HIGHLIGHTS OF NCRA’S NOVEMBER BOARD MEETING: We brainstormed on what we thought should be covered at CRRA’s conference in Oakland next summer and then on what NCRA itself should do at that event; December 5th was CRRA’s early deadline for speakers, topics and tours. We decided not to exhibit at the BAEER Faire in Marin in January. Gretchen Brewer, a professional recycler since the late 1960s and long-time NCRA member, was awarded a life subscription to the NCRA News as she and Fred leave their Berkeley home to move back to San Diego. Various decisions about elections, annual meeting, etc. A good group of visitors was present. ARB
RECYCLING UPDATE #17: NOW SET FOR MARCH 27, 2012. Donnie Oliveira has selected a date for RU-17 as the last Tuesday in March. Start sending him names of potential speakers, volunteer to serve on food group, et al.; there’s always free admission for those willing to work. ARB
THANKS TO OUTGOING BOARD MEMBER LEHON: Board Member and Treasurer Chris Lehon has decided not to run again and we thank him for his service in 2010-2012 - as well as 4 years previously. He was Secretary for 3 years, Vice President for 1 year and now Treasurer for 2. This time he brought our books up to date and gave us a much better handle on our finances. ARB
GIVING SOMETHING BACK: I don’t remember when I first heard this unfortunate phrase but it had a false ring to it. Recently it occurred to me that everyone I knew or met using that phrase was actually padding their resume, marketing their business, or pursuing some other transitory and not appreciably noble motive. I believe that most of the things we volunteer to do happen because we look at how things are and are repulsed by the situation as we understand it. Why should people be hungry or homeless or without adequate medical care in a country where some have plenty of all? We volunteer because anything that requires more effort is too complicated, too bureaucratic, beyond the time and energy we have available to put our shoulders as much as we can into making the world as it is a little closer to how we think it ought to be. What do you think? ARB
WHO SAID MULTI-UNITS WERE LOUSY RECYCLERS?
By Arthur R. Boone, NCRA President and Center for Recycling Research
I can't remember now who first told me that people who live in apartments won't recycle; it didn't hit me like someone saying, "white boys can't play basketball" or something like that. Maybe it was Joe Garbarino sometime in the mid-1980s, explaining why they only went after single family homes in the first-ever California curbside program there in Marin. I was pretty green and just took it all in; like all rookies, I never argued with any conclusory statements, it could be conventional wisdom for all I knew.
Then I met John Wagers. John was old then and is about 90+ now. He owned a 36-unit apartment building in north Oakland about four blocks from my recycling center, and thought that recycling was a God-given duty and everybody should do it. Each of his tenants promised in their lease to play by his rules and John handled 36 units on two yards a week of garbage while I took all his cans and bottles, mixed papers, etc. (He sold what we bought and may have laughed all the way to the bank.) You understood what was required when you moved in and you left if he found too much of your mail in the garbage - no bullshit. He was proud - and deserved to be, of his low waste volume.
In 1993, the City of Oakland pulled the rug out from under him. Relying probably on a trumped-up study, the bureaucrats concluded that multi-units owners were over-compacting whatever receptacles they paid for and everybody was then required to pay a rate of what the single family household paid for a 32 gallon cart times the number of units in the building. John went from paying for two to six yards a week, more than tripling his costs, whether he needed it or not. When I caught up with him and learned his story (after what's told in the next paragraph), he was still mad about it but since it's only Chapter xx of the long story of Oakland trying to find another way to get its hand into the public's pocket, we're all a little tired of it by now. (Prop 13 was a punch at the public's solar plexus but local public agencies have now spent over 30 years trying to deflect the blow; it's part of the grim picture today; "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is still, IMO, an unheard message.)
Then, about three years ago, a friend was working at a church-owned senior apartment building with 11 floors and 195 units; their garbage fee was 195 times the single can rate. The garbage system was pretty simple for a high-rise: one 36 inch chute runs the height of the building and each floor has a small closet off the main hallway that you can go into with your apartment's trash and down it clatters to the ground floor where a group of 5-6 four-cubic yard front loader bins are rotated under the downchute as needed - out goes the full, in goes the empty. Me thinking I'm smart, I design a new collection system that, following single family practice, puts three carts in each floor's chute room – 11 floors, the chute is disabled (at least until the building is trained and performing the three bin dancestep, then maybe we'd re-open the chute for trash), my service employee brings the full carts downstairs in the elevator before 7 a.m. (no service elevator in this building). A private hauler is found to haul away the recyclables (five buybacks are within 1/2 mile), we load full-spectrum organics into a trailer and find a half-ton driver to take that to the compost yard as needed (estimated 1-2 trips per week) and the garbage company gets cut to 4-5 yards per week instead of 12-14 with its very large bill. Then the boss man tells me that he still pays the same amount no matter how fancy I am and thinks all I'll do is make a mess. "Get out of here," he says. End of story.
At about the same time Los Altos and Woodside invented garbage-organics co-collection producing an end-of-the-trash-pipe, screenable product that looks and smells like compost and takes 80+% of the weight of what comes out of those collection trucks and gets rid of it somewhere that isn't a dump. I hear nobody touting that its chemistry is the same as our full-spectrum organics from here in the central Bay Area but if it looks and feels like x, it must be x. The compost-like stuff is marketed to CalTrans for erosion control. Can’t be used for farms or on food crops.
"Yeah, well," they say, "only 20% of what's collected goes to the dump but that has to be non-recyclable materials, right?, Stuff that would have been in the garbage anyway - it has no market." (This, of course, is not believable to me, 'cause I take 5 to 6 weeks to fill up my 20 gallon garbage container and if I could stop picking up all the litter still out there (you know what it is: mylar food packaging, plastic grocery bags, etc., all those things that I don't want to go in the North Pacific gyre,) that twenty gallons could last even longer. My personal household garbage is way less than 10% of my total discards because I break it all down and get it to market whether it pays me or not. Why not clone me as the answer? This system has no followers here.
A couple of years ago in comes the City of San Jose. The staff says, "Multi-units are hard, so we'll use the Los Altos and Woodside system. Less work for us; better recovery than we're getting now, and we'll all be happy and gay." Oakland, with only seven staffers, all busy writing zero waste plans, following legislation, passing out reusable shopping bags, etc., says, “Multi-units are hard, so we’ll use the San Jose system.” There's an old saying in Oakland, "Staff says no, electeds say yes, and passable things get done in the end; not pretty, but it works."
I hope you've come to learn what I've learned, that ending wasting is a “click moment” in life - the simple meaning of “click”. In the 1970s I read a lot of the then-early modern feminist literature and heard stories of women coming to recognize that their gender had been a major determinant of how they'd been treated in life and from that "click moment" on, nothing ever looked quite the same. Several of my friends have told me that what I've said to them about garbage and what they saw for themselves about there really isn't any garbage, there's only "stuff" we either don't know what to do with when we're tired of it or don't care enough to manage properly, became their click moment on our issue. It's an "each one, teach one" moment and there's still a lot of slobs in the world.
And now NCRA has to respond to what we see of staff's unacceptable ideas on paper; you can help if you check the web, read all that stuff, and tell me what you think. ARB.