Sonoma County Zero Waste Planning
The county in California in which I live has a progressive public. For example, the city council has a majority of Green Party members. Like all counties in California, we have a Local Task Force which was set up by a bill known as AB 939 that was passed in 1989. The bill was fairly progressive at the time, (though in my opinion it has become obsolete with time). It mandated high diversion rates from the garbage stream. This is a recycling provision which is opposed to progress toward Zero Waste. The mission of the Task Force is to provide public citizen advice for county legislators on the subject of garbage management and diversion. In Sonoma county, many of the members are in favor of moving on toward Zero Waste implementation to solve long term problems of the creation of unwanted excesses (note my shift from garbage terminology to ZW terminology).
We have a preliminary document which I have prepared and which will probably be of wider interest than merely in our county. It makes use of the Zero Waste Principles above.
Proposal For Achieving a Zero Waste Reality in Sonoma County
We have taken on the challenge of coming up with at least some believable and realistic programs. We need a logical way to classify and prioritize projects. Here are some possibilities:
- The kind of process used, such as repair in a specialized or centralized shop.
- The type of consumer item, such as cement based rubble.
- The length of time needed to put it into practice.
- The availability of expertise.
- The need for forming a new or specialized business.
- The need for a public subsidy or incentive program.
- The ability to apply a solution on a county, regional or statewide basis.
- The difficulty of shutting down a competing garbage based alternative.
- The technical public education required.
- The changes in public behavior required.
- The sheer impact they have on current practices, including the rate of filling the dump whether by volume, value or otherwise.
These classifications are in no way exclusive. This list is expected to grow.
Projects arrive on the wind as it were. That is, they often are suggested by needs that arise or by existing opportunities. There is no one way to classify them, though most of them do deal with a particular type of article and so they can be differentiated on that basis. I suggest we think about some of these:
Packaging Specifically any container which can be refilled. What is needed is a refilling station with the capacity to refill virtually any container that is found in commerce. There will be hundreds of products that flow and can be dispensed thru tubes, which are the main thrust of this design. (Some non-flow solids may also be candidates for refilling, such as marinated, treated foods like olives). We will ultimately need fairly sophisticated filling machines but could begin with simpler ones. Special features could include built in weighing stations and smart cards which are used to activate each refilling operation and continually add up the weights, items and charges.
Composting A forceful program of the composting of abolutely all organic, compostable matter generated in the county, without exception. There are already several composting operations but the elimination of EVERY SCRAP of organic matter from the dump is not yet a reality. If there are subgroups, they need to be established as such. For example, lawn clippings, especially from golf courses, are known to contain an exceptionally high proportion of certain grass pesticides. The obvious way to deal with this uses Principle 5, no mixing. Compost the lawn clippings separately and apply them back to golf courses where the pesticides contained are considered to be desirable, rather than a problem. Do not allow one single ounce of any compostable, organic material to enter a dump in this county. This is a precursor to the elimination of that abomination, daily dump cover, which is a major problem in the filling of available dump capacity during the transition. If wood and other structural products are to be regarded as organic material, this will require special consideration (see below).
Concrete to aggregate A similarly forceful program of recycling ALL cement rubble back into aggregate. The county has a crisis of aggregate anyway due to citizen opposition to expansion of crushing operations by quarries or the mining of gravel from the Russian River. The county is fortunate to have a number of concrete recyclers. The objection will be raised that contractors are used to bringing in degraded mixed demolition debris. This practice must cease.
Note that this question bears some resemblance to the common breaking of glass bottles for diversion. However there is no good way to "refill" concrete except to move it in large blocks such as walls. The heavy weights make this infeasible.
Wood recycling. A good deal of wood is unnecessarily reduced to unusable forms because of simple irresponsibility. Much more wood could be constructively dismantled and reused than is captured at present. One of the crying needs to make this happen is the development of pneumatic tools for nail pulling and separation of wooden members.
Hot lines. An absolutely astounding amount of reusable, large scale, equipment is today rendered as debris due to the absence of any constructive means to find a new user,and the lack of a program to encourage (require?) the careful extraction and separation of reusable equipment and fixtures. Usable steel buildings are often demolished while other new ones are purchased, with no way to establish contact between such parties. All kinds of HVAC equipment such as coolers, duct work, heaters, freezers and fans are discarded today with no attempt to find any possible users. The existing hotline has no provision for keeping track of those searching for reusable items. I watched one day as hundreds of perfectly good supermarket carts, that had been picked up on the street, were placed into dumpsters simply because the collector could not be bothered delivering the carts to their individual markets. There are rollup and overhead and garage doors as well as counters, windows and furniture destroyed for no reason, other than the lack of informational insfrastructure.
Hotlines for stimulating the reuse of chemicals might also prove useful, however they would need special features which I understand well, having been in the business for thirty years. They would in no way resemble the boondoggles, the so-called waste exchanges favored by the government, but would actually work.
- There will be resistance from all concerned to taking responsibility for the reuse of items for which the garbage industry formerly was willing to accept a bastardized responsibility (taking it to a dump does not constitute actual responsibility in a reuse model). However, there is no quarrelling with the basic proposition that a buyer takes on responsibility when he makes a decision to purchase, and that continued responsibility is nothing new, merely being enforced.
A centralized repair facility is needed. How can it be formed and how would it work? It would require a great deal of expertise and knowledge, only a small portion of which is presently available in this throw-away society. Can a start be made with a limited list of items?
Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT's)
There are a large number of computers being excessed and attention has been focussed (for the wrong reasons) on the monitors. These are cathode ray tubes which consist basically of an electronic and magnetic collar around a specialized glass tube. The most common problem with them is that the electronics burns out. There used to be a thriving "gun replacement" industry for repairing and replacing the electronics, thus greatly extending the useful life of a CRT. That kind of repair industry needs to be reconstituted.
Technical Information on the Web
There is a need for a statewide requirement that all spec sheets, circuit diagrams and component layouts, including materials of construction and generic replacements where possible, must be posted on the internet before a product is permitted to be sold in this state.
Unfortunately, this is not a county issue. Perhaps all that can be done is to start the ball rolling by including it in our analyses as a wish item.
Close connections with similarly minded recycling groups in neighboring counties, such as Marin, Mendocino, Solano etc.
Dishmobile Festivals and public gatherings are a disgraceful source of abundant discarded garbage everywhere in this country, and beyond. One solution is to eliminate the insidious concept of disposable utensils - cups, plates, silverware - by installing a mobile dishwashing station that can visit any gathering. Fixed fair locations, like county fairgrounds, can afford to have fixed installations. These kinds of mobile washers already exist, and are rentable, though it is hard to find one that incorporates the entire range of services that are needed to completely eliminate all garbage at festivals. They would need to provide a large quantity of easily identifiable and differentiable dishes and a way to wash them.
These are my initial thoughts and suggestions. Many more could be added. I hope they stimulate additional thought, editing, suggestions and practical implementations. I look forward to a group process of refinement.