this and have shown them to groups here in California as opportunities have arisen.

For what it's worth, I have always thought we would move toward zero waste incrementally.   But I believe what is needed most is a network of purpose-built integrated zero waste materials recovery facilities that recover some or all of the twelve major commodity types into which what we now call solid waste can be sorted.  Our detours into dirty-mrfism have only delayed the inevitable switch to this rational and just system, in my opinion.

As one who has run a reuse/recycle business open to the public seven days a week for 28 years now in Alameda County, I can point to another thing that has worked well:  a surcharge on garbage deposited in area landfills that generates millions of dollars each year, managed by an agency with a mandate to use the funds to capitalize recycling in all its forms.  The Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board was created by a citizen's initiative that passed in the 1989 general election, and it has done its job well over the years.  This legislation is available on the SRRB website and could be exported to any jurisdiction with the moxie to put its money where its mouth is.  

The citizens of Australia have no recourse to the initiative, unfortunately, to rein in a government that is running amok.  They just have to wait until the government screws up enough to be thrown out in a general election.  In Canberra's case, that resulted in a decade of retreat from their first-ever zero waste goal.  In fact, the zero waste brand was actually used as a cloak to cover up the fraud.

Finally, on deposit legislation, congratulations to Jerry and the Bottle Bill Task Force for getting approval to double the container deposit to ten cents.  The highest deposit I ever encountered was on Prince Edward Island in Canada, where it was set at 75 cents.  I was told when I was there helping to defeat an unwanted landfill that the high deposit had enabled a reuse industry for containers to rise and take substantial market share from the recyclable ones.

Dan Knapp, CEO
Urban Ore, Inc., a reuse and recycling business in Berkeley since 1980   
On Oct 20, 2008, at 8:12 AM, Jerry Powell wrote:

Pat Franklin's recent posting both compliments and condemns the Oregon Bottle Bill Task Force for its recommendations.  As a Governor's appointee to that body, I suggest that Pat reconsider her criticism that the recommended 80 percent redemption rate in the Task Force's final report to the 2009 legislature doesn't represent zero waste for beverage containers.  Pat needs to do a little research before making such comments.
Too many zero waste advocates see a governmetally-adopted 100-percent no-waste goal as a major achievement.  In many cases, it is not.  I've seen way too many communities adopt such a zero waste goal, and then do absolutely nothing to try to acheive it.  Yet, in many of those communties, zero-waste advocates claim victory, when in fact, they are getting snookered.  Goals without programs are merely words.
In Oregon, we aim to raise the mandated redemption rate in steps towards zero beverage waste.  The plan is to attain the 80 percent goal, then raise it to 90 percent and require that this level be attained.  We'll then move it higher again.  That is a politically viable way of not getting snookered and to realistically attain zero waste.  In other words, we have a well-defined strategy to attain the goal, and not just have the goal by itself. 
I'd also encourage folks to read the Task Force's final report in which the beverage industry and grocers have agreed to fully fumd and manage the recovery system, at no cost to the consumer or taxpayer.  In other words, true product stewardship.  
Jerry Powell
Resource Recycling

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