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[GreenYes] Re: Waste volumes

Title: [GreenYes] Re: Waste volumes

To all interested in the problem and promise of scavenging:

Bob Besso is correct in calling Urban Ore's transfer station salvage 
program a "controlled system".  The first level of control is 
provided by the Urban Ore business structure.  We manage the 
salvaging through a department with two well-paid co-equal managers.  
People assigned there work part of the week at the transfer station, 
and the rest of the week in their own building on our site where they 
dismantle and upgrade materials for recycling sourced either from the 
transfer station floor or from our retail sales departments.  They do 
a lot of quality control, and they schedule debris-box haulers to 
come in and service our bins.  In some cases they haul our materials, 
primarily nonferrous scrap, to recyclers themselves.  Our salvage 
workers are covered by worker's comp insurance, they have a company-
paid health plan, we buy their safety equipment including shoes, 
helmets, dustmasks, gloves, and so on.  The S & R managers attend 
weekly manager's meetings where we all engage in joint problem-
solving, so they are fully integrated into the structure of the 
company as it goes about its work of conserving resources.  Our pay 
system is highly incentivized to reward employees for their good 
performance, and the S & R employees enjoy a couple of unique 
incentives not available to anyone else:  a 50 cent per hour premium 
for working on the transfer station floor and a cash award for the 
crew that brings in the highest tonnage for the pay period.

The second level of control is the City itself.  Here we operate 
under a contractual agreement (sometimes called a license) that is 
renegotiated every few years with the City.  This requires us to 
insure the city against liability to City specifications; to pay our 
workers a city-mandated "living wage" that is about double the 
national minimum wage; to undergo hazmat training; to operate our 
equipment in a safe manner at all times; to respect the city workers' 
need to clear the tipping floor in a timely way; to weigh outgoing 
loads and report tonnages from all operations; and much more.

This works to the advantage of the city in several ways.  They get 
credit against AB 939 diversion goals for all the tonnage we take off 
the floor; they don't have to pay to landfill our diverted tonnage; 
they get to keep almost two-thirds of the tipping fees haulers pay to 
use the transfer system (currently $115 per ton) while remitting $40 
per ton to us;  and they get a cut of the sales taxes we collect when 
we sell reusables at retail.

Bob mentioned "employing scavengers" to poach, but I think standard 
employment is problematical for most in this group of people.  Urban 
Ore has tried on several occasions to hire people as employees who 
are used to the street life.  I can't think of a single instance 
where we succeeded for long.  Mostly what happens is that people 
hired in this way simply stop coming to work, thus failing to satisfy 
the first requirement of any employee, that they report for work as 
scheduled and when scheduled.  I concede that we are just not very 
good at this type of social work; and I believe trained specialists 
likely can do it far better.  But there is a vacuum here that we and 
others have tried to fill, unfortunately to not much if any avail.  
At the same time, I see that there are many nonprofits are out there 
whose grants and contracts require them to work with people who are 
chronically unemployed or unemployable.  In fact, we buy high-quality 
used lumber and other building materials from some of these 
specialist enterprises doing deconstruction, so I know these kinds of 
intervention can work.

But there are other options, perhaps.  One is the idea of mobile 
buybacks.  This would be an extension of the curbside program 
business model, and would essentially compete with all of the 
buybacks.  It would require trucks equipped with onboard scales, 
special drivers to buy loads and do quality control and supply 
management, and a site on which to park the truck that would be 
accessible to lots of scavengers.  Sites used for farmer's markets or 
sanctioned flea markets come to mind.  This tactic would recognize 
that often scavengers push their rickety, hard-to-control loads 
distances measured in miles to get to the nearest "bricks and mortar" 
buyback.  Would they respond to a more convenient location?  I think 
they would.  So mobile truck-mounted buybacks might be a way to adapt 
to the structural competition I cited before where all buybacks 
compete with all conventional curbside programs for the same supply 
of post-consumer discards.

Buybacks could compete back by making their operations more user-
friendly, mostly by providing spaces and work stations for scavengers 
to sort their loads prior to selling them.   Allowing dropoff 
customers to give their commingled materials to the itinerant 
scavengers for sorting would also be a plus.

The last idea would be to work the scavengers into the next 
generation of resource recovery park/transfer stations by relocating 
homeless services to these locations.  Then the social workers would 
be close to the people who really need their help and who are already 
the working poor.  In our area, Dan Sicular of Environmental Science 
Associates wrote his doctoral dissertation on scavenging in 
Indonesia.  I read it with great interest years ago.  Dan found that 
the indigenous system was highly organized, albeit privately so, by 
"strongmen" who kept order and managed conflicts among scavengers in 
return for a cut of their proceeds.  I am not advocating for such a 
system; I think it is inherently unfair and exploitive.  But perhaps 
it is indicative of something that could be done in a more humane, 
safe, and effective way by nonprofits or by government or perhaps a 
combination of the two.

A few years ago, the City of Oakland organized an all-day session on 
poaching in our area.  Jerry Powell was a featured speaker.  I was 
unable to attend, but Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore's Operations 
Manager, represented us.  She says in an afternoon breakout session 
she found herself with both buyback and curbside collection 
operators, and that after considering the options, they reported back 
to the closing plenary that they favored putting a social service 
worker at the buyback to offer drug and alcohol interventions.

Thanks, Bob, for your thoughts which triggered these reflections.  
And thanks to all the others who have contributed to this very 
interesting discussion thread.

Dan Knapp, CEO
Urban Ore, Inc., a reuse and recycling business in Berkeley, 
California since 1980
On Nov 3, 2008, at 10:27 AM, 2b wrote:

> Yes, scavengers usually do deliver a premium product, but unless they
> are set up as part of a controlled system like Urban Ore's transfer
> station pickers, they can also be responsible for some serious
> environmental damage and the degradation of discard management
> programs. The previous record high prices for ferrous and non-ferrous
> scrap pushed less responsible scavengers to pull brass valves off of
> toxic chemical tanks, cut catalytic converters of functioning vehicles
> and rip Freon containing cooling lines off of refrigerators and air
> conditioners. Bottle and can poachers disrupt and frustrate citizens
> efforts to sort their discards, in some cases to the point of
> abandoning there separation efforts. Loss of bottle and can revenue
> typically drives up the cost and lowers the efficiency of the
> authorized collection programs, which strive for reasonable costs and
> responsible handling of all discards, including the least valuable
> which the poachers are not at all interested in. While I am in support
> of providing work and reasonable living standards for all, employing
> scavengers to poach valuable discards from legitimate programs is
> parasitic and counterproductive to the goals of waste reduction and
> discard management. Even if the poachers were formally incorporated
> into the waste discard system, they too would eventually be poached by
> those still outside the system unless anti-poaching laws were
> established and enforced. Let's keep the big picture in mind, we need
> to reduce all discards and handle all of them responsibly. Poachers
> and scavengers do neither.
> Bob Besso
> Waste Reduction and Recycling Manager
> Norcal Waste Systems Inc. San Francisco
> On Oct 30, 9:41 pm, "Nancy Poh" <greenbeingna...@no.address> wrote:
>> This post is so insightful.  I was thinking as I read that the
>> economic crisis should reduce discards since people will be buying as
>> much.  But it is worrisome to think that to avoid paying handling
>> fees, they may be discarded indiscriminately .
>> Now that we know from Dan that scavengers deliver superior product
>> through source-separation to the buyback's specs, wouldn't it be a
>> good idea to engage them into the recycling industry?  Then 
>> instead of
>> stealing they will be making an honest living.
>> Since we are talking about reducing discards and waste, why must
>> tomato sauce bottle be made that way?  Since we have been reading 
>> that
>> chemicals from plastic in food packaging materials can leach into 
>> food
>> wouldn't it be a good idea to use uniform glass containers, with 
>> wider
>> openings, to store food product.  That way it will reduce discards 
>> and
>> raw material will not be wasted since glass containers can be re-
>> used.
>> Watching TV about the hidden dangers of volcanoes in Yellowstone Park
>> erupting, I do wonder why it is not possible to use the lava and the
>> latent heat from this source in processes.  If we can pump oil to a
>> level of depletion we can do the same for lava, right?  Can it be 
>> used
>> in recycling processes?
>> Yeah, I know.  Sometimes I do ask the funniest if not the most stupid
>> questions.  I don't care.  Just think about it, anyone?
>> Happy Halloween.
>> Nancy
>> On Fri, Oct 31, 2008 at 4:51 AM, Dan Knapp <dr....@no.address> 
>> wrote:
>>> Hello Wayne:
>>> 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.
>>> Wayne
>>>>>> Dan Knapp <dr....@no.address> 10/29/2008 3:30 PM >>>
>>> Hello Wayne:
>>> 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.
>>> Dan Knapp
>>> 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
>> ...
>> read more »- Hide quoted text -
>> - Show quoted text -
> >

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