Zero Waste around the World
Communities all across the globe are realizing the benefits of Zero Waste and pursuing Zero Waste policies and practices. A list of Zero Waste communities can be found on the Zero Waste International Alliance website. For more local Zero Waste progress, check out what's happening in Boulder County.
"Zero Waste Around the World" is a regular feature of the Eco-Cycle Guide. Check out our current and archived newsletters for more information on Zero Waste and Eco-Cycle's programs, or sign up to receive the Eco-Cycle Guide via email.
While developed countries gathered in Copenhagen in December 2009 to point fingers about who should do what to fight climate change, one group united for the first time to showcase its unconventional work on the frontlines of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: global wastepickers. These workers make their living scavenging paper, glass, plastics and metals for recycling. They often face deplorable conditions, such as living and working on top of open landfills, and are frequently outcast by society and their own governments. Wastepickers from Asia, Latin America and Africa marched and gave speeches in Copenhagen on behalf of the 15 million wastepickers in the Global South who are at risk of losing their jobs due to privatization of landfills and proposed incineration plants disguised as green energy. Wastepickers recover an average of 80% of materials, but they are being replaced by foreign companies who recycle only 20% or, worse, burn everything. Rather than continue to marginalize wastepickers, programs in Chile and India have organized workers into collectives and established door-to-door collection programs that are locally run, formally recognized by governments, and respected by fellow citizens. Resource recovery jobs are ground zero for a global green economy, and fighting climate change doesn’t always mean new technology. Support the rights of global wastepickers at www.inclusivecities.org.
There once was a place called Nantucket that grew tired of the old adage “chuck it.” All the residents joined in, sorting waste by the bin, and save resources now by the bucket! It wasn’t all fun and limericks along Nantucket’s journey to become the first Zero Waste community in the U.S. It all began in 1989 when this summer vacation hotspot 30 miles south of Cape Cod had a measly residential recycling rate of 7% and a leaky landfill that threatened the island’s only freshwater aquifer. Rather than choose to ship everything off the island at quadruple the existing price, residents and town officials took responsibility to manage their waste locally by mandating recycling, banning plastic and Styrofoam® packaging, and investing in construction and demolition recycling. Plus, the island invested in a facility to pre-treat all its leftover waste so any remaining materials that are landfilled will not produce greenhouse gas emissions or threaten the groundwater. Fast forward 20 years and Nantucket is on track to exceed 100% recovery thanks to efforts to mine the old landfill, pre-treat the old waste, and safely bury whatever still remains. Nantucket’s story is so much bigger than its 50 square miles—its efforts are proving Zero Waste is a real alternative to building a new landfill or incinerator and showing the world the new future of sustainable resource management.
Whether it comes from our volunteers, customers, or our own staff, Eco-Cycle® hears regular complaints about over-packaged goods — and now we have some good news to share about companies actually trying to reduce their packaging impact. (Remember, changes are driven by customer feedback, so don’t just tell us you don’t like the packaging — contact the company! See U.K. story below.) Amy’s: In response to relentless feedback from residents of Boulder and other eco-conscious communities, Amy’s frozen entrée boxes have been redesigned, so they can now be recycled with paperboard. Almost all other frozen food boxes are not recyclable because they are treated with a plastic polymer spray that reduces freezer burn but also causes contamination problems in the recycling process. Columbia: The outerwear company now offers shipping in gently-used boxes for customers ordering online. More than 60% of customers are choosing reused boxes, and Columbia has set up www.aboxlife.com to track the boxes as they continue to be reused across the country. RockResorts: Convenience and quality are of utmost importance for hotel guests but no longer at the expense of wasting the planet. RockResorts properties from Vail to St. Lucia and Vail Resorts Hospitality properties in Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Beaver Creek are expecting to avoid an estimated 640,000 plastic water bottles thanks to the new “Water on the Rocks” program, which eliminates plastic water bottles from guests' rooms and offers hotel guests reusable water bottles with refilling stations.
Two of Britain’s retail giants and major grocers aren’t embarking on the usual price war—they’re digging in for a battle to be the greenest. Sainsbury stores committed to landfilling no food waste by 2012 and will instead send leftover food to anaerobic digesters to be converted into fertilizer, and the resulting methane gas will be used to create electricity. While its 800+ stores currently fill an average of one landfill dumpster every week, Sainsbury’s goal is to fill only one trash dumpster per store every 4-6 weeks. The U.K.’s largest mega retailer, Tesco, is working with suppliers to reduce packaging weight 25% by 2010, and new packaging for chicken is a result of this initiative. The traditional tray and film pack has been replaced with a 68% lighter shrink-film pack that uses fewer resources and requires fewer trucks to transport, earning it environmental innovation awards in the U.K. Nearly all of Tesco’s organic produce has compostable packaging, and the 2200+ store chain is leaning on the government to deliver composting service to every home. According to Tesco, “Our customers tell us that food packaging is extremely important to them and can determine what they buy, so our packaging team has been looking at ways to address these concerns.”
Unsolicited phone calls were the first to fall, thanks to the national do-not-call registry, and now, the first blow has fallen upon the junk mail empire. In March 2009, the city of San Francisco passed a resolution calling upon the state of California to create a do-not-mail registry to give citizens a choice to stop receiving unwanted junk mail. What some may consider a small annoyance is actually a national epidemic of waste—more than 100 billion pieces delivered in the U.S. annually—and with no small climate impact either—the production, distribution and disposal of junk mail releases as much greenhouse gas emissions as driving nine million cars for an entire year, according to ForestEthics. Whether you want to save time or trees, protect your privacy or guard against predatory marketing, stopping junk mail is the ticket. Tell your congressional leaders you support a national do-not-mail registry at donotmail.org and visit our website to reduce your junk mail today.
It’s called “wrap rage,” and we’ve all had it after spending 30 minutes trying to unwrap a product from its plastic casings, bindings and wire ties, only to be left with a knee-high pile of packaging and cuts all over our fingers. Amazon.com is plotting the end of “wrap rage” by forming a partnership with manufacturers that could reshape the way products are packaged. Called “Frustration-Free Packaging,” select Amazon.com toys and consumer electronics now come in cardboard boxes straight from the manufacturers. The company hopes to eventually offer “Frustration-Free Packaging” for all of its products. Amazon.com’s initiative comes two years after Wal-Mart launched a packaging reduction challenge to its suppliers. In response, HP has developed a laptop bag that uses 97% less packaging than a typical laptop, leaving consumers with only a few plastic bags, no packing foam, and a single piece of paperboard. Hooray for fewer sore fingers and destroyed natural resources!
The numbers don’t add up: In the United States, we make up 4.6% of the global population but consume one third of the planet’s timber and paper. This is almost two-thirds more paper per capita than our counterparts in Western Europe, making our excessive consumption uniquely American. Then, instead of recycling all that paper, we throw about half of it in the trash. (Paper is still the most abundant material in our waste stream.) Not recycling paper is problematic for two reasons: 12 to 24 trees must be cut down to make 1 ton of paper, and deforestation is responsible for 25% of global CO2 emissions. Plus, paper decaying in a landfill will release greenhouse gases as well, this time as methane, which has 72 times the global warming impact of CO2 over the short term. The numbers are dizzying but the solution is simple: Use less paper, buy paper with the highest recycled content, make sure it’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and recycle. Massachusetts is one state that’s gotten the message—its “Mass Recycles Paper” campaign estimates the state wastes $100 million every year throwing away paper, and they are working on education and policy initiatives to change this. Learn the impact of your choices on paper consumption and recycling at www.whatsinyourpaper.com.
Recycling naysayers continually attack the extra trucks and transportation needed to haul recyclables to market, but this view only looks at one stage in the entire lifecycle of recycling a material. New research from the United Kingdom shows that recycling paper and plastic, even when these materials are shipped to China, generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to landfilling the discarded materials and creating new products from virgin resources. In fact, the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by recycling and remanufacturing were anywhere from 6 to a whopping 64 times greater than the emissions produced from exporting recycled paper and plastics overseas. This only serves to underscore the incredible potential of recycling as a climate change reduction strategy. However, domestic reprocessing of recyclable materials is always preferred, both environmentally and economically—the more local the better. We need to reinvest in our national processing and remanufacturing businesses as the foundation for a new green economy. Until then, recycling STILL wins, even with the extra mileage.
“Those folks [in Boulder] have green in their blood, and I think we could use some of that here.” That was the conclusion of a delegation from Frederick County, Maryland that came to Boulder looking for a better solution to its trash problems than building a $300 million waste incinerator. Part-time Boulder and Frederick resident Caroline Eader helped organize a group of Frederick county commissioners, county staff and local newspaper reporters to visit Boulder. The group spent two jampacked days in June exploring Boulder’s community commitment to Zero Waste by visiting local hotels, schools, businesses, organizations and events all working toward Zero Waste. Inspired in part by Boulder’s vision, residents in Frederick County continue pushing for increased recycling and composting and Eco-Cycle is helping them in any way we can.
For better or for worse, the true sign of success in America is having your own reality TV show. Well Zero Waste, you’re now a star thanks to KTVU in Alameda County, California. The station is hosting a four-week Zero Waste Challenge in fall 2008 between four families to see who can produce the least amount of waste. The families will file weekly journals and participate in two TV shoots, and area residents will be encouraged to play along and track their own successes online. Zero Waste created a similar buzz on the radio when National Public Radio’s Marketplace issued a trash challenge in which listeners joined the host in carrying their trash around for two weeks. Finally, Eco-Cycle’s Executive Director Eric Lombardi led Zero Waste to the top of the list in Newsweek magazine’s “10 Fixes for the Planet” in April 2008. For more on the Zero Waste media craze, check out http://www.ecocycle.org/mediacenter and http://marketplace.publicradio.org/consumed
While the staff at The Home Depot continue to wear the same orange aprons, the store looks a little greener these days. In June 2008, The Home Depot stepped forward as the second and largest national retailer to recycle compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) at all of its stores. The program is filling the large void in national leadership in CFL recycling after a huge surge in product sales. In 2007, The Home Depot launched a new line called Eco-Options that showcases products with less impact on the environment such as cellulose insulation, natural pest repellents and energy-efficient appliances. For more on the retailer’s other environmental initiatives, check out www6.homedepot.com/ecooptions.
Different colored soy sauce bottles, batteries, razor blades,bottle caps and lighters all have a separate bin for recycling at the Zero Waste Centre in Kamikatsu, Japan. In this small wooded community, there is no curbside waste collection and household composting is mandatory. Two thousand residents sort their discards into as many as 34 categories to maximize the economic value of the materials. New pollution laws forced the community to shut down its incinerator several years ago. Then, the town rejected costly updates to the waste burner and chose to aim for Zero Waste instead. With the community’s extraordinarily detailed sorting, washing, composting and reusing methods, the town recovers about 80% of its discards, placing it well on its way toward Zero Waste by 2020.
In the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, officials took the first in what could be a series of actions against manufacturers whose products and packaging are not complying with the state’s Zero Waste goal. Tetra Pak, the manufacturer of aseptic packaging, or long-life packaging as it’s known in Brazil, was told to solve the recycling problems of its packaging or face drastic action, including a purported state ban on the sale of its foiled-lined, plastic-coated paper cartons. Tetra Pak chose to deal, proposing a series of incentives to increase the collection of aseptic packaging among waste pickers and its purchasing among regional cooperatives, launching an educational campaign and sponsoring 1,000 solar hot water heaters designed from discarded aseptic containers and plastic PET bottles. Paraná’s Zero Waste program head also expressed interest in cutting deals with other manufacturers to establish take-back programs for paper, plastic bags, tires, batteries, fluorescent lamps, glass, motor oil and civil construction materials. From the state’s perspective, manufacturers are on one side or the other of the state’s Zero Waste goals, and it’s time for everyone to show their colors.
Knee-deep piles of garbage on every street is not why people visit Italy’s third largest city, but it’s quickly becoming the infamy of Naples thanks to government inefficiency, corruption and the fierce opposition of local populations to siting landfills. Since May 2007, trash service has been intermittent at best, at times stopping for more than three weeks. Protests on the streets and a mounting public health crisis prompted Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to twice call upon the army to clear the streets, calling the problem “a shame for the whole of Italy.” While temporary solutions to export garbage to Sardinia and Germany are now in place, Naples still has a long way to go to match the more than 600 communities in Italy now recovering more than 50% of their discards with door-to-door collection programs. Some Italian communities reached 75% recovery in as little as 18 months, which gives Naples hope. However, the mafia-dominated trash industry is proving a formidable obstacle.
The Coke vs. Pepsi debate is over. Well, at least among recyclers, now that Coca-Cola has committed to the long-term recycling or reusing 100% of its aluminum cans and #1 PET bottles. Although both aluminum and PET are highly valued recyclables, less than 50% of aluminum cans and only 30% of soft drink bottles were recycled in 2006, according to the EPA. Coke’s pledge includes building the world’s largest PET processing plant to manufacture new bottles from old bottles in closed-loop fashion. Recyclers have battled the bottling giant for years, first to commit to 10% recycled content in its bottles and then to honor its commitment, so there’s a little skepticism surrounding the timeline of the goals. Nonetheless, the message to Pepsi is clear: Step up or get out of the fridge.
Antibiotics, acetaminophen, antidepressants… what sounds like a tour through your medicine cabinet is actually a partial list of 82 contaminants found in U.S. waterways. Since removing these fire retardants, steroids, plasticizers, reproductive hormones, painkillers, and antibiotics from the water is nearly impossible, the best thing to do is to look upstream to where these pollutants originate. One large source is expired meds flushed down the toilet. To offer residents a better disposal option, Washington state launched a pilot program in 2006 to test the feasibility of returning prescription drugs to retail pharmacies for proper disposal, modeled after a successful take-back program in British Columbia. Recent California legislation paved the way for the state to develop a similar collection system. Those of us in the Rocky Mountain region can stay tuned for pilot collections in our area or follow these recommended disposal guidelines.
Trees everywhere will stand a little taller and a little longer thanks to a commitment by office supply giant Staples. The company will use 50% post-consumer recycled content paper — certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) — for black and white copy and print jobs at all of its 1400 copy centers. Staples also cut ties with a Singapore-based paper supplier after accusations over illegal logging practices in China and Singapore. Whole Foods captured the media spotlight for its decision to stop distributing single-use plastic bags at checkout, but the grocer was merely following the impetus of furniture retailer IKEA who pioneered charging customers 5 cents per plastic bag in March 2007. Ikea will also phase out plastic bags in 2008. IKEA is still the only retailer to take responsibility for recycling compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs at no charge, and has been humbly incorporating environmental standards such as phasing out polyvinyl chloride (PVC), simplifying packaging and aiming for 90% material recovery for nearly a decade.
Dedicated recyclers know there’s value in those piles of discarded newspaper, aluminum cans and cardboard boxes, but the new RecycleBank program is the first to really take that message to the people. Currently serving select residents in six Eastern states, RecycleBank is a curbside recycling program that rewards residents for recycling with coupons to 250 local, national and online retailers, from bookstores to grocers. Recycling carts are scanned and weighed on pickup, and the amount recycled is translated into RecycleBank Dollars. Residents can earn up to $35 per month, and they log on to the RecycleBank website and choose how to spend their rewards. Of course, getting people to recycle by offering them more “stuff ” as a reward isn’t a Zero Waste message (unless the goods are essentials items like groceries), but participation and recycling rates in the program areas are way up. RecycleBank is capturing people’s interest, and that’s a step in the right direction.
It’s been said computer power doubles every two years, and we’re happy to report that environmental initiatives aimed at electronics are finally matching this pace. Here’s a look at the new recycling legislation and energy saving proposals in the world of electronics:
• Fort Collins, Colorado is the first city in the Rocky Mountain West to ban electronics from the landfill—a huge step toward Zero Waste at the municipal level.
• Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Minnesota and Connecticut each adopted legislation in 2007 aimed at involving electronics producers with the recycling of their outdated equipment. Nine states in all have adopted electronics legislation but still no federal action.
• Television giant Sony has teamed up with Waste Management to recycle any Sony product free of charge at select locations. This is a huge commitment in the U.S. market, although information is still scarce about whether toxic materials will be responsibly recycled in the U.S. or exported to developing countries.
• Intel will reduce the use of toxic materials in its products with its new 100% lead-free processor, available in computers in late 2007.
• The Green Electronics Council’s new buying guide, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), has manufacturers competing to design and produce more efficient, less resource-intensive computers. Make EPEAT a part of your next computer purchase at www.epeat.net.
More than 20% of the U.S. population spends their days inside elementary and secondary schools, yet the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports more than half of U.S. schools have problems linked to poor indoor air quality. In addition to asbestos, lead paint and deteriorating buildings, these schools also contain asthma stimulants, hormone disruptors, volatile organic compounds and skin irritants from common industrial and household cleaners. In 2006, in the first statewide effort to protect children and custodial workers from potentially toxic cleaning compounds, the state of New York mandated the use of green cleaning products in all schools and state agencies. Illinois followed suit a year later. According to the EPA, improving air quality in schools can reduce absenteeism, improve student and staff concentration, improve student productivity and performance, decrease health risks from exposure to indoor pollutants, reduce environmental triggers of asthma, and reduce respiratory illness. Sounds like a good plan for household air as well. Check out www.buildgreenschools.org for more information.
Because cattle emit vast quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane into our atmosphere, choosing a vegetarian diet or cutting back on your meat intake will decrease your personal contribution to climate change. What you choose to do with your food scraps, meat and otherwise, also has a huge impact. According to the EPA’s 2007 greenhouse gas inventory report, the largest source of human-caused methane emissions in the U.S. is not cattle, it’s landfills. And it’s the biodegradable portion of the landfill—everything from grass clippings, leftover food and wood scraps—that’s the problem. While many states and municipalities have banned yard waste from the landfill for more than a decade (Colorado is unfortunately not one of them), the city of Seattle has taken the next step forward and will require residents to separate food scraps for composting from the rest of their discards as of 2009. More than 60% of single-family King County, Washington residents already have curbside compost collection. In the province of Nova Scotia, more than 75% of residents have curbside compost collection, while San Francisco has achieved its remarkable 67% diversion rate in part thanks to its curbside compost collection program. Boulder could pioneer a similar program in the next few years, further reducing our climate footprint.
• The Scottish Nationalist Party, now the largest party in Scotland’s Parliament, announced its goal of a Zero Waste Scotland, although details of the party’s plan have yet to emerge.
• The east African country of Uganda now prohibits companies from producing, importing or using plastic bags. Linked to widespread littering, the spread of germs, flooding and contaminated water supplies, plastic bags are being rejected in favor of traditional banana leaves for carrying goods. Kenya and Tanzania have passed similar measures, following the lead of Rwanda in 2005.
• Major retailers, suppliers and brand owners in the U.K. have pledged to reduce packaging under the Courtauld Commitment. Goals include stopping the upward trend in volumes of packaging going to waste by 2008, delivering absolute reductions in packaging waste by 2010, and identifying ways to tackle the problem of food waste. Signers include brands with prominent U.S. market shares, such as H.J. Heinz, Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Mars and Cadbury-Schweppes.
How many Australians does it take to change a light bulb? If it’s an incandescent, the answer will soon be none—there simply won’t be any in Australia by 2010. Thanks to first-of-its-kind legislation, the 125-year old incandescent is being phased out in favor of its 21st century counterpart, the much more efficient compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). Converting this nation of 20 million to CFLs will prevent an estimated 800,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year, as compact fluorescent light bulbs use one-fifth the electricity of an incandescent (and quickly pay for themselves through savings on electricity bills). As a smart and easy first step in carbon emission reduction, CFLs have generated attention in the U.S., too, where Philips Electronics and others are proposing legislation for an industry phase-out of incandescents by 2016. Law or not, CFLs make sense (and cents).
Polystyrene (a.k.a. “Styrofoam”) take-out boxes may float, but their popularity is sinking fast as numerous cities and counties throughout California ban the toxic material in favor of recyclable or biodegradable alternatives. Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Orange County and others have outlawed the foam foe because of its contribution to mounting marine debris and clogged storm drains. Made from non-renewable petroleum, polystyrene crumbles into small pieces that are potentially fatal to wildlife. The plastic pellets never actually biodegrade and cause almost perpetual pollution. The policy group Californians Against Waste said it best: “Polystyrene…is one of our country’s most ubiquitous examples of over-processed, overabundant and unnecessary throw-away packaging.” We couldn’t agree more, and we’d like to send the same message in our community. Visit www.ecocycle.org to send letters to local restaurants and your city council telling them to put an end to the polystyrene plague and embrace recyclable and compostable packaging. For more information, check out www.cawrecycles.org/issues/plastic_campaign.
We’ve all been there: You find yourself with an empty bottle of water but no recycling bin for miles. Do you toss it in your backpack and haul it around for hours, or do you stick it stealthily into one of those ever-present trash cans? If you choose the latter, you’re not alone. According to the Container Recycling Institute, “About 18 million barrels of crude oil equivalent went down the drain last year when 2 million tons of PET bottles were landfilled instead of recycled.” So what can you do? Commit to reduce your consumption of bottled water, avoid bottled water waste and choose safe and reusable containers when you need water on the go. Visit Eco-Cycle's Reuse Portal and Choose to Reuse today.
From petroleum byproducts to “donated” computer equipment, Africa continues to be a hotbed of illegal dumping of toxic waste from the developed world, including the U.S. In August 2006, fifteen people died and more than 80,000 sought medical attention in the Ivory Coast when chemical slops were unloaded on open dumps by a billion-dollar global commodities trading firm. On a more regular basis, boatloads of “donated” and “recycled” electronic waste—more than 75% of which is unusable—are openly burned, dumped in swamps and waterways, or buried in crude pits. The U.S. government never ratified the Basel Convention, which bans the export of hazardous wastes from wealthy countries to the Global South, so U.S. citizens and businesses need to be especially diligent about recycling electronics responsibly. To ensure your old PC is not part of this problem, choose recycling partners like Eco-Cycle who have signed the Pledge of True Stewardship and committed to the responsible domestic recycling of electronic scrap. Learn more about our commitment and its importance at www.ecocycle.org/charm.
Environmental impact is no longer a footnote on the corporate spreadsheet. U.S. shareholders are taking a serious look at a company’s action or inaction when it comes to product toxicity and greenhouse gas emissions. A report by investment firm Innovest revealed commonplace consumer goods from electronics to personal care products are attracting unwanted scrutiny because of their questionable chemical composition, as a result of new precaution-based chemical regulations in Europe and California (see REACH on page 5). Investors are, in turn, taking precautions on the future profit potential of products’ manufacturers. Greenhouse gases are also starting to look like a liability, so big name companies such as Alcoa, DuPont, General Electric, BP America and others have teamed up with national NGOs to craft policy recommendations for the federal government. But not everyone is on board. According to Ceres, a coalition for sustainable investment, the top ten list of companies lagging behind on action against climate change includes insurance company ACE, Bed Bath & Beyond, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhilips and several electric power and coal companies. With profits on the line, it’s becoming clear there can be no distinction between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. To make green, you need to be green. Learn more at www.ceres.org and www.greenbiz.com.
Dell finally got it right. After nearly a decade as the target of negative publicity campaigns from environmental groups and with recycling regulations now in place across Europe, Dell recently announced it will be fully responsible for the free-of-charge recycling of all Dell electronics. Around the world, consumers can schedule the free home pick-up and recycling of their broken or outdated Dell monitor, CPU, or other electronic device. According to Chairman Michael Dell, “We have a responsibility to our customers to recycle the products we make and sell.” Bingo. This is textbook producer responsibility and a huge leap forward in the role of businesses in a Zero Waste system. To thank Dell for being the industry leader and take advantage of the program, go to www.dell.com/recycling. A big “thanks” also goes out to the GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN) for leading the fight to get Dell’s attention on this matter.
Like most of the world, Sweden believes fossil fuels are not the future, but so far they’re the only ones to decide when this future will come. By 2020, a commission appointed by the Swedish government plans to end Sweden’s dependence on fossil fuels. Admittedly, it won’t be easy, but this country of nine million is already ahead of the curve with only 32% of its energy coming from oil. Oil-free transportation will be Sweden’s biggest challenge, so the country is turning to national carmakers Saab and Volvo to ramp up development of alternative fuel vehicles. Already in the works is a massive restructuring of the national tax system to encourage the good and reduce the bad. Taxes are on the rise for environmental harms such as sulfur and carbon dioxide, solid waste and fossil fuels, while taxes have been eased on social security, education and income. Altogether, Sweden’s undertaking a visionary renovation of society to protect its citizens from economic and environmental uncertainties. When the price of a barrel of oil hits triple digits, at least we know who can tell us how to kick the habit.
It simply doesn’t get bigger than Wal-Mart, so when the mega-retailer unveiled a plan to save the planet, the world stopped to listen. The world’s largest retailer launched a number of initiatives that aim to move the company toward a net zero environmental impact. Short-term goals include a 25% reduction in waste over three years, a preference for suppliers who use less packaging, a 25% increase in fuel efficiency for its trucking fleet, a sustainable fisheries label, and a $500 million annual investment in technologies to reduce the company’s greenhouse gases by 20% over the next seven years. With Wal-Mart’s enormous influence on the global supply chain and vast customer base, the potential for positive social and environmental change is staggering. While Wal-Mart’s plans are not without their critics who rightfully await results, the company has at least steered the ship in the right direction. It’s our job as consumers to make sure the retailer keeps sailing toward more environmentally-friendly packaging and policies—and the faster the better.
Carbon emissions are on the chopping block in California where the state recently passed landmark legislation requiring industry to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by 2020. As the first state to mandate reductions, California hopes to become an incubator for resource-efficient technologies and innovations. The legislature will now work on the details of the plan, including an emissions credit trading system and possible fees on emissions to encourage alternative fuels and conservation. By joining a growing number of states in taking climate change into its own hands, given the void of national leadership, California has decidedly shifted this country’s tune from debate to decision. With a population of nearly 40 million, and the sixth largest economy in the world, California’s efforts will have a tremendous impact. It’s now up to industry to sing along or pay the piper.
Dumping untreated waste into landfills is a losing proposition and the Germans have called it quits. That's right, quits. While just seven years ago the Bavarian nation landfilled 60% of its residual waste without pre-treatment, today that number is next to nothing-nothing goes in untreated, and that's the law. This means all "leftover waste" (after recycling and composting) passes through mechanical, biological or thermal treatment to maximize recovery and to achieve what landfills simply couldn't: safety. According to the German Federal Environment Minister, "We do not have the right to burden our children and grandchildren with the incalculable risks to soils and to the ground water and with the exorbitant costs for the rehabilitation of damage to the environment." Simply put, the ecological and economic risks of landfilling outweigh the investment in new systems-the Zero Waste revolution is here to stay in Deutschland! .
In late 2005, Latin America's largest city stepped up its efforts to eradicate waste with an ambitious La Ley Basura Cero, or Zero Waste Law. Buenos Aires is not shy about going for nothing- the Argentinean capital plans to reach Zero Waste by 2020 with an interim goal of 50 percent recovery by 2010. Expanding its informal network of "cartoneros," or door-to-door recycling collectors, is a key element of the city's Zero Waste strategy. By providing formal training and protective equipment, and encouraging workers to form cooperatives, the city hopes to legitimize this workforce and rapidly raise its 10 percent recycling rate. The Zero Waste approach will be a win-win for the three million residents of Buenos Aires: cartoneros receive recognition for their vital and valuable service, the city minimizes the inevitable consequences of landfilling, and Buenos Aires emerges as both an urban and Latin American model.
Washington joined the company of California, Maine, and Maryland to become the fourth state to regulate electronic waste, launching the most progressive producer responsibility plan to date. By 2009, manufacturers must establish and fully fund a collection, processing, and recycling system for end-of-life electronic waste without charging users at the point of return. Manufacturers have the choice to create their own program-individually or collectively-or to cover the state's costs for creating and operating a program. The bill even drew the support of heavyweights Hewlett Packard and Radio Shack although several manufacturers and retailers continue to oppose regulation. However, as things are rapidly becoming more complicated with four different state-level systems and 31 states having discussed electronics recycling legislation in 2005, manufacturers have started to warm up to the benefits of a nationwide plan-will four be the magic number?
Aside from impeccably manicured turf and the Boston Celtics, there's not a whole lot of green in the sports world, but the times they are a changin'. Oakland's McAfee Coliseum, home to the Athletics and Raiders, is the first U.S. stadium to offer biodegradable serviceware so fans can compost the corn-based utensils and cups at the end of the game alongside their half-eaten hot dogs. These green efforts are saving the stadium more than $100,000 per year on its trash bill and helping the coliseum toward its Zero Waste goal.
Switching to the other football, the 2006 World Cup in Germany was a climate-neutral soccer showcase. Additionally, its Green Goal initiative aimed to reduce stadium water and energy consumption, trash volumes, and traffic emissions by twenty percent. And for the granddaddy of international competitions, London's vision for the 2012 summer games, the "One Planet Olympics," is sure to grab the gold. The city's objectives for holding the first sustainable games include recycling and recovering all waste, minimizing carbon emissions, improving existing wildlife habitat during venue construction, and increasing environmental awareness.
The aluminum can, long held up as the poster child of recycling, is beginning to show its age as its recycling rate declines. Fortunately, the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) will not let this old friend go quietly into the night. With its new Zero Beverage Container Waste Campaign, CRI is reviving the American love affair with recycling aluminum cans and other beverage containers with the hope of putting a stop to the 127 billion (that's right, billion) beverage containers wasted annually. Support CRI and encourage your government, company, or organization to sign a zero beverage container waste resolution by visiting www.container-recycling.org.
Zero Waste debuted on the global agenda in June 2005 as prominent urban mayors from around the world gathered in San Francisco for World Environment Day. Traveling from as far away as Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Delhi, and Melbourne, more than 50 city leaders discussed the environmental challenges and opportunities of urban areas, where more than half the world's population now lives. The mayors pledged to adopt legislation and/or implement programs over the next seven years addressing everything from water and energy use to transportation and urban design standards. Three actions focused on waste reduction, including the policy goal of "zero waste to landfills and incinerators by 2040." Through these commitments, urban leaders aim to save money by reducing resource consumption and to improve the health and general wellbeing of city residents.
Home to some of the nation's most amazing landscape, Summit County now has something else to make Colorado proud-the first Zero Waste resolution in the entire Mountain West. During August 2005, Summit County commissioners resolved "to pursue the goal of zero waste by promoting reduced consumption, reuse of materials, and increased recycling until the very concept of a landfill is obsolete." The county currently recycles only 15% of its materials, so admittedly, it has a long way to go, but its new processing facility for recyclables will make recycling easier for residents and more profitable for the county. Within a state reported to recycle a mere 3% of its materials, Summit County's plan will take recycling to new heights. Who will be the first in the state to follow suit?
It's good to be a retired piece of electronic equipment in Norway. You don't have to worry about spending your golden years buried in a landfill under a heap of disposable baby diapers. Instead, you're guaranteed a new lease on life. In 2004, manufacturers in the Scandinavian country recovered over 90% of their retired electronic and electric equipment-everything from computers to stereos to electric razors. Their system allows consumers to return unwanted electronic and electric items free of charge to local retailers and municipal collection centers, where the materials are then collected and recycled by the original manufacturers. Norway's phenomenal recovery rate undoubtedly proves the success of the producer responsibility model in recovering valuable resources and preventing environmental harm.
Cities and countries alike continue to lay down the law and prohibit biodegradable materials from landfills in order to avoid greenhouse gas emissions. In British Columbia, the Nanaimo district recently banned the landfilling of all industrial, commercial, and institutional organic waste. The district believes businesses will save money by using a new composting facility rather than exporting waste off Vancouver Island. Halfway around the world, several European countries are surpassing the European Union's mandate to gradually reduce the landfilling of organic materials by 65% within 15 years. France and Germany have set more ambitious targets while Sweden and Norway are working out the details on outright bans.
Seattle's "Wasteless in Seattle" program will not earn millions on the silver screen-it will, however, save the city millions in disposal, transportation, and energy costs. City employees are gearing up businesses, residents, and themselves to reap the rewards of waste reduction. Among the "wasteless" initiatives is PaperCuts, which challenges city departments to reduce paper use by 30% by the end of 2006. While the city's efforts continue to turn heads, the surrounding county is keeping up with the pace. King County's new ordinance calls for the aggressive pursuit of "zero waste of resources by 2030 through maximum feasible and cost-effective prevention, reuse and reduction of solid waste." The county has a new disposal ban on certain electronics and a model network of local retailers who take back and recycle used electronics-sounds like a showstopper.
Nova Scotia is widely known as a national and international leader in waste diversion-and it's paying fantastic dividends. A full cost accounting analysis of Nova Scotia's Solid Waste-Resource Management Strategy revealed net savings of between $31.2 and $167.7 million for one year alone (the broad range related to price estimates for greenhouse gases). The Canadian province achieved 50 percent diversion through disposal bans, beverage container deposits, take-back programs for difficult materials, and by providing curbside recycling and organics services to 99 percent and 76 percent of its population, respectively. And the news keeps getting better-the report identified several additional areas where Nova Scotia could save money and resources.
Under a new waste credit trading system in the United Kingdom, landfills diverting increasing quantities of organic materials may make millions selling their credits to other landfills. The UK implemented the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS) to meet the EU landfill directive, which requires a 65 percent reduction in landfilled biodegradable waste by 2020. LATS caps the amount of organics that each local authority can send to the landfill, and those who landfill less than their allocation can sell the rest of their credits at market price. This flexible, market-based system rewards local authorities that cost-effectively divert organics and allows other regions to temporarily pay out of the mandate until their programs are up and running, all while LATS decreases the total quantity of landfilled organics. As the U.S. favors market-driven solutions, this should be a great program to watch.
Full on taste but light on environmental impact is the beer at Fort Collins' New Belgium Brewery. From motion sensor lights, daylighting, and sun tubes to radiant floor heating and swamp cooling systems to citrus-based cleaners, biodiesel, and offices decked out with recycled and recyclable materials, New Belgium's environmental commitment is as refreshing as any of their ales. Their onsite wastewater treatment facility fuels a co-generator that provides 60 percent of the Brewery's power while wind energy provides the rest. The treated wastewater serves evaporative cooling, cleaning, and landscaping needs, and the nutrient-rich sludge is sold for composting. Through recirculating heating and cooling systems and world-renowned brewing efficiency, the Brewery has nearly halved the average industry ratio of barrels of water to barrels of beer. The brewery pulls in cool winter air to chill its beer, sells spent grain as cattle feed, and of course, recycles dozens of materials. A toast to New Belgium!
To more accurately reflect the environmental impacts of incineration, Norway has taxed fourteen pollutants emanating from incinerator stacks. Ranging from $3.17 (US) per gram for hydrogen fluoride to a whopping $366,000 per gram for dioxin, the tax averages $76 per metric ton incinerated. Other costly pollutants include dust, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium, copper, manganese, arsenic, and nickel. Carbon dioxide emissions cost about $6 per metric ton. Waste management taxes are nothing new in Norway where they're used to promote waste prevention and recovery. Landfills aren't off the hook either-landfilling organic or mixed waste carries a tax of $60-80 per metric ton.
The City of San Francisco is willing to bet that a new tax will make shoppers think twice about using disposable supermarket bags, and evidence from around the world implies that it's a safe wager. The City is in the final stages of approving a 17-cent tax on disposable supermarket checkout bags. The 50 million bags used annually in San Francisco financially burden the City through disposal and street cleaning costs, contamination at recycling and composting facilities, and future landfill liabilities-collectively to the tune of 17 cents per bag. Around the world, regions of Bangladesh, Taiwan, Ireland, South Africa, Somalia, India, Australia, and Alaska tax or ban disposable bags because they wreak havoc on the environment and epitomize waste and convenience. And so the age-old question of "paper or plastic" has been answered: "No thanks, I brought my own."
For a city with no curbside collection of recyclables, the transition to Zero Waste may appear a daunting task. But when landfill rates surged from $65 to $100 per metric ton, the City of Nelson, British Columbia stepped up to the challenge and adopted a Zero Waste Action Plan. Known for arts and recreation, this city of under 10,000 residents thrives upon tourism. Their embrace of Zero Waste offers Nelson an opportunity to become a focus for eco-tourism, a plus for the local economy and the environment. According to Donna Macdonald, Chair of the Nelson Waste Management Task Force, "This is a significant step forward for Nelson to view our wastes as resources. Our Council supports Zero Waste as a goal because it will be good for our local economy as well as good for the environment." Sounds like a viable strategy for some Colorado towns...
From coast to coast, Extended Producer Responsibility for electronic waste is taking the country by storm and Eco-Cycle would like to see these policies continue to march inland. On the East Coast, Maine will require computer monitor manufacturers to fund the free-of-charge collection and recycling of their products as of 2006. A time-of-purchase fee ranging from $6 to $45 will fund the collection and recycling of televisions until 2012 when their manufacturers will assume full responsibility. On the West Coast, California became the first state to mandate a free-of-charge reuse and recycling program for cell phones. Retailers must have a system in place by 2006 for the acceptance and collection of cell phones for reuse, recycling, and proper disposal. According to the legislation, "It is the intent of the Legislature that the cost associated with the handling, recycling, and disposal of used cell phones be the responsibility of the producers and consumers of cell phones, and not local government or their service providers, state government, or taxpayers."
Your mother always said that wasting food should be a crime. Beginning in 2006 it will be in Taiwan when mandatory food recycling is enacted. Households and restaurants will no longer scrape valuable food leftovers into the trash. These organic resources will be used, among other ways, in livestock feed and the production of compost. Recovering these otherwise discarded resources means a real economic boost. According to Lin Tzo-hsiang, Chief Inspectorate for the Taiwan Environmental Protection Agency, "We estimate that the economic benefits resulting from the program will amount to about NT$2.4 billion [US$71 million] annually." How much money is on your plate?
While they might claim to keep going and going, all batteries eventually die, leaving us to deal with the disposal of billions of small concentrations of cadmium, lead, and mercury. Europe addressed this problem in 1991 by reducing the legal levels of these toxic metals; similar 1998 legislation slashed acceptable mercury levels by a factor of 100. While these policies succeeded in cutting toxicity levels, their voluntary approach to battery recycling failed, and the landfilling of batteries continued largely unabated. Under the new 2003 directive, battery producers will finance the treatment, recycling, and sound disposal of all spent batteries. Member states must establish free-of-charge collection schemes within one year and recycle 55 percent of the batteries' contents within three years. In contrast, here in the US the voluntary EPR network, the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, has largely floundered since its inception ten years ago. Initially setting a 70 percent recycling rate for Ni-Cd batteries by 2001, the program gradually phased out a recycling goal as observed collection rates around 25 percent fell far short of expectations.
Drink a pint of Guinness in an Irish Bar and the bottle is sure to be recycled - by law! As of March 2003, all Irish businesses that supply packaging or packaged goods, including pubs, restaurants, clubs and hotels, must sort out and recycle all their packaging waste. This law essentially bans the landfilling of recyclable packaging materials and has set a goal of increasing commercial packaging recycling to 50% by 2005, in line with European legislation. This initiative will help boost Ireland's overall recycling rate by approximately 25%.
San Francisco Adopts Precautionary Principle: An Unprecedented Breakthrough in the Management of Environmental Issues in the United States
Remember the expression, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" Well, it's the gist of the Precautionary Principle which is now city policy in San Francisco. All decisions undertaken in San Francisco must utilize the best available science so that "the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human health and the City's natural systems" are selected. This represents an unprecedented breakthrough in the management of environmental issues in the United States. "The Precautionary approach to decision-making will help San Francisco...by moving beyond finding cures for environmental ills to preventing the ills before they can do harm," states the City's ordinance. Following up on last year's goal of becoming a Zero Waste City, San Francisco is again leading the way toward an environmentally sustainable future.
Tired of seeing tires, aluminum cans, plastic bags, and glass bottles ending up in the landfill or strewn across the Veld, the South African government has introduced a bill that would set a new tax on consumer goods designed to discourage trash dumping and promote recycling. The tax would amount to a compulsory deposit on a variety of common items such as cans, bottles, tires and plastic bags. The deposit could then be redeemed by taking the item to a recycling center or by returning it for reuse. "This is a very important amendment which brings economic incentives into the issue of waste," said Chippy Olver, Director-General of the South African Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism.
With recycling rates falling to 38%, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is proposing a ban against putting paper, glass, cans or yard waste in the garbage can. The ban would apply to both residential and commercial property owners in the hopes of raising the city's recycling rate to 60%. "Recycling is the right thing to do, both from an environmental and cost basis," said Mayor Nickels. "Steps like these help the City reduce disposal costs and keep a lid on rates." Another key element of the plan includes food waste collection for businesses and the promotion of backyard food waste composting for residents. This initiative is currently being studied by the Seattle City Council. If San Francisco can aim for Zero Waste and Seattle for 60% recycling, what should we be aiming for here in Colorado?
The Liberal Democrat party, a major force in British politics, has adopted Zero Waste as an official plank in their party platform. Zero Waste targets set in the platform include 60% of all waste recycled and composted by 2010, 75% by 2015 and 100% by 2020 throughout the UK, where the current recycling rate is 13%. The platform calls for more curbside recycling, a ban on landfilling organic waste, a ban on incineration, and a limit on waste disposal contracts to ten years in order to create greater competition. "Zero waste is a visionary policy," says Councillor Roger Symonds. "It views waste as a resource - we've got into a habit of forgetting that. Zero waste adds 'redesign' as a fourth 'R' at the top of the chain - it should be: redesign, reduce, re-use, recycle."
California has become the first state to pass a law requiring retailers to collect a fee on computer monitors and televisions with screens larger than four inches. The fees, ranging from $6-$10, will be used by the state to fund the collection and recycling of these materials. Additionally, this legislation will hold manufacturers of these products responsible for phasing out the use of hazardous materials, and is consistent with European laws of the same nature. Environmental watchdog groups, the Basel Action Network and the EPR Working Group, would have preferred to see the law ban the export of collected materials to unregulated recycling markets overseas, require producers to take back and recycle their own products, spur green product design and place more financial responsibility on producers for handling this waste stream.