March 15, 2007

Fortune looks at waste source reduction

California generates roughly 40 million tons of unrecyclable waste each year. When asked what alternatives do recycling activists have planned for diverting this waste from landfills the first response is usually "source reduction."

Is source reduction a realistic answer to the problem of landfills? Will it satisfy the needs of urban centers like Los Angeles which are running out of landfill space at an alarming rate - faster than even herculean efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle can attain? Marc Gunther of Fortune magazine recently wrote a positive yet simplistic sounding essay on the subject.

While any reduction is a welcome development, it stretches credibility to believe that source reduction alone will solve the landfill problem - particularly in a free enterprise and free trade country that imports more than it produces. The costs of re-engineering will impact competitive pricing ceding even more business to developing countries not saddled with our idealism.

Here are some excerpts from Marc's article...

The end of garbage
Can you imagine a world of zero waste? Cities and towns across the world - and a surprising number of companies - have adopted that goal, says Fortune's Marc Gunther
By Marc Gunther, Fortune senior writer

Zero waste is just what it sounds like - producing, consuming, and recycling products without throwing anything away. Getting to a wasteless world will require nothing less than a total makeover of the global economy, which thinkers such as entrepreneur Paul Hawken, consultant Amory Lovins, and architect William McDonough have called the Next Industrial Revolution.

They want industry to mimic biology, where one species' excrement is another's food. "We're not talking here about eliminating waste," McDonough explains. "We're talking about eliminating the entire concept of waste."

While the concept of zero waste is as old as nature, recycling is newer. In 1968, Madison, Wis., became the first U.S. city to offer curbside recycling, for newspapers. Recycling got a boost with Earth Day in 1970, and again after the EPA imposed strict regulations on landfills in 1991. When done right, recycling saves energy, preserves natural resources, reduces greenhouse-gas emissions, and keeps toxins from leaking out of landfills.

"When you look at a dumpster, you see trash," David Redfield says. "When I look at it, I see materials and money." Redfield, a Bentonville, Ark., native who has put in 15 years at Wal-Mart, is the man in charge of getting the world's biggest retailer closer to its zero-waste goal. It's good for the planet, he says, and for the company's bottom line. As Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has explained, "If we had to throw it away, we had to buy it first. So we pay twice: once to get it, once to take it away."

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1 comment:

kk said...

The 60's live on!

Now that we baby boomers are "in charge", we can get some of the things done we started back in the 60's.

I grew up in Madison and remember when curbside recycling started. Lo these many years later I am still interested in wasted resources. With a couple of partners, I am working on several biofuels from nonfood/waste/trash projects here in SW Florida.

Fortunately the Feds now seem determined to carry through on the move toward renewable resources. Over the next decade or two, barring the unforeseen (or the unthinkable), our mix of resources will become sustainable, healthier and less controversial.

With less to fight over, we may find ourselves spending our time and money on improving the quality of life for the rest of the world...