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By Edward Guthmann, Special to The Chronicle, 8/29/11
EG: Arthur Boone has had three careers. He was an Episcopalian minister for seven years, the director of the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission, and in 1983 started working in recycling.

At 73, Boone is semiretired but still writes for technical journals, consults with businesses and public agencies, and teaches an introduction to recycling class through the Northern California Recycling Association, of which he's president.

Boone was raised in Yonkers, N.Y., and attended Princeton University. He was married twice, has four children and lives in Berkeley.

ARB: I was at a cocktail party up in the Berkeley hills a while ago. This old man came up to me and said, "What do you know a lot about?" Isn't that a great opener? It turns out the guy's a Nobel Prize winner in physics. He's in his 90s.

I said, "Recycling." He looked at me like, "What the hell?" I said, "You know, cans and bottles." If it wasn't an academic department, he never heard of it.

I've been in the business 28 years. I started out managing a drop-off recycling center on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland - long before curbside recycling. It was like a mom-and-pop store, without the infrastructure of the city behind us. I told everyone, "Keep the place clean and be nice to the public."

We live in a recycler's paradise, if you will. And we don't realize what it's like in Des Moines, Iowa or Louisville, KY. They don't have much recycling in those places, and it has nothing like the kind of cachet it has here.

The support for what we do here is deep, and it's endemic. This is a wonderful place to live. But we should never think the rest of the world runs this way. Out of all the recycling programs in the U.S. that allow residents to mix food scraps with yard waste, about half are within 50 miles of us.

Recycling still hasn't established itself really well in public spaces. I've been looking in BART Dumpsters for 20 years. It's old paper towels, coffee cups, stuff like that. They could probably take all of that to a compost facility, put it on a conveyor belt, remove the glass and plastic, and compost the rest. Compost people today have learned how to make some fairly clean stuff out of some fairly sloppy and dirty stuff.

We're industrializing the whole collection and sorting process. When curbside recycling started, you had separate bins for paper, for glass, for cans. What a lot of people didn't realize is that the guys doing the collection were getting back injuries. It was a killing job, picking up those hampers and tossing the stuff in the back of the truck.

In 1994, I spent three weeks following those guys in a car, watching them work with a stopwatch. They were making 450 stops a day. You ask a guy who drives a bread truck or any kind of delivery truck, they probably make 30 to 40 stops a day.

Now we have single-stream recycling. Paper, glass and cans are all mixed and then separated at a recycling facility. In Berkeley, it's still separated by hand but in a lot of cities it's done by a machine called a Star Screen. Essentially, it's a series of discs on an axle. You run the stuff on a conveyor and as it rolls the paper stays on top and the glass and the cans fall through.

Most of my time is spent in recycling as a volunteer. In the past five years, I've done probably six or eight small research-related projects. I get paid to teach three times a year. There's some younger people who've come along with educational programs that have been eating a little bit of my lunch the last couple of years. But I have a lot to do. I'm the president of the local recycling association. I'm in my second year.

Clipped from The Green Burial Council (GBC)
Green burial is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that furthers legitimate ecological aims such as the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.

GBC certification allows consumers to be able to distinguish between the four levels of green burial ground and understand that each has a different set of standards.  It requires cemetery operators commit to certain degree of transparency, accountability and third party oversight.  And it prevents future owners from going back on whatever ecological or aesthetic promises have been made in the past -- from limitations on burial density that to protect a local ecosystem to prohibitions against the use of monuments that would negatively impact a viewshed.

The Council doesn't think any end-of-life ritual, form of disposition, or mode of post-mortem preparation is "wrong." We only want to ensure that services and products are available to people who wish to minimize the environmental impact of their last act. Embalming fluid is usually comprised of the carcinogen chemical formaldehyde, which has been proven to pose health risks in funeral homes. A study by the National Cancer Institute released in late 2009 revealed that funeral directors have a much higher incidence of myeloid leukemia. Fortunately, there are now several formaldehyde-free embalming fluids, including one made entirely of nontoxic and biodegradable essential oils, which recently earned the GBC seal of approval. The sanitation and preservation of a corpse can almost always take place without the use of chemicals, as is done in just about every nation in the world -- with the exception of the US, Canada and a half-dozen others.

While the concrete and metal in vaults may be considered "natural" to some, the manufacturing and transporting of vaults uses a tremendous amount of energy and causes enormous carbon emission. In this US, vault manufacturing requires the production of 1.6 tons of reinforced concrete. Vaults are not required in GBC-approved hybrid burial grounds, and they are prohibited in Council-certified conservation and in natural and environmentally low-impact burial grounds.

The GBC believes a casket, urn, or shroud is suitable for a green burial if it’s made from materials/ substances that are nontoxic and readily biodegradable. We also require that these products not be made from materials that are harvested in a manner that unnecessarily destroys habitat, as is the case with certain types of sea grass. A list of caskets, urns, and shrouds that meet these requirements, whose producers have provided us with clean, fully disclosed material safety data sheets, can be found at our "find a provider" section.

Cremation uses far fewer resources than almost any other disposition option but it certainly has an environmental impact. Cremation burns fossil fuels, and some older cremation facilities can use significantly more energy compared to newer ones. Mercury is also emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, but effective filtration devices that can fully mitigate mercury pollution are expected to be on the market in 2011. The GBC has recently begun working with the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) to promulgate standards for more eco-friendly cremation and will be encouraging ways of “greening up” the cremation process by making available to consumers options for recycling medical parts, choosing a more fuel-efficient cremation container, and participating in a disposition program that has some positive environmental purpose, such as creating marine habitat or generating money to facilitate conservation.

Home funerals, which allow for families to care for a decedent and all aspects of a funeral at home, were quite common in the US up until the mid-20th century. A family can facilitate a home funeral in almost every state, or do it with the assistance of a licensed funeral director. GBC-approved funeral homes must now accommodate families wanting home funerals. A home burial is an alternative to disposition in a cemetery. It's allowed by almost all counties, but most require a minimum number of acres and often the filing of a plat map with the planning department.

Additional references:
Do Your Bit Even After Death, By Shuchi Kalra, Environmental eZine, 2008
Options for Green Burials on the Rise, Newsweek, 9/26/10

By Portia Sinnott, Santa Rosa Press Democrat Living Green Blog , 09/12/11.
Paper makes up 17.3% of California’s and 16.3% of Sonoma County’s discard stream. Much of it is single use reading materials - newspapers, magazines and books. We all take this mountain of short-term gratification for granted - but it doesn’t have to be so… mountainous. With a little effort we all can substantially reduce the impact of our reading pleasure - without reading less!

Obviously the more readers per copy benefits the environment - but not the publishing industry. If you share interests with neighbors and friends – let’s say dancing or yoga or mineralogy, you could share reading material. Consider asking likely suspects if they have a particular newspaper, book or magazine they would be willing to share or perhaps you both would be happy with library copies. On-line library web sites – like the Sonoma County Library, make this quite easy. You can quickly locate items - even in neighboring counties, check availability and make reservations. Often they arrive in less than a week; if it is in big demand sometimes it takes months. Generally the timing works out just fine - as long as you know it is coming. So, the next time you want to purchase reading material or movies, check the library first!

A big time reader, I spend very little time or money on my habit. My sweetheart reads me on-line headlines. Kind neighbors drop the newspaper at the door. I subscribe to two shared magazines, purchase a few special books per year and pick reading material up at the library, yard sales and giveaways. A dedicated junk mail preventer I subscribe to do-not-mail lists and try to stop all unwanted magazines and catalogs on first receipt.

What about e-readers? The potential is great but I am not ready to say that is the way to go given the speed at which electronic technology is evolving. Paper over-consumption may be irritating but all paper is potentially recyclable or compostable, and large amounts are being recycled. I will become more interested when manufacturers design waste out of the manufacturing process and take responsibility for the e-readers at the end of their short lives.

After the fact, what do you do with unwanted reading material? Put it in the stack for future reference, pass it on or drop an armful at the doctor’s office, senior center or school? The recycling bin should be the last destination not the first!

Though I get a lot of pleasure from this serendipitous habit, I seriously object to the large amount of waste the publishing industry and their advertisers create. Imagine if every periodical carried the following footer: “Please share and recycle!” and utilized recycled content paper and low impact inks.

In particular, the magazine industry really gets my ire up since I have to deal with my 88-year old mom’s personal mountain of periodicals. Her ever growing subscription list currently includes more than15 glossies - ladies magazines, health guides and cooking journals plus catalogs and occasional others purchased on the fly. This adds up to more than 200 magazines a year coming in the door. Surprisingly, this transfer of goods doesn’t cost much in dollars – averaging about $18 per month. But the other costs are what are really irritating – especially the time I spend tracking and paying renewals.

Each month I sort the pile of bills and then try to figure out which company is invoicing and when the subscription actually expires. My on-line payments records proved to be insufficient; recently I started tracking subscriptions on a spreadsheet. To my dismay, bills and offers from the same magazine don’t always look alike or offer the same deal. Most companies send invoices months early and keep on sending. And some send payment requests even if the subscription has been paid 2 years in advance! On top of all of this chaos, there are gift-to-others offers plus new offers that look like renewals, and then there are those insidious little subscription inserts that rain out when you read. Growllllll!!!

These seemingly small but regular irritations were the genesis of this article. Every month I mumble that this deluge of misleading documents is a form of fraud and something should be done! When multiplied by millions of readers and thousands of periodicals it adds up to a very large amount of waste and money. These practices are deceptive and if you and I don’t pay attention we will have even more magazines - and more bills!

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