About the Author

Paul Palmer holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry from Yale. In 1973, he learned that the chemical industry in general, but especially the newly emerging electronics industry in Silicon Valley, were discarding enormous amounts of perfectly usable industrial chemicals. He became convinced that pathways for reusing these chemicals could be found and that reworking and/or reselling them could be the basis of a profitable business. For this purpose, he founded Zero Waste Systems (ZWS) to recycle evey kind of excess chemical. This was the first instance of the institutional use of the phrase "Zero Waste". ZWS did not specialize in any one kind of chemical or any one kind of processing, which made it unique in the world. In fact, it was the first company to take this approach and the last. The business plan is valid enough but the enforcement of a garbage mentality by the government is so pervasive today that intelligent management of chemical excesses has become all but impossible. This subject is treated extensively in the book.

ZWS broke ground in many ways, Based on its unique mission, it achieved a worldwide reputation. It was the only corporation to join the Sierra Club. It was the subject of many EPA sponsored studies. It strained for the highest possible technical competence, employing chemists and building an analytical laboratory and library. At one point, ZWS ran a laboratory chemicals recycling program which gave it the largest inventory of laboratory chemicals in California, all for sale at discount prices to the public. At various times, it recycled virtually every single excess chemical produced in the electronics industry such as resist developer, resist rinse, reflow oil, isopropanol, freon, phosphoric, sulfuric, hydrochloric, hydrofluoric and acetic acids, alkaline etch and more. Though public and official praise flowed in, ZWS never could obtain one penny of government support for any of its work.

At its height, ZWS employed about twenty employees at two locations in Oakland California. It came to an end for reasons unrelated to its actual work.

Throughout this time, Paul Palmer strove to understand the true theoretical underpinnings of the world of recycling. While many environmentalists were claiming, as they continue to today, that chemicals were not recyclable, he realized that chemicals were among the most easily recycled goods there are. His understanding of recycling was forged in the furnace of the day-to-day requirements of dealing not only with industry, but also government and the rising tide of restrictive regulation.

Though the author continues to work as a chemical broker today, his insights are unique among chemical brokers partly because he explicitly searches for the theoretical parallels between chemical recycling and all other kinds of recycling and because his advanced technical background gives him a wide window on the technical aspects of recycling. As a member of the Sonoma County Local Waste Management Task Force and a former chairman of the Sonoma County Hazardous Materials Management Commission, he has been extensively involved in local garbage politics as well.

Paul Palmer has recently formed The Zero Waste Institute.

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