Reusable Plastic – Who Says So?

By Arthur R. Boone, Center For Recycling Research and Total Recycling Associates

Several years ago I started collecting so-called reusable plastic bags from the streets of Oakland and Berkeley. I eventually turned them into a string for a hula-type skirt with 100+ bags on the string. I have worn this bag-ban item on several occasions and if any NCRA member would like to use it for their own educational efforts; let me know. ARB”

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Should This Genie Be Let Out Of The Bottle?

Should electronic signatures be allowed to count to place initiatives on the statwide ballot?

By John Douglas Moore, co-chair NCRA Zero Waste Advocacy Committee

Feedback invited:

California has a citizen form of government. Its citizens may pass laws (initiatives), strike down laws that have been passed (referenda), and remove from office those lawmakers passing offensive laws. (recall). California also has a recycling-friendly electorate- witness the defeat of the plastic bag business on the two referenda against bag bans in 2016. Closer to home, Alameda County Measure D with its 75% diversion mandate, landfill surcharge, and agency creation (Stopwaste) passed with over 60 % of the vote in 1990.

There is big catch to the idea of placing a statewide initiative on the ballot: To place a statewide initiative on the ballot one must collect 365,880 (5% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election) signatures “personally affixed” by registered voters and witnessed by a “circulator” of the petition collecting the signatures.

Big business can place initiatives and referenda on the ballot because they can pay signature gatherers the market rate per signature, a cost in millions of dollars. Plastic bag makers, waste haulers and landfill owners, and beverage manufacturers and distributors all have the resources to put laws before the voters. In many situations it is all the opponents can do to fight against initiative and referenda, leaving those opponents so tapped of energy and resources that they cannot fight to pass laws they support. Last year’s Proposition 67 battle is a good example. Outspent by many millions of dollars, the recycling community including NCRA and CAW mounted an effective campaign to keep California’s plastic bag ban. But proposing a statewide law itself- say banning disposal of organic material at landfill, or constructing a new bottle bill that works- is too much to contemplate, mainly the required 365,880 signatures. (585,045 signatures to pass a Constitutional amendment).

But what if the signature gathering process was made easier? In the Twitter age is it too arcane to require “wet” signatures witnessed by a circulator. Can’t the internet be used to equalize the strength of opponents as it does it many ways already?

In 2011 a California Court of Appeals held in Ni v. Slocum that an e-signature drawn on a smartphone could not be counted towards the requisite number of votes in a county-wide (San Mateo County) initiative campaign to legalize marijuana. No California appellate court has taken up the issue since. One Utah court decision before Ni and one West Virginia court decision following Ni have held electronic signatures to be adequate for electoral purposes. Each Court examined the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act that was adopted by both states and California that gives e-signatures the same binding effect as wet signatures.

The Court in Ni found that the UETA did not supplant a more specific provision of the state Elections Code that does not provide for e-signatures. The Court also held that the state statutory requirement of a circulator to witness the signature of the registered voter negated the validity of e-signatures obtained on the internet and not through circulators. The Court further pointed out that a law to permit e-signatures to be used on electoral documents was passed by the state Legislature in 1997-98 only to be vetoed by then Governor Pete Wilson. Perhaps it will be technically possible in the future to satisfy the need for a “circulator” of petitions collecting signatures. Since the Ni decision is hostile to the very idea of sanctioning judicially the collection of signatures on the internet, it seems doubtful that a technology change rather than a law change would change the result in Ni. A non-profit, Electronic Signature Records Association and a for-profit technology vendor, Verafirma, are active in this field.

So Zero Waste advocates frustrated with the mills of the Legislature grinding slowly (if ever they grind at all)[1] could focus on legalizing the use of e-signatures to place statewide initiatives. The Legislature could again be convinced to pass such a law with the idea that Governor Brown would not veto it. The issue of permitting e-signatures itself could be made the subject of a statewide initiative. These pathways would require massive energy and time.

Which leads to the question- would this even be a good idea? Making the process to pass new laws easier for positions that one likes also makes it easier for positions one does not like. Look how many votes our current President received. Would letting this genie out of the bottle make for not a citizen government but for a CocaCola Government or a Waste Management government?

The political commentator, Kathleen Moore, says that “Our technology is moving faster than our morality”

I solicit your views.

[1] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Will Your Body

By Susan Blachman
I watched the UCSF Willed Body Donation staff respectfully dress my father’s body, gently lift it from his bed and place it into a maroon colored body bag on a gurney, zip it closed and wheel it away. Since he lived in a community of elders, they were thoughtful about how they transported his body in the common spaces.

As a child of the Depression, my dad was thrifty and an ardent proponent of recycling and reuse. Also, he was committed to education. So, many years prior to his cancer diagnosis, he and my mom agreed to donate their bodies to science through the Stanford University Willed Body Program.

We try to be green while we live, but what about when we die? Traditional ground-based burial has major environmental impacts. Embalming fluids pollute the soil. Energy, chemicals and water are expended in manufacturing and transporting tombstones, caskets, flowers and maintaining cemeteries.

There are more environmentally benign alternatives — green burial, willed body donation, whole body burial at sea, cremation and backyard burial. More unusual alternatives under development include promession and alkaline hydrolysis (used by veterinary schools to dispose of animal remains using a decomposing solution), human composting and infinity burial suits (which contain mushroom spores embroidered into the fabric that detoxify the body as it decomposes).

There are over sixty-five medical schools across the country that accept full body donations for research and education, as well as a number of for-profit companies engaged in the development of medical and surgical products.

Willed body donation is available to almost everyone. However, some programs, like Stanford’s, reserve the right to refuse donations and most do not accept bodies lacking donated organs and/or tissue.  In general, organ donation can occur only if death takes place in a hospital where the organs can be quickly harvested.

Much as he wanted to know, the Stanford University Willed Body Program staff could not commit to accepting my father’s body until he was close to the end.  About a week before he died, they refused his donation because his edema exceeded 2 (meaning, it took more than 2 seconds for his skin to smooth out after being poked due to water retention). Quickly, I turned to the internet and learned that the UCSF Willed Body Program is less particular.  I helped my father apply to UCSF and his application was promptly accepted, allowing him to brag that he was admitted to two of the nation’s top medical schools.

After the medical school or research institution has finished using the body, the remains are cremated and scattered, or in some cases the ashes are returned to the family. UCSF scatters the ashes at sea, while Stanford allows families to choose.

Since its inception, the UCSF Willed Body Program has supplied cadavers to UCSF’s medical and dental programs, UCSF pharmacy and physical therapy students, anatomy courses in the Cal State and community college systems and private universities throughout northern California. Donated bodies are used to teach students and to develop and test new surgical procedures and devices. As the UCSF website states: “the need for donations is great and the gift is valued and honored.”

The UCSF Willed Body Program does an amazing job of providing an unusual and important service. I am proud, pleased and amused that in his last act my father was able to die as he lived, in pursuit of his values of scientific knowledge, education, recycling, reuse and frugality.

For more information, please visit the following sites. Even if you sign up, you and your family are under no obligation to donate your body. Read more… UCF   and Stanford

Survey of CRV Redemption Operators, June 2017, 2


In the July we started the Buy Back Operator interview series highlighting Community Conservation Centers aka the Berkeley BuyBack. The interviews were conducted by Doug Brooms in collaboration with Dan Knapp, Ph.D., Urban Ore, Inc. Our subject this month is Aaron Metals Company of Oakland. But first let’s address the purpose of the interviews.

California lost about 35% of its redemption centers in the last four years. According to CalRecycle, the State agency that oversees recycling, during the past 12 months since April 2016, another 140 collection centers have closed. Now there are only 1,692 statewide. In Alameda County, 28 redemption centers remain, of which 6 are in Oakland. The erosion of businesses and jobs, the drop in resource recovery and the inconveniences to consumers of having fewer redemption centers are no longer tolerable.

Nonprofit recycling advocacy organization, Californians Against Waste, has requested a survey of Bay Area recycling centers that return Container Redemption Value (CRV) deposits to the public. They are working to understand the impacts both on businesses and on local communities. They will use the information gathered first to understand the impacts, and then to inform decision-makers in Sacramento who are working on reversing these closures. The information will also be used to inform the public. We want to make each interview into a very short informative story that people can relate to.

NCRA News Editor Portia Sinnott has turned the interview format into a draft on-line survey and has asked Doug Brooms, Dan Knapp and the NCRA Board to authorize her to survey the entire state. One may think the passage of the current Bottle Bill Fix may render the survey unproductive, but to the contrary it will provide baseline data by which to measure progress.

Aaron Metals Company
Aaron Metals Company is a family owned business spanning three generations over 41 years. They operate walk and drive-in operations in East Oakland and in Hayward. Their bread and butter remains scrap non-ferrous metals, with CRV redemption as a more recent adjunct. In Oakland when pickup trucks arrive, their scrap metal pieces are tossed into different wheelbarrows having marked tare weights, then rolled onto the scale for quick processing and payments. The premise is tidy with neat colorful bales of scrap wire stacked against a perimeter fence, with forklifts moving about. A three person office is located towards the rear.

The interview began with son Aaron, and later joined by father Paul. Their scrap metal business has remained steady over the years, whereas the CRV sector has seen a downward trend. Most Bay Area residents don’t so much care about their nickels and presumably opt for the more convenient curbside recycling cart. Nearly all of the walk-in business comes from the less fortunate, who bring in bags of collectibles to convert to ready cash. They are situated in a CIS-Mixed Zone with nearby housing. Complaints are infrequent, maybe every few years having to defend a nuisance complaint using a pricey lawyer.

The CRV business has not been a money maker for them. Paying out for plastics #1 and #2 is fine. State reimbursements take only 2-3 weeks after invoicing. However they absorb the loss with occasional plastics #3 – #7, given the difficulties of selling to processors. Consideration is being given to de-certifying their Hayward CRV operation. Having to handle uncommon CRV stuff and glass is not worth it.

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