No Time to Waste

June 9, 2000

By Michael Jessen

Waste not, want not. That old-fashioned adage is taking on new meaning.

In fact, if we want more employment, less pollution, more energy and resource conservation, less greenhouse gas emissions, and a sustainable society, eliminating waste will be a priority.

While a zero waste society sounds like an impossible dream, a number of countries, American states and counties and a growing collection of companies are pursuing just that goal.

For these reasons, I am challenging the Province of BC to scrap its 50% waste reduction goal and replace it with a zero waste goal.

In 1989, BC introduced a goal to reduce the per capita amount of municipal solid waste requiring disposal to 50% of the 1990 level by the year 2000. Waste disposal had been reduced by 36% by the year 1998 according to statistics compiled by the Recycling Council of BC for the BC Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. It appears likely that the year 2000 goal will not be met, given the absence of any significant waste reduction initiatives since 1998.

Being satisfied with a 50% reduction target is like an athletic coach telling his team to be satisfied with winning half their games. While winning half their games might be a good goal for the fledgling Vancouver Grizzlies NBA team, eventually even a sports franchise owner will tire of the losses and want a winner.

We need to set the bar higher, to challenge ourselves to be the best we can be. According to Victoria Gazeley of the North Shore Recycling Program in North Vancouver, some locations are doing just that. "There are a number of communities in BC that have reached the 50% waste reduction goal and are now going far beyond," she says.

More than one-third of all territorial local authorities have now joined or indicated interest in a plan to make New Zealand the world leader in waste reduction, according to Zero Waste New Zealand Trust. Coordinators of the Zero Waste movement have confirmed that 25 of New Zealand's 74 local authorities have joined a national pilot project originally designed for only ten, and more authorities are poised to make a commitment to reducing waste to zero by 2015. Each council will receive $25,000 from the Zero Waste New Zealand Trust to research the best methods for reducing landfilling in its area. New sources of research funding are being sought to allow the pilot program to be expanded.

The Australian Capital Territory of Canberra has adopted a waste management strategy which sets a vision of how they can become a waste free society by 2010 and outlines the future direction for waste management whereby they will turn their wastes into resources. The U.S. State of Georgia has established a goal of zero waste by the year 2020. Del Norte County and San Luis Obispo County in California have adopted zero waste goals.

Output of solid waste from Toyota plants in Japan will stop completely by the end of 2003. And similar initiatives are under way at Toyota plants in other nations. Hewlett-Packard in Roseville and the Mad River Brewery in Blue Lake (both in California) and Milliken and Company of Spartanburg, South Carolina, have all reduced solid waste from their operations by over 95%. There are literally dozens of other examples with similar high levels of waste reduction.

When it comes to waste reduction and zero emissions, one of the world leaders is Interface, Inc., where CEO Ray Anderson has pledged to "build the world's first sustainable and eventually restorative enterprise." Interface Flooring Systems has become the company bellwether in elimination and management of toxic substances and follows a strategic approach to intensify government regulations.

Neil Seldman, President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington, DC, is bullish about the job creation possibilities inherent in waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. "Recycling is an economic development tool as well as an environmental tool," he says. "Just sorting recyclables sustains 10 times as many jobs as wasting on a per-ton basis. But the largest economic payoff in the recycling loop is making new products from the old. Remanufacturing from recycled materials creates 25 times as many jobs as landfill disposal. Reuse can create 100 times more jobs. In the new field of deconstructing buildings to recover building materials and train workers, there is the potential for 100,000 new jobs and $1 billion per year of materials flowing back into the economy."

The Materials for the Future Foundation (MFF) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to support community-based initiatives that integrate the environmental goals of resource conservation through waste prevention, reuse, and recycling with the economic development goals of job creation/retention, enterprise development, and local empowerment. The success of the MFF's efforts is highlighted in a recent Recycling Economics Impact Study of Alameda County, which has a population of about 1.5 million. The study indicated $475 million in annual revenues for the recovered materials economy. Of that, $302 million was generated by manufacturers, $110 million by material handlers, $28 million by reuse businesses, $25 million by appliance repairers, and $11 million by collection firms. The study went on to show that of the 3,217 total direct jobs created, 1,325 or 41% were in manufacturing. Jobs created by the other sectors were as follows: materials handling - 910 jobs or 28% of the total; retail reuse - 660 jobs (21%); appliance repair - 191 jobs (6%); and collection - 131 jobs (4%).

In British Columbia, Crown Packaging Limited took an economic chance in the 1990s by building a paper recovery plant in Prince George. But the operation has suffered from a lack of material because many Northern BC communities have no garbage user fees and consequently the public has no incentive to recycle. The BC government hasn't helped by eliminating programs that would have assisted these communities to implement recycling programs, such as material transportation and other funding subsidies.

Dale Campbell of Dawson Creek is one waste reduction entrepreneur who believes in keeping waste at home. Investing his own money, Campbell built a glass crushing machine that produces material for sand blasting, paint texture, landscaping, and sand bag ballast. He hopes his business will be profitable by the end of summer and wants to market his machine to other communities. The Regional District of Central Kootenay could use such a machine as all glass currently collected in its Central and West Subregion recycling programs is only destined for use as landfill cover.

It is time to encourage communities to view the 21st century as an era of materials management rather than solid waste management. Our decade-old policy framework of integrated waste management has provided a solid foundation on which to build a new approach, one that looks beyond the perceived 50% waste reduction ceiling and creates a more sustainable interaction with our natural world.

Now is the time to set our sights higher and start planning for the end to wasting resources and to our reliance on landfills, incinerators, and other waste facilities. Now is the time to work for a sustainable materials economy that treads lighter on the planet, one in which reuse and recovery are more convenient than disposal. Now is the time to stop thinking of waste as something that needs to be "reduced" and - instead - implement policies to eliminate the concept of waste.

ONE SMALL STEP -- Individuals and communities can resolve to reach zero waste by reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting everything possible. We need to see wasting as an inefficient design flaw. Producers should be encouraged to adopt the concept of extended producer responsibility. Many European carmakers have pledged to take their cars back at the end of their useful life. Write the Honourable Joan Sawicki, Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks in Victoria to voice your support for a zero waste goal. Her e-mail address is Joan.Sawicki.Office@leg.bc.ca.

RESOURCES -- I have written a discussion paper entitled "Discarding the Idea of Waste: The Need for a Zero Waste Policy in BC." It is available as either an html document or as a portable document format (PDF) download using Adobe Acrobat Reader on the Resource Library page of this web site. Zero Waste New Zealand can be found at www.zerowaste.co.nz. The Institute for Local Self Reliance has a web site at www.ilsr.org. The Materials for the Future Foundation web site is www.materials4future.org. Zero Waste America is an information and advocacy resource at www.zerowasteamerica.org. "in Earth's Company: Business, Environment and the Challenge of Sustainability" by Carl Frankel has an excellent discussion of the concept of zero waste as envisioned by architect William McDonough. Frankel's book is published by New Society Publishers as is "cannibals with forks: the triple bottom line of 21st century business" by John Elkington. "Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution" by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins contains a superb chapter which estimates the annual cost of wasting resources and people in the U.S. at $2 trillion. Their book is published by Little, Brown and Company. "UpSizing: The Road to Zero Emissions - More Jobs, More Income and No Pollution" by Gunter Pauli advocates that industry mimic nature so that the waste from one process can become the raw material for another. Greenleaf Publishing publishes Pauli's book. Ray Anderson's book is called "Mid-Course Correction" and is published by The Peregrinzilla Press.

Michael Jessen is an environmental consultant and owner of toenail environmental services. He can by reached by phone at 250-229-4621. His company's award-winning web site can be found at www.toenail.org or www.toenail.org/home.html.


All columns archived here are copyright © 2000 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.