BioCycle October 2011, Vol. 52, No. 10, p. 6
California Raises Recycling Goal To 75%
California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation in early October establishing the most ambitious recycling goal in the nation, at the same time enacting incentives aimed at increasing recycled material processing and manufacturing in-state. Together, this strategy is aimed at creating more than 60,000 green jobs in the state over the next eight years, according to Californians Against Waste (CAW), an environmental advocacy organization. AB 341, introduced by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, sets the 75 percent recycling goal by 2020. The measure also requires every commercial business, institution and apartment building to implement recycling programs. AB 1149, introduced by Assemblyman Rich Gordon provides market-based incentives of $10 million to $20 million annually to processors and manufacturers of recycled plastic. AB 341 expands on the law passed 21 years ago, AB 939, that mandated a state recycling goal of 50 percent by 2000. Jurisdictions not meeting the goal faced fines, although grace periods were extended.
“California’s commitment to recycling has created 125,000 new jobs over the past two decades,” says Chesbro. “The industry generates $4 billion a year in salaries and produces $10 billion worth of goods and services annually. AB 341 expands on that success, by requiring businesses, institutions and apartment buildings to subscribe to recycling service and establishing a new statewide goal of source reducing, recycling or composting 75 percent of the waste we generate by 2020.”
While local diversion programs have largely focused on residential recycling, notes CAW, there is still a large untapped recycling opportunity in the commercial sector, which comprises two-thirds of California’s waste stream. For example, California as a whole diverts 58 percent of its waste but large office buildings divert only 7 percent. More than half of the material disposed at these buildings consists of readily recyclable paper and cardboard. “AB 341 targets the 15 million tons of recyclables that the commercial sector and apartments still send to landfills every year,” says Mark Murray, CAW’s Executive Director.
AB 1149 takes a market-based approach to ensuring that California realizes the full economic and environmental benefits of recycling. “When we ship used soda and water bottles to China, we are exporting thousands of jobs overseas that could just as readily exist in California if the appropriate investments were set up to support it,” says Gordon. Historically, 80 percent of the roughly 500 million pounds/year of plastic beverage containers collected under the state’s Bottle Bill program have been shipped overseas for processing and recycling into new products. “California has been the banana republic to China,” says Murray. “We dutifully clean up and collect billions of used soda and water bottles and ship them off to China at a loss. They add labor and value processing them into the polyester clothing and accessories that they sell back to us at Target and Banana Republic. … Today, the plastic market program directly supports more than 750 jobs. But we are collecting enough plastic to support four to five times that many jobs. AB 1149 creates the incentives and the potential for hundreds, if not thousands of new jobs.”
Green Infrastructure Means Green Jobs
A new report released by Green For All, a national organization dedicated to building a green economy, suggests that an investment of $188.4 billion in water infrastructure – the amount EPA indicates would be required to manage storm water and preserve water quality – would inject a quarter of a trillion dollars into the economy, create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs in related sectors and result in 568,000 additional jobs from increased spending. Further, the report, “Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment,” notes that this is the best moment to make the investment, not just because of the unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, but also because “the cost of financing these essential upgrades is at historic lows, and the still-struggling economy means much cheaper construction costs.” Water Works, researched and written in partnership with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute and the Pacific Institute, states that green infrastructure will be a strategic part of this investment and job creation. It cites a recent study by the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia that found if 50 percent of storm water was managed by green infrastructure development, it could create 15,266 green collar jobs in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. The study found over 32,000 current jobs related to storm water management.
“A strategic approach requires not only making traditional infrastructure upgrades but also pursuing new approaches, in particular green infrastructure techniques,” says Water Works. Infrastructure investments create over 16 percent more jobs, dollar-for-dollar than a payroll tax holiday, nearly 40 percent more jobs than an across-the-board tax cut, and over five times as many jobs as temporary business tax cuts. Most of these occupations do not require high levels of formal education, but rather a high school degree plus some post-secondary education or training. “Cleaning our environment and putting people to work has always been the value proposition of the green economy,” said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All. “This report demonstrates that there’s a massive opportunity to ensure clean water, improve the economy, and put people — particularly low-income workers — back to work.”
One tool being used to finance green infrastructure projects is EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). Examples of green infrastructure projects that are eligible for CWRSF funds include green roofs, permeable pavement, and wetland restoration. The Water Works report is available via: http://bit.ly/WaterWorksReport.
USCC Hires New Executive Director
Michael Virga has been named executive director of the U.S. Composting Council (USCC). Virga, former Executive Director of Forestry at the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), has been engaged in sustainability work throughout his 30-year career. “Michael brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the USCC, as well as a seasoned business ethic, that will help our members facilitate the growth of composting and organics recycling through education, communication and public policy,” said USCC President Frank Franciosi.
Virga’s professional accomplishments include developing the Sustainable Forest Initiative, the world’s largest third-party certification program for advocating ecologically sound forest management. In that capacity, he worked with such wood and paper-product retail giants as Lowes, Home Depot, Staples, Office Depot and Time, Inc., to ensure environmentally sound purchasing decisions. Prior to AF&PA, Virga worked for 16 years at the Lyons Falls Pulp and Paper Company in New York, managing 70,000 acres of timberland, procuring hardwood pulpwood and sawmill residues and managing the environmental challenges the company faced.
“I was looking for the right opportunity with a growing industry with a strong environmental platform,” he says. “I wanted to stay in the sustainability field – it’s what I’ve done my entire career.” Virga plans to transfer his experience with helping to grow the paper industry’s recycling rate (now at 60 percent on average) to organics recycling. “There is tremendous growth opportunity for diverting organic material,” he says. Virga credited outgoing Executive Director Stuart Buckner with helping to build the USCC membership and annual conference to its current capacity. “My job is to keep that going and improve the business climate for the composting industry.”
Third Starbucks Cup Summit
There is no perfect cup. That was one of the takeaway messages from Starbucks’ third Cup Summit, which took place September 9 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. More than 100 leaders in the packaging industry met to discuss life-cycle scenarios for cups and other packaging, from sourcing of raw material to disposal and recycling. “Over the past three years, we’ve learned that success has been a combination of forward-thinking partnerships along with innovative approaches to widespread challenges,” said Jim Hanna, Starbucks director of environmental impact. “By collaborating with key industry leaders – even competitors – we are better able to help reduce the global impact of packaging throughout the industry.”
During the summit, representatives from paper mills, cup manufacturers, restaurant operators, recyclers and nongovernmental organizations, along with academic experts, brainstormed recycling solutions. One key message was that even though cups may be made of fiber that paper mills can recycle, it’s critical that they are collected in enough volume to make the process economically feasible. This becomes a challenge when so many cups leave the stores with customers and end up in homes or offices. Starbucks’ goal is to have implemented recycling in all of its more than 17,000 stores by 2015. The company has chosen recyclable over compostable cups as a preferred strategy due to a perceived lower carbon footprint and better existing infrastructure. Still, Hanna admitted, getting customers to bring their own reusable cups offers the best-case scenario. At least one customer agreed: “Grocery stores have signs in their parking lots reminding customers to bring their bags into the store,” a blogger posted on the Starbucks site shortly after a live webcast of the Cup Summit. “Could the shops have decals on the glass doors reminding the customers to bring their cups in (and get a discount!)?” View the Cup Summit webcast: http://www.starbucks.com/promo/cup-summit.
Planting Hope At Urban Farm
The crumbling of the auto industry cost thousands of jobs and left neighborhoods blighted and businesses abandoned in Flint, Michigan. With funding from the Ruth Mott Foundation, a couple who run a martial arts studio in Flint and a group of their students have been able to turn a vacant lot that once served as a neighborhood dumping ground into a productive urban farm providing food for the community and economic opportunity for the farmers. Jackie and Dora King, owners of Harvesting Earth Farm-King Karate, gained notoriety after two Michigan State University (MSU) professors assisted by five students made a short documentary of the project. Media attention from the Associated Press subsequently led to a full-length award-winning film project. The film chronicles the process of rehabbing a blighted vacant lot and teaching farming – which the Kings view as an additional means of self-defense – from preparing the ground with recycled organic material to planting seeds, cultivating crops and selling produce at local farmers markets.
Michael Hamm, professor of sustainable agriculture for the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU highlights the economic development power of urban farms. His research into the economics of local agriculture has shown that food dollars spent within the community multiply sevenfold because they recirculate. Hamm says the Midwest has great potential for urban farms – which differ from community gardens in that they produce food for a market and not just the growers themselves – because of the abundance of vacant land coupled with depressed economies in “Rust Belt” cities such as Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Benton Harbor.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is flush with cash for someone who can build a better toilet that improves upon antiquated and resource-wasting “flush-it-and-forget-it” technology while bringing sanitation services to areas lacking traditional water systems. The “Reinvent the Toilet” competition awarded $3 million to researchers at eight universities with the directive that their inventions must work independent of sewer systems, water or electricity lines and be able to operate at a cost of a few cents per day per user.
One prototype runs on solar power and utilizes electrochemical technology to process the waste into carbon dioxide and hydrogen – which can be stored in a fuel cell to light the privy at night. “The Gates Foundation has just legitimized the alternate approach to human waste management that many of us have been preaching for years,” says Chuck Henry, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Washington. “The legacy that engineers of the past have left us with – taking a concentrated waste, diluting it with a valuable water resource, then using even more limited resources to take the waste back out of the water – is not sustainable, especially in developing countries.” Henry’s primary interest is in composting toilets.