July 31, 2007

Navigating to Zero Waste in California

The non-profit California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) recently held its 31st annual CRRA Conference and Trade Show in the coastal city of San Pedro in Los Angeles County attracting recycling professionals from throughout the state. The theme of this year's event was "Navigating to Zero Waste." As a global leader in the environmental sustainability field...
The CRRA works to expand markets for recycled materials, promotes sustainable materials policies and is a clearinghouse for information, innovation, and industry and governmental initiatives. CRRA newsletters, workshops and conferences provide up-to-the-minute information on issues that shape the recycling and composting fields.

Responding to the goals of California's landmark Integrated Waste Management Act (AB 939) of 1989 the CRRA is to be credited for helping communities throughout the state divert over 54% of its urban waste from landfills through recycling. What goes unrecorded is the amount of waste that never makes it to the municipal recovery facilities (MRFs) through many of the coordinated programs it has helped to foster and implement to significantly reduce the source of waste. This is achieved by identifying major sources of waste production and helping the producers recognize their responsibility to streamline wasteful and waste producing practices.

Unfortunately, "Navigating to Zero Waste" will never be reached simply through application of the 3 R's (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) using existing technologies at the rate at which waste grows in the state. Even if 60% of waste is diverted, the same principal volume is likely to remain. This threatens urban landfills like L.A.'s vast Puente Hills landfill (which will close in 2013) and a San Diego landfill (which will close in 2012) and other close proximity urban repositories. The remaining refuse will then be shipped at great expense and fuel usage to outlaying landfills as far as 200 miles away.

So it was heartening to see that two of the plenary speakers were Councilmember Greig Smith and California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) member Rosalie Mulé.

Greig is a refreshing example of a local politician who responds to the voting public by listening to their concerns, enlisting professionals to create a solution, and making sure that the solution gets significant political support that will outlive the terms of the signatories. L.A.'s 20-year RENEW LA plan obligates the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation to divert unrecycled trash to biorefineries located at MRFs thereby reducing waste volume by 85% while co-generating electricity and very possibly producing biofuels (biooils and ethanol). He reported that selection of the exact technology to be implemented at the first site will be made later this summer.

Rosalie Mulé was appointed to the CIWMB by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger because of her experience working in the private sector waste industry. She reiterated the Board's commitment to advancing programs that minimize waste, manage landfills, promote producer responsibility, and maximize waste usage. She applauded the efforts of organizations such as CRRA to make California a leader in the world for how to create and implement recycling programs. During her speech she stated:
We also want to encourage innovations and technologies that will provide for the most efficient and effective management and reuse of material. There are a lot of new technologies on the horizon, some of them are proven and some of them are not but I like to compare them to space exploration. We would not have the things we have today had we not gone out there and conducted the research and done the exploration and navigated the uncharted waters.

It is time to move beyond the current established methods of waste reuse to develop new waste conversion alternatives. Many of these practices are being employed successfully in Europe and Japan where population density mandates technological solutions that place waste conversion facilities within close proximity to populated areas. We have the luxury of space but new popular standards, like AB32 the Global Warming Solutions Act, require renewed industry action on a timely basis.

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