By Tom Wright, SustainableBizness.com, 1/14/16
Editor’s Note: Arthur Robinson Boone joined NCRA in the summer of 1983 and has been a continuous and active member for 33 years. He served as President in 1987 and again from 2011 -2013 and Secretary for at least 10 years in between. He founded the very popular Recycling Update (RU) in 1995 and managed it well until stepping down in 2013. One of NCRA’s primary teachers, he produces Introduction To Recycling (ITR) two times a year and would like to do a redux of Nature of Materials. He continues as the chair of the Zero Waste Advocacy Committee (ZWAC). In honor of all that Arthur does or has done for NCRA, Tom Wright stepped up to interview him for the NCRA News.
TW: So, Arthur, since passing RU on to other hands, what have you been up to?
ARB: It’s been mostly Natalie’s dying and the implications of that. We met in early 2008 and became a couple later that year. Five happy years later, in the fall of 2013 she was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and, after much chemo and radiation, died in January, 2015 at age 79 of brain cancer. We were living in her house on Acton Street in Berkeley and her kids who all lived out of town wanted the house sold promptly. Fortunately my daughter Phoebe and I had just had my house where I lived in from 1998 to 2004 vacated so she could buy it and I moved in there. There was a tremendous amount of “stuff” to move and get out of the basement. All of 2015 was spent reducing my footprint (as they say). It’s still not done but it getting there.
TW: No time for recycling?
ARB: It’s all about recycling; so far I’ve found what’s has become 21 file boxes of print materials that include NCRA records back into the 1980s, lots of consultant reports and municipal promotionals, a whole raft of stuff. Juliana, NCRA’s office person, is scanning the NCRA materials and all will be shipped to the new National Recycling Archives at University of Illinois, Springfield, that the old recyclers started getting organized in 2009 and is now starting to function. Dan and Mary Lou (from Urban Ore) are our local champions and will pay the packaging and shipping costs. I’m hoping to go there in the spring to help library staff get the materials organized.
TW: I know you like the little stuff; you’ve got to be doing some stuff there as well.
ARB: In trying to turn about 50 or 60 cubic yards of materials into less than 5, I have been trying to practice the “highest and best use” practice which Zero Waste requires. Moving stuff off the property to its ideal destination is incredibly time- and energy-consuming. At my desk there’s about 15 shoe-box sized boxes where I can put what I pick up on the street and that feed into bags and boxes at the side of our house and then there’s another 12-15 boxes in the house where I can aggregate larger materials setting out for the East Bay Depot, Urban Ore, Out of the Closet, Goodwill, my medical clinic’s waiting room, ragman and so on.
TW: Is that it?
ARB. No, then there’s the piles of cigarillo wrappers I pick up on the street and turn into necklaces I can wear to call public attention to yet another piece of non-recyclable packaging. I made one necklace and now I’m collecting wrappers street-side for a second; any wearers out there? I’ve also been building my inventory of juice pouches; we made a samurai coat in 2009 but sent that off to Upstream about a year ago for Executive Director Matt Prindeville to wear to conferences – still no materials markets out there – unless you believe Terracycle is a solution. I’m also saving those little plastic ties that close plastic bags used as bread wrappers; my first idea was to use them as a buttonhole symbol of being a serious plastics recycler but I haven’t really decided on anything yet.
TW: Plastics are the core of the problem, aren’t they?
ARB: That’s how it looks to me. Paper and wood degrade, metals and glass sink to the bottom, but plastics just keep on keeping on. I respect the technical value of plastics but it seems there is no way to maintain the material after its first use; you’re dealing with millions of people who don’t care, no money to pick up after them all, it’s a mess. It’s sad to see that all the municipal efforts to start litter taxes seem to be going nowhere. Recycling, resource conservation, the circular economy, call it whatever you want, it’s just taking too long.
TW: Are you surprised?
ARB: I suppose I shouldn’t be. The one-way economy has gained a tremendous head start and so many people have their oar in that water that it often seems hopeless. Changes in policy and practice that should be a no-brainer have required years of talk and negotiation to get a half-baked solution. If I didn’t read as much history as I have, I’d get discouraged. But you just rest up and try again tomorrow.
TW: What are your thoughts on the referendum to repeal the state’s plastic bag ban bill?
ARB: There’s a big hole in the state law; if you manufacture a bag of a certain thickness – thicker than a typical carry-out bag and label it REUSABLE, it is not disposable under the law but instead is an approved bag. The person who acquires the bag from the store doesn’t care what the label says; they just wanted a bag. It gets the same lack-of-care that any other plastic bag gets which is why the ones blowing around the street can be labelled REUSABLE or not. To CAW‘s credit, I think they know they got a poke in the eye with this carved-out exemption in the state law; that’s why they have continued to encourage local public agencies to pass bag ban local ordinances without this big hole. The question you always have to ask your self is, “Are we better off with a weak bill than with no bill at all?” They say, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Boy, am I tired of that. But, I don’t have time to be up there in Sacramento all the time trying to make good things happen.
TW: How’s NCRA been in all this?
ARB: Most of our members today are program administrators; they didn’t start the revolution nor did they have much to say about how the new programs got shaped; it’s very different from us old timers who stood on street corners and back lots and dealt with massive ignorance and apathy; now we just have general apathy and ignorance.
TW: So, are you discouraged?
ARB: Not really. We’re a democracy; personal freedom is apparently high and anything new has to be accepted; some stuff can be mandated but it’s a perfect storm of events that make change happen. People think that because they have a bin to put their papers and glass in, that the problem is solved, but that’s only the first step.
TW: So what’s next for you?
ARB: Well, that’s why I wanted to do this interview; I feel like I’ve had my head down for about six years between the tree planting project in Oakland and Natalie’s illness and death, so I was hoping for some feedback from NCRA News readers about what they thought I should be doing next.
NON-RECYCLABLE MATERIALS AND PRODUCTS DIRECTORY AND POSTERS
About two years ago I conceived that we’re ready for a complete list of currently non-recyclable products and materials. Modelled on the idea of listing incurable diseases, then you prioritize and start to work finding solutions. It seems to me so much work today is piece-meal; if you look at the national list of EPR laws, they’re all over the map. We need to create a national database, not unlike a Wikipedia, on all this crap in the marketplace, divide up the work and get going. The world is ready. I got a small grant from the EAB on this in mid-2015 and it’s getting ready to take shape. Also, in 2008 Tatjana Royal, a graphic artist, created twelve posterboards highlighting major non-recyclable materials for me. The boards achieved some prominence – shown at RU, in the StopWaste’s board room for 5 months and elsewhere, and could be easily updated.
MEASURING RECYCLING IN CALIFORNIA: In 2005 I wrote a 50-page essay on the twists and turns of California public policy as we began to look at how to measure success in recycling. It needs dusting off; we’re still not doing what Oregon has done which is to measure correctly the tonnages of all materials being sent for reprocessing. I think it can be done, we just need the decision to try. Of the 750 people who work for CalRecycle, they should be able to find 6 or 8 who can plow through all the details to get an accurate count. Then we’ll know capture rates which we don’t today. Of course, basic goods manufacturers don’t want us to know, so that’s probably why it doesn’t happen.
HISTORY OF ADC: Also in 2005 I went back into the early CIWMB files and discovered all the twists and turns of allowing Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) to count as diversion; it’s a peculiarly California story but it’s also really interesting and needs an update.
CATALOG OF RECYCLING AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS: About 2009 I got a small grant to assemble a directory of training materials in recycling; the project never really got finished with on-line status, key words to search, etc. I got up to about 70-80 commercial items but as the internet came alive with volumes of whatever, I lost heart and put it on the shelf.
TURNING NCRA ITR AND RU VIDEOS INTO AVAILABLE, ON-LINE SNIPPETS: This is really two separate projects. For the last six or seven years Doug Brooms has been videotaping presentations by myself and others at ITR and RU. (Some of the material from ITR is now pretty standard but we need to go back over all the footage and cut and paste, edit, so NCRA can post these talks, e.g., “Ten Reasons Recycling is Important,” “The Four Eras of Recycling Policy Development,” and many others so they’re searchable and usable by the folks out there as on-line, “Recycling 101” training. There’s a similar project lurking in all the AV stuff we have in storage from Recycling Update; for at least 15 of our 20 years we have AV materials available. Editor: Most are of the 2013, 2014, 2015 presentations are presented as filmed on NCRA’s YouTube channel.
HOW MATERIALS GET REPROCESSED: In late 2013 and early 2014, NCRA conducted two Nature Of Materials classes on how various collected materials are reprocessed before becoming feedstocks for new products. Some of the presentations were excellent – glass and soils especially; others were more routine, some even lackluster. Each speaker was an expert in the industry under consideration. As with the ITR and RU footage, we have filed AV materials on each presenter that needs to be edited and readied for internet access.
MARINE DEBRIS LEVELS PLOTTED AGAINST STATE AND FEDERAL LEGISLATION: We now have data going back twenty years on the amount of floating debris in our oceans; all the data trends towards greater concentrations. At the same time there have been numerous legislative enactments on this subject in California which, collectively, have had absolutely no positive impacts on the measurements. The end result here is a visual showing of how things keep getting worse.
PARALLELS OF ENERGY AND WASTE REDUCTION: What we’re seeing in the energy field is the resistance of investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to the incursions of solar and wind power on their very well-to-do, hundred-years old, business model. The regulatory bodies, like the state public utilities commission, don’t really see how rapidly change is taking place. Dish antennas are killing cable, the Internet is killing first class mail and recycling/materials conservation is killing garbage. The new paradigm is everywhere but needs to be explicated. There’s a name for people who don’t recycle: Slobs. But energy is about ten years ahead of us in the public consciousness but drawing out the parallels might help move things along.
CITY OF NAPA FEES AND SERVICES ARRANGEMENTS: In 2005 the City of Napa acquired the clean MRF and transfer station that served its community. Articles were published in Waste Age and Resource Recycling about this changeover. Since then a number of tweaks and changes have developed, primarily concerned to both cover operating costs and to encourage both the program operators and the public to make more money (or spend less) by recycling more. This would be an article for submission to the waste reduction industry press and would not duplicate work done by Zero Waste USA. Bill O’Toole did the 2005 articles in Resource Recycling and Waste Age. But this seems like another part of the revolution that isn’t spreading very well.
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