Conscious Container – 21st Century Bottle Reuse

By Caren McNamara, Founder/CEO, 06/10/20
Refillable/Reusable/Returnable glass bottle systems can deliver an economically viable and environmental impactful solution to reduce single-use bottle packaging waste, as long demonstrated by refillable bottle systems all around the world.

Conscious Container was incorporated as a California Benefit Corporation – B Corp, in early 2017 to create a refillable glass bottle system here in the United States. Over the past 3 years Conscious Container has been conducting ‘proof of concept’ glass bottle collection pilots in Northern California and Northern Nevada. Pilots included an incentive-based drop-off program in Nevada, a donation-based drop-off program and a CRV redemption-based program in Northern California. Becoming a certified ‘Processor’ in the CalRecycle CRV system allowed Conscious Container to pilot with a recycler to separate specific CRV bottle for washing and refilling. These pilots provided insights on how a refillable system could operate while creating strategic partnerships with beverage producers, recyclers, waste haulers, non-profit organizations, policymakers and industry thought leaders.

In the later part of 2019 Conscious Container was asked to present our refillable program at several large industry events, including the Resource Recycling Conference in New Orleans and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition member event in Denver. From these events large beverage producers and retailers began to approach Conscious Container to learn more about our refillable business model, several of whom operate refillable/returnable bottle systems in other countries.

One company, Anheuser Busch InBev (ABInBev), encouraged Conscious Container to apply for their 100+ Sustainability Accelerator program. In early 2020 Conscious Container was one of seventeen start-up companies from around the world select to join the Accelerator program to conduct our business solution pilot in 2020. Although the pilot is a bit delayed due to COVID19 requirements, the partners intended to launch a refillable pilot in the San Francisco North Bay hopefully in Q3. Additionally, Conscious Container was honored with an invitation to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 program which allows this innovative start-up a seat at the table to create circular economy solutions with large global producer Foundation members.

Conscious Container’s vision of ‘A World of Reuse Cultures & Economies’ stands out front. And, moving the needle on reducing our single use packaging waste, as many of you know, requires collaboration across many ecosystems. As Conscious Container’s Founder Caren McNamara often states, “Here we go…”.

Here is a short video about Conscious Container’s partnership with the ABInBev 100+ Sustainability Accelerator program.

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Berkeley Moves The Ball Forward For Salvage and Reuse

From left: Urban Ore staff – Elias Soto, Max Wechsler and Jose Luis Soto. Photo by now forgotten City staff person circa 2011.

By Max Wechsler, Operations Manager, Urban Ore Inc., 6/9/20
On June 2, the Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution authorizing the City Manager to extend its contract with Urban Ore for another 3 years!

Importantly, the new contract reinstates the company’s salvage service fee for every ton rescued from the transfer station to be sold for reuse or recycling. The resolution was written by Berkeley’s Department of Public Works and was passed on the consent calendar. It states that, “the new contract will allow the City to continue reduction of landfilling reusable materials and support the City’s Zero Waste Goal to reduce materials to be landfilled”.

Some history: Urban Ore has been salvaging in Berkeley since 1980. In the year 2000, for two main reasons, the City began paying the business for its salvage service. First, the enforcement of AB939 was about to take effect, and the City was incentivized to meet the state’s diversion requirements. Second, Urban Ore was in the middle of a big move to its current location. Councilwoman Linda Maio led Council to label Urban Ore a “Berkeley treasure” and support it both financially and administratively to help it through the move. Various measures were taken, including the invention of the salvage service fee, which is largely credited to Tania Levy, who was working for the Solid Waste Division – now the Zero Waste Division – of the Department of Public Works.

The invention was elegant indeed, recognizing that reuse and recycling aren’t free; these services involve significant labor and capital costs. The City of Berkeley owns and operates its own transfer station. If the City pays X dollars to send one ton of material to the landfill, doesn’t it make sense to pay X dollars to keep the same material out of the landfill? With that in mind, the City began payments in 2000, first at $30 per ton, and then $40 per ton – always slightly less than the landfill disposal fee. This continued until the Great Recession created a budget crisis for the City, and the salvage service fee was removed from the 2012 contract renewal.

Now, eight years later, the salvage service fee has been reinstated, and for the first time ever, the City is paying Urban Ore the exact amount per ton, $47.74, as it is to Waste Management, Inc. for landfill disposal. This is good news not only for Urban Ore, but conceptually, it is a game changer because it recognizes that Zero Waste services deserve at least the same amount of compensation as do Waste services because Zero Waste services create a variety of economic, environmental, and social benefits that wasting does not. Actually, one can quite reasonably make the argument that a Zero Waste service should be paid more than the alternative, but this is a good start! Here is the summary of the benefits that we create, taken from my public comment to City Council:

Economically, the City’s landfill tipping fees decrease proportionally to our salvage service payments, so the direct cost is a wash to the City. However, Urban Ore’s goods and services create interesting economic multiplier effects that landfilling does not. We provide inexpensive, quality goods to our customers, thus saving the local community money and increasing the profit margins for other small businesses. For example, contractors buy lumber and vintage door hardware from us at the lowest prices available—a shameless plug, but true! We also pay out about $100,000 to customers annually, in both cash and store credit, in exchange for dropping off high quality items for us to re-sell. This process recirculates money and goods through the local economy. Little is exported. Furthermore, as a for-profit business, in 2018 we paid $240K in sales tax, $116K in property tax, and $456K in employer’s taxes. In a “normal” non-virus situation, we employ 42 staff, which translates to 31 FTE.

Environmentally, it’s a big win that helps the City reach its Zero Waste goals. In addition to the resources that we salvage at the transfer station, we deal with thousands more tons of materials that are dropped off on our site annually. We also have a crew doing pick-ups from residences and businesses throughout the Bay Area. Our salvaging staff are trained to identify hazardous materials at the transfer station and communicate with City staff to ensure responsible handling.

Last but not least, there are intangible but very real social and community benefits which I have come to appreciate increasingly over the last four years. Urban Ore serves as a stage for a vibrant community of artists, teachers, builders, collectors, environmentalists, hipsters, do-it-yourselfers—you name it! Our customers are from every socioeconomic background and are as diverse as you will find. The 2018 New York Times article “Berkeley on a Budget” ends like this:

‘But the place that captured the Berkeley spirit as much as any place I went was Urban Ore; part salvage yard, part thrift store, it’s one of the most incredible places I’ve visited for recycled and upcycled goods. From clothing to electronics, an entire section of loose doors (yes, doors) and a yard full of toilets and sinks, you can easily spend a few hours there. It’s eclectic, a little chaotic and inimitable — just like Berkeley itself.”

In summary, the question for City Council was: with two equal cost options, how do we want to allocate the enterprise fund? Do we want to allocate it to Urban Ore, which generates all of the aforementioned benefits? Or, do we want to allocate it to the largest owner of landfills in the world, which involves a handful of people and some heavy equipment burying the same materials in a landfill at the headwaters of an upland creek that drains into the San Francisco Bay?

Urban Ore would like to thank the Berkeley City Council, the Berkeley Zero Waste Commission, and the Berkeley Department of Public Works, particularly Phil Harrington, Greg Apa and Heidi Obermeit. On the resolution, the list of WHEREAS’s really knocks the ball out of the park, including, “WHEREAS, Urban Ore’s proven safety record, environmental commitment, and quality customer service have made them a vital zero waste partner; and… WHEREAS, the Urban Ore salvage program is a Strategic Plan Priority Project that advances our goal to be a global leader in addressing climate change, advancing environmental justice, and protecting the environment”.

We look forward to continuing our pioneering and renowned private-public partnership for generations to come.

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Recycling Update 2020 – Speaker Bios and Presentation Synopses

READ MORE ABOUT THE 2020 RECYCLING UPDATE AND ZERO WASTE WEEK ACTIVITIES AND TOURS!

Speaker List, in Alphabetical Order:

Genevieve Abedon, Ecoconsult

Before joining Ecoconsult in 2017, Genevieve worked on statewide and local plastic pollution policies and campaigns for Californians Against Waste. In the past, she has worked as a Landfill Reduction Technician at various events and sailed across the North Atlantic Ocean studying microplastic pollution with The 5 Gyres Institute. At Ecoconsult, she represents the Clean Seas Lobbying Coalition, a coalition of non-profit organizations dedicated to source reduction solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

Synopsis: Description of the Clean Seas Lobbying Coalition that NCRA has joined, what we do and what we have accomplished. I will give an overview of our statewide legislative priorities are for the year and deep dive into a few of them including SB 54/AB 1080 and The California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act of 2020 ballot initiative. I will touch briefly on local ordinances/efforts, and close with how NCRA members can support our efforts.

Clytie Binder, Brisbane City Council, Australia

Clytie Binder is a Waste Educator with Brisbane City Council, helping schools, community groups, businesses and individuals to reduce their waste. In this role she has designed and delivered the Community Composting Hub program which has seen the establishment of 25 community composting hubs across the city. In 2019 she presented at the Coffs Waste Conference on community composting and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the USA, Canada, and Cuba to explore education methods and partnership models to support community composting. Clytie is passionate about sustainability and the power of community to bring about change.

Synopsis: Brisbane City Council, Australia, has been developing a network of community composting hubs since 2016. While this program has diverted a large amount of organic waste from landfill community composting has also ignited a passion about composting in the hearts and minds of Brisbane residents. This is expressed through the development of income-generating opportunities, a surge in new urban food growing initiatives, a conduit for supporting and connecting passionate people and groups, a sense of excitement around the topic of composting, a gradual shift as composting moves into the mainstream and a sense of empowerment among the community in being part of the solution.

Michael Bisch, Yolo Food Bank

Michael has an accomplished background in business management and nonprofit leadership. Following his undergraduate education in Business Administration, he launched a career in international finance. An entrepreneur for the past 20 years, Michael has been the owner for 10 years of Davis Commercial Properties, a commercial real estate brokerage firm. As president of the nonprofit Davis Downtown for four years, Michael acquired a deep knowledge of nonprofit management best practices. At this time of transformation for YFB, Michael’s unique qualifications enable him to guide the organization with a balance of innovation and stability, blending business acumen with a passion to serve.

Synopsis: Poverty-stricken Yolo County is in crisis: 34% of households do not earn enough to cover their basic household expenses (impacting +50% of school children).  YFB’s response is to transform itself from struggling nonprofit to high-performing change agent leading all of Yolo County on a mission to EndHungerYolo.

Our leadership has focused on the “Sustainable Management of Food” approach prioritizing wasted food recovery:

  1. Source Reduction
  2. Feed Hungry People
  3. Feed Animals
  4. Industrial Uses
  5. Composting

Rescuing wasted food is a quadruple win: it’s good for the economy, for our community, for the environment and for our vulnerable neighbors. 

José Bravo, Just Transition Alliance

José Bravo is a long-time leader on just transition, climate justice and chemical policy as they relate to communities fighting for Environmental Justice and Labor Justice (Organized and Unorganized). Born in México and brought to the U.S. as a child, José’s work in social justice issues is rooted in his upbringing in the Southern California avocado fields alongside both his parents. Since 1991, José has gained recognition as a national and international leader in both the Environmental Justice and Climate Justice movements. Over the past 30 years as a community organizer, José has worked on numerous campaigns in the U.S., Puerto Rico and in México.

Synopsis: This Just Transition Alliance presentation covers how environmental justice (EJ) communities are disproportionately impacted in every part of the plastics lifecycle – from the extraction of oil for plastics to plastic in the ocean. EJ communities bare the burden of toxic chemicals in plastic products and the disposal of these products at hazardous facilities such as incinerators. This Environmental Justice Lens on the Lifecycle of Plastics is important to understand that communities have been left out of the environmentalism discussion, and explains how to bring our communities to the forefront of the conversation.  

Laurenteen Brazil, City of El Cerrito Environmental Services Division

Laurenteen Brazil has over 18 years of experience in the recycling industry. She serves as the Waste Prevention Specialist at the City of El Cerrito where she provides educational outreach to the community and works directly with businesses for legislative compliance. Over the course of her career, she has also served on both the NCRA and CRRA Boards. She is a proponent of Zero Waste goals and advocates for lifestyle behavior change. In her spare time, she volunteers to help green a K thru 8 school and her home church. She enjoys outdoor activities and aspires continually to be impactful.

Synopsis: The Chinese Sword has caused the City of El Cerrito to adjust operations based on marketability. The first adjustment happened in April of 2018 with major changes effective May 15th and July 1st in 2019.

The one-stop-shop recycling center is still resourceful to the community we serve but, we have been constricted by marketability and we’ve decided to make it an education opportunity as well.

Derek Crutchfield, City of Vallejo

Synopsis: In an effort to reduce recycling contamination, the City of Vallejo Recycling Coordinator, Derek Crutchfield implemented a year-long Recycling Rewards incentive program. This citywide incentive program required residents, multi-family dwellings and businesses to recycle (and recycle properly) in order to be eligible to be rewarded. The program gave participating residential garbage customers an opportunity to possibly be rewarded with one of twelve “packages” of a year of free garbage service. In addition, multi-family dwellings and businesses were eligible to receive $1,000 off their garbage bill.

Jill Donello, GreenEducation.US

As the education manager at GreenEducation.us for the previous 3 years, I’ve worked closely with students and instructors in providing online education in sustainable resource management. Our students include recycling coordinators, public works department managers, facilities managers, consultants, waste haulers and others. I was a founding member of the US Zero Waste Business Council and have several decades of public speaking experience. With a Masters in Educational Technology, I look forward to bringing new methods for knowledge sharing to the field of SRM.

Synopsis:  As California aggressively seeks to reduce waste to landfill and build a more sustainable future, an understanding of the “zero waste fundamentals” is needed by a growing number of employees and leaders in both the private and public sector. Solutions require collaboration across the supply chain. Training and education programs aim to support a shared vision, vocabulary, and base to ensure the workforce is ready to lead the changes to come. Let’s talk about the role of training and education in building zero waste leaders across the state!

Jeff Donlevy, Mings Resources

Bio: 25 years’ experience in the recycling industry. With experience in the design, construction, start-up, and management of recycling facilities ranging in size from a few hundred tons per month up to 10,000 tons per month. He has managed recycling and logistics contracts for large customers including Anheuser Busch, DST, California State Department of Corrections Facilities, and Bay Area News Group. The Ming’s Hayward facility handles over 2 BILLION CRV containers per year.

Magdalena Donoso, GAIA Latin America and the Caribbean

Magdalena Donoso is the Coordinator for GAIA Latin America and the Caribbean. She has worked in communications and networking with several Chilean NGOs and in Television Trust for the Environment (UK), supporting educational and activism programs in forestry and biodiversity for 15 years. For the last ten years she has worked on waste issues with cities in Latin America, particularly defending the rights of recyclers and promoting zero waste. She is based in Concepción, Chile.

Synopsis: Informal recyclers (wastepickers) have long been the unsung heroes of zero waste and faced environmental injustice, but that is changing. As a result of their long struggle for recognition, cooperatives of wastepickers/recyclers are now running city-wide collection and sorting programs in multiple capital cities in Latin America. Because of their on-the-ground knowledge, waste pickers are uniquely positioned to inform sound zero waste policy and defend against incineration and other obstacles to success. Embedding wastepickers in key decision-making is not only critical to social justice and equity, it’s also the best chance cities have to achieve zero waste.

Miriam Gordon, UPSTREAM

Bio: As Policy Director with UPSTREAM, Miriam is a leading architect and incubator of local and state policies aimed at making the Throw Away culture a thing of the past.Previously, as the California Director of Clean Water Action, Miriam launched ReThink Disposable, a program that has demonstrated that reducing throw away products in food service saves food businesses money and improves customers’ dining experiences. Over the last 20 years, she has been a leading California advocate for policies aimed at reducing plastic pollution and has worked with local, state, and federal agencies implementing pollution prevention and water quality programs.

Synopsis: Plastic pollution is everywhere- in the air we breathe, water we drink, and food we eat. Communities and their governments are responding with bans on plastic items-like straws, containers, and bags. But allowing other disposables like paper, aluminum, bioplastic and fiber to take their place just transfers the harm to climate, habitat destruction, and resource depletion. We can’t recycle and compost our way out of this problem. There’s a better way than throw away! Resusables are better for the planet and save businesses money. UPSTREAM brings reuse into food service through policy and business innovation. New policies- like the Berkeley foodware ordinance- and innovative business models are transforming the Throw Away Culture. Learn how you can join the REUSE REVOLUTION!

 Lawrence Grown, Metro Lighting

I founded Metro Lighting in 1993 to fulfill a need for architectural lighting–fixtures designed to complement unique architectural environments. I earned my architecture degree in 1990 from the acclaimed program at the University of Cincinnati. My passions are for product development, sustainable design, and organic architecture. I am a charter member of Buy Local Berkeley, the Founder/Executive Director of the West Berkeley Design Loop, and founder of Commotion West Berkeley. I previously served on boards for many years at my three daughters’ schools. And in 2018 I designed and produced a large scale environmental art project for Burning Man called the Chilopod, which is my biggest lighting “fixture” to date.

Synopsis: Metro Lighting manufactures lighting fixtures in Berkeley. Our showroom is 100% solar powered. And we’ve developed a line of lighting glass made from post-consumer liquor and wine bottles. We are making use of their embodied energy used to create them.  They are beautiful, sustainable, and handcrafted. I also pick up repurposed metal components and build other fixtures with them, mostly floor lamps and bicycle rim chandeliers. 


Mitra Gruwell
, Saint Vincent de Paul of Lane County

Mitra Gruwell is a second-generation craftsperson, sewist, and upcycle fashion designer from Eugene, Oregon. She has been redesigning clothing for 20 years. She is the lead designer and manager of the ENVIA upcycled fashion brand- a project of thrift store non-profit St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County. Mitra is the founder of several fashion-focused companies in Eugene, including Bricolage LLC and Eugene Fashion Week. She also teaches art-focused business workshops for The Arts and Business Alliance of Eugene (ABAE) and does mentorships and apprenticeships with local youth.

Synopsis: Being the upcycling department for thrift store non-profit St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, we get a lot of opportunities to work with local and national businesses’ waste. In response to this, and to maximize reciprocal benefit, we have come up with protocols in working with these businesses that encourage not only an ongoing partnership but also that have the potential of shifting the industry perception of “waste”. Our Go Green Program does this by offering to take on business’ post-manufacturing and post-consumer discards, and using all methods available to us (including retail sales, wholesale sales, recycling and upcycling) to avert the expense of disposal for the business, while also reducing expense to our environment. In some cases, we have even been able to upcycle the business’ waste and sell it back to them in the form of upcycled products, shifting their perception of value of these discards from “expense” to “asset,” with the potential of earning income while adding to the rich story of the business’ investment in environmentally responsible practices.  

Tony Hale, San Francisco Estuary Institute – Aquatic Science Center

As SFEI’s Program Director for Environmental Informatics, Dr. Tony Hale has advanced the Institute’s communications practices, overseen the development of new data visualization technologies, and partnered with state and federal agencies to address complex data management challenges such as those presented by trash-related pollution. He leads a solid team of innovators who share a common mission to advance our collective knowledge of California’s most pressing environmental concerns.

Synopsis: Each year, tons of trash sail down tributaries into the San Francisco Bay. Yet understanding the true scale of the problem eludes us. If we could achieve a bird’s-eye view, perhaps then we could capture a more expansive view of the landscape. Furthermore, if we could take that image and process it automatically, then perhaps we could better quantify this elusive challenge. Our presentation describes a project, funded through the California Ocean Protection Council, to develop a new trash-detection method that uses drone imagery and AI to affordably expand the spatial range and temporal density of current trash monitoring.

Nick Harvey, Bay Area Redwood

Nick graduated from the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara with a degree in chemistry and biochemistry, then headed to the Bay Area to work in sustainable lighting at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a staff scientist. Concurrently, Nick worked at LLNL and pursued a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at UC Davis before dropping out to work in Tech, Shortly thereafter, Nick struck out on his own to pursue entrepreneurial ventures: BayAreaRedwood.com was founded serendipitously when Nick saw trees being thrown away while riding his bike. Nick leverages his background in chemistry and materials science in this current venture.

Synopsis: BayAreaRedwood was founded on the premise that we should not waste trees removed from urban environments; the status quo sees urban trees mulched and then typically burned producing copious amounts of CO2. In contrast, our processing method creates carbon sinks. Here at BayAreaRedwood, we specialize in upcycling urban redwood trees into usable timber commodities including live-edge slabs, siding, beams, and other custom milled products. In addition, we fabricate and assemble this wood into solid-wood furniture products.

The presentation will discuss the current challenges in the industry, how we are solving them, and what we create by doing it.

Brock Hill, Premier Recycle Company

Brock Hill is Vice President and Director of Operations for Premier Recycle Company. He started with the company in 2008 and has since led an 80% increase in facility material throughput. As well as serving on the board of Silicon Valley Construction Financial Management Association, Brock serves as the Legislative Committee Chairman and Board of Directors member for the Construction and Demolition Recycling Association.

Synopsis: Monopolies created by exclusive franchising limit resource recovery and are bad for the local economy.

Steve Lautze, Resource Revolution

Bio:Long time member and former board member and President (1993-95) of NCRA whose recycling career detoured for 20 years into green economic development for the City of Oakland, including administering that city’s Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ); recently retired from city government to focus more intently on recycling market development issues as an independent consultant. President of Calif. Assn. of RMDZs (2003-2019); co-founder, Recycling BIN (Build Infrastructure Now) Coalition; board member, East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse; advisor to Upcyclers Network.

Synopsis: The QUALITY of what we collect is as important as the QUANTITY, and that focusing on CONVERSION of these materials deserves increased attention, as opposed to simply maximum DIVERSION from landfills.  Focusing on facility development and closed-loop manufacturing requires more attention and resources than California’s traditional approaches to these issues; such efforts are by definition less government based, and more entrepreneurial.  Messages to the public should be more oriented to capture materials that manufacturers and compost facilities can use to make products, rather than methods that reach towards the highest level of “diversion”, truly closing the loop will take new tools and new approaches to materials management.

Taumra Lawrence, City of Oakland

Taumra Lawrence is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Oakland Public Works, and also acts as one of the lead team members working to implement the City of Oakland’s race and equity mission within the Public Works Department. The team supports the mission of the City of Oakland to transform practices in City government to promote inclusion and full participation by a broad representation of residents and to end racial inequity.

Synopsis: How Race & Equity Can Make a Vast Difference in the Zero Waste Movement – By supporting capacity building, the development of race and equity outcomes, and tools across the industry’s activities, the Recycling and Zero Waste industries can experience much greater participation from diverse communities. I will cover how your organization can begin to implement the tools necessary to reach a wider citizenry, therefore experiencing greater success in our efforts to reduce, if not end, waste.

Leslie Lukacs, Zero Waste Sonoma

Leslie Lukacs is the Executive Director of Zero Waste Sonoma formally known as the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. Leslie has worked over 20 years in solid waste and resource management industry and, prior to this appointment, was the Director of Zero Waste at SCS Engineers, a solid waste, recycling and organics management consulting firm, for 13 years. Leslie also had her own consulting company for 7 years. Leslie has spent her career designing and implementing comprehensive sustainability and zero waste programs for large institutions, public agencies, venues, and events throughout California and the nation.

Synopsis: Last September, Zero Waste Sonoma’s Board of Directors requested staff research the viability of accepting compostable plastics and products as a feedstock for a new organics processing system. We produced a white paper that outlines the pros and cons of feedstocks and cost analysis of the options. The presentation will provide the white paper results, uncover the truth that the majority of compost facilities that accept compostable plastics are screening them out for landfilling, 

John Moore, Law Office of John Douglas Moore

Although John is not a zero-waste professional, he is a star in his own profession. He taught in law school when he was 23; won his first case while still in law school at age 24 and in the 39 following years achieved and has been recognized as much as anyone can as a lawyer, including service as a superior court judge. Last year he became one of a select few attorneys admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, which he will presently discuss.

Synopsis: Many Supreme Court decisions have been found by history to be wrongly decided. While a CA Supreme Court case permits (but does not mandate) local governments to grant exclusive garbage collection franchises, local governments should choose not to use exclusive franchising which,  in fact, increases landfilling and takes money and living wage jobs out of local communities. Premier Recycling chose to challenge this practice in the US Supreme Court and it will now explain why.

Monaliza Noor, HF&H Consultants, LLC

Monaliza Noor is an Associate Analyst at HF&H Consultants. She recently assisted with the development of CalRecycle’s SB 1383 implementation tools and case studies. To help jurisdictions plan for SB 1383, Ms. Noor has also helped develop a number of SB 1383-specific tools that identify requirements; delineate which entity (City, hauler, or a third-party) will do what; and, allow for cost-benefit analysis. In addition to her SB 1383 focused work, Ms. Noor also assists in hauler performance reviews, solid waste and recycling contract analysis, and procurement evaluations. Before joining HF&H Consultants in 2018, Ms. Noor worked for the City of Oakland’s environmental services division. In 2016, she earned a Master of Science degree in Environmental Management from the University of San Francisco.

Synopsis: Monaliza Noor will provide an overview of newly developed SB 1383 Implementation Tools produced for CalRecycle by HF&H Consultants, in conjunction with Diversion Strategies and Debra Kaufman Consulting. The SB 1383 tools include: a model franchise agreement; a model mandatory organics disposal reduction ordinance; a model organic waste product procurement policy; and, a model edible food recovery agreement. Each tool provides example provisions for use by jurisdictions and other entities to develop new agreements, ordinances, and/or policies, or to amend existing ones. The presentation will highlight key provisions of each tool and describe how users can navigate and customize each model tool.

Veronica Pardo, California Refuse Recycling Council, Northern District

Veronica Pardo has served the Northern District California Refuse Recycling Council’s governmental affairs program since 2013 where she monitors the numerous regulatory agencies that impact the waste and recycling industry, ensuring that industry needs are communicated during regulatory rulemakings and state policy development. Ms. Pardo works on a diversity of issues ranging from organics management to renewable energy production. She holds a master’s degree in Community Development from UC Davis and a bachelor’s degree in French and English from UCLA.  

Synopsis: This presentation will highlight the differences and similarities of the waste management system of 3 distinct regions: Japan, Germany, and California.

Having lived in Japan, Germany, and California, I will provide a personal view of waste sorting and expectations at the household level. The presentation will also address recycling rates, specific programs, and incineration and landfill use within these regions.

Ultimately, the audience will learn that each region has a unique approach to waste management. This perspective will help inform the larger discussion of how to realize our significant global and regional waste diversion goals. 

Wanda Redic, City of Oakland

Wanda Redic has 25 Years of experience in municipal solid waste and recycling; currently focused in community outreach and developing public engagement strategies, advancing social equity in ethnic communities, developing waste reduction strategies and managing elements of franchise agreements and current lead staff for SB 1383 implementation.

Synopsis: My presentation briefly will provide information about Oakland’s path to edible food recovery and distribution. I’ll share Oakland’s collaboration with other government agencies and with the community of food distribution stakeholders as we chart a path towards reducing food surplus and increasing food recovery which can have potential impacts beyond our borders.

Jessica Robinson, Resilience Birthright Inc

Jessica Jane Robinson is known as superhero Resilience, Recycle Woman, and Miss Alameda. Ms. Robinson is a Zero Waste practitioner with more than a decade of experience in implementing recycling and compost programs. She works with businesses, organizations, school districts (throughout the Bay Area), principals, faculty members, teachers, students, and community members in engagement projects, implementing cultural and social change programs to improve zero waste and climate protection goals. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Northern California Recycling Association since 2013, serving as treasurer from 2013-2016, and now as Vice President. 

Synopsis:  The Earth Warrior Carbon Calculator is a zero-waste tool that helps address climate change by guiding people toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For people not familiar with the zero-waste lifestyle, this website will help them slowly get accustomed to the behaviors and lifestyle without going “cold turkey.” The user will be able to track their daily actions based on sustainable lifestyle choices, such as walking, carpooling, composting, recycling, and reusing. The website calculates the activities as the equivalence of carbon metric tons avoided in the atmosphere, then simplifies those metrics with tangible analogies such as saving trees or removing cars off the road. 

Karen Strolia, Downtown Streets

Bio: After graduating from UC Berkeley’s Psychology Dept, Karen joined Downtown Streets Team (DST) as a Case Manager in Marin County in 2016 where she worked to connect unhoused individuals to critical resources. After being promoted to Project Manager, she created positive visibility in the greater community for those who often feel marginalized. As a Director, Karen launched Marin County’s only shower program, Marin Mobile Care, with a focus in meeting people where they are to serve a basic need – a shower – to those living “off the grid”. She is currently working to expand DST into Sonoma County’s Petaluma.

Synopsis: In 15 Northern CA cities, Downtown Streets Team (DST) provides a path to recover from homelessness through community, motivation, and hope. Unhoused “Team Members” clean up business districts, neighborhoods, encampments and waterways as they work their way out of homelessness. The Organization’s model has been lauded as one of only five evidence-based best practices by the League of CA Cities and the CA Association of Counties’ Homelessness Task Force. Come learn about the model, service philosophy and 15 years’ experience engaging local unhoused residents in community cleanups.

Wes Sullens, U.S. Green Building Council

Wes Sullens, LEED Fellow, leads Materials & Resources activities at the U.S. Green Building Council. Wes is responsible for the materials credits in LEED and directs organizational activities related to construction waste, product manufacturing, material transparency, circular economy, and embodied carbon. He has worked in the public, private and nonprofit sectors for 20 years on broad topics including energy efficiency, supply chain sustainability, and chemicals transparency.

Synopsis: Update on waste, recycling and circular economy recognition for construction and building projects in LEED. The presentation will focus on project waste management and diversion (reuse, C&D), as well as product procurement (recycled content, designed for circularity, environmental product declarations). Updates will focus on the newest version of LEED: version 4.1. 

Peter Schultze-Allen, EOA Inc.

Peter Schultze-Allen is a Senior Scientist at EOA Inc. providing technical assistance to municipalities around the Bay Area, specializing in the development of policies and practices for: public and private green stormwater infrastructure, zero waste, zero litter, complete streets, sustainable landscaping, and urban forestry. His previous experience includes managing the environmental programs for the City of Emeryville and team member of Recology-San Francisco’s Fantastic Three program rollout. He is one of the four authors of the Ecology Center’s initial draft of Berkeley’s Single-Use Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance that was adopted in March of 2019.

Synopsis: How do the worlds of stormwater and zero waste intersect and why should you care? I will give some examples and ways that people and organizations are taking action on these topics: plastics, PFAS, cigarette butts, EPS (Styrofoam), shopping bags, extended producer responsibility, marine debris, litter, foodware, compost use and specifications, mulch, green stormwater infrastructure, roadway design, sustainable landscaping, carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture, erosion and sediment control, street trees and building demolition!

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A Review of Peak Plastic

A REVIEW OF PEAK PLASTIC: THE RISE OR FALL OF OUR SYNTHETIC WORLD, JACK BUFFINGTON, PRAEGER, 2019
By Neil Seldman, Waste to Wealth Initiative, Institute for Local Self Reliance, Washington, DC, 5/25/19

A long-term NCRA collaborator, Seldman also serves as co-chair of the Save the Albatross Coalition with Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Marine Research and Education.

Editor’s Note: Click for a PDF Version of this review or a free SANET download of Peak Plastic

Hourly, it seems, an email arrives with fresh news about the planetary crisis posed by plastic production and waste. The earth’s ocean, a source of life, is turning into seas of plastic waste, floating bits of disposed packages and microscopic particles as the plastic breaks apart. Invasion of the entire biosphere is now a reality. “We are no longer looking at a plastic ocean,” says Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Marine Research and Education, “we are now talking about plastic fish and plastic people.”[1] The issue is being addressed by federal agencies such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (part of the Department of Commerce), foundations such as the Ocean Conservancy, and international environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, the Global Anti Incineration Alliance, and the Save the Albatross Coalition – a campaign of Zero Waste USA.

The U.S. Congress held hearings on April 30 to explore Emerging Technologies in Plastics Recycling and the technology gaps that drive up the cost of recycling that fall on municipalities and businesses. The Center for International Environmental Law calculates that in 2019, plastic production and incineration will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere — the equivalent of pollution from 189 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants. In addition, other scientists point to increased methane releases as photodegradable plastic breaks down more readily in sunlight. Even the American Chemistry Council, a trade association representing U.S. chemical companies, concedes the need for “fostering the transition to “zero waste.” Fortune 500 companies that formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste have pledged $1.5 billion to address the problem.

Plastic pollution issues engulf the Chinese economy as well. The 2017 National Sword Policy, China’s ban on imports of certain mixed recyclables, was in large part a response to the outcries against the primitive plastic recycling system, which moved materials from ports to rural areas for ‘processing’ that contaminated soil and water and damaged the health of those engulfed in plastic smog from the burn-off of residual materials. Videos of ocean plastic pollution have also aroused the Chinese public.

A Comprehensive Solution?
There is no comprehensive path forward to stop the pollution and prevent future contamination so that the world’s vital support systems can recover.

Jack Buffington, a supply chain expert, offers an approach in his book Peak Plastic that integrates the synthetic world of plastic with the natural world by placing once-used plastic back into production supply chains.[2] He lays out the prospect of sustainable local economies, with plastic materials and nature living side by side. Proper use and reuse of plastics can lead to a decentralized economy, a boon to urban ghettos in the U.S., Asia, and Africa, as well as to rural Chinese villages suffering from plastic smog, water pollution, poverty, and poor health. He looks to “innovators, or those companies and government officials who will turn plastic waste into economic viability within a private enterprise model…for the betterment of communities,” as engines of change.

Is this vision technically and economically feasible using the five-step program Buffington presents? Is it politically feasible? Will it take an international mobilization, a grass roots political ‘levee en masse’ to engage industry, elected officials, and policy managers to make fundamental change to business as usual?

Business as Usual is Not Acceptable
Business as usual means uncontrolled production of virgin plastic, even as less than 10% of plastic produced is recycled or reused. It also means recognizing the positive benefits, in fact essential benefits, of plastic products in our daily lives and in the economy. Buffington estimates that by 2030 the earth will reach Peak Plastic, that is, when the marginal benefit of plastic use to society will be less than its detrimental cost to the environment. We are clearly running out of time if he is even close to being accurate.

How Could Something So Good Be So Bad?
Over a few generations, Buffington points out, plastic use has become a “marketing marvel and, at the same time, a planetary crisis.” Since just prior to World War II, annual plastic use has grown from 2 million tons to 380 million tons today.

Buffington pays due homage to beneficial attributes of the material named after the Greek word for “to mold to a form.”

The World War II effort led to a 300% increase in production, making it an essential ingredient for winning the war as other materials fell into short supply. Plastic products were used in health care, clothing, transportation, building materials, packaging, to extend the shelf life of food, and to feed the post-war consumer economy. “In a surreal sort of way plastic is our modern day superhero, able to defy the laws of nature though 50% lighter than steel and at the same time can be in your body intentionally as a stent to open blocked arteries.”

Buffington’s description of the dark side of the plastic revolution suggests the dystopia presented in Bookchin’s Our Synthetic Environment.[3] Even as plastic is the material of choice, it is at odds with nature. It does not break down and return to a natural form. It can cross membranes in the body. Resins, additives, stabilizers, anti-static agents, biocides, flame-retardants, plasticizers, all ‘lurk within the polymer,’ and therefore within the human body and food chain, with unknown consequences for public health and the biosphere. Plastic nanoparticles escape into waterways with every laundry load. Plastic indeed is a ’messy innovation’ that has reached the world’s highest peaks and penetrated the deepest crevices in the oceans. It is a modern day well-intentioned Frankenstein, gone haywire. We cannot recycle our way out of the plastic dilemma. The U.S. EPA reports that the 2015 overall U.S. plastic recycling rate was a dismal 9%[4]. Obviously it hardly impacts the supply chain for virgin plastic manufacturing. Plastic production continues to grow as recycling rates stagnate.

Buffington’s Five Step Program
Step 1: Stop the bleeding by making the plastic industry transparent. Government regulators have failed to protect the country from the obvious threats of plastic pollution. Only a fully informed public can mobilize for change. In addition, a worldwide ban on micro beads and glitter must be put in place. Conventional investment in solid waste management can drastically reduce the 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the oceans annually; 60% from only five countries – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The estimated near-term cost is $5 billion.

Step 2: Introduce a private-public open source/open access for plastic innovators, which can lead to a design revolution in materials and products. This will take enlightened stockholders.

Steps 3 and 4: Replace traditional recycling, which is a distraction,[5] with sustainable polymerization: that is, depolymerization (Step 3) and repolymerization (Step 4).[6] Each city, Buffington foresees, could have small-scale production of its own water and soda bottles, with a closed loop de- and re-polymerization system in place. The term “economy of scale in linear production systems will be a relic of the past….Through a combination of automation, 3-D printing and digital design.” Flint, Michigan will benefit environmentally and economically from a de- and re-polymerization production system, rather than a return to refillable beverage containers, the author avers.

Step 5: Invest in measuring technology so that we can see what we currently can’t. “There must be a push for portable powerful devices to detect and then access for clean up.”

Inconsistencies and Barriers
Peak Plastic provides rational and doable steps to both control the hemorrhaging of plastic into the environment and tame the material so that the natural world and this unique material can live side by side. The rise of open source manufacturing is in sight. Hopes for this future are based on the emergence of an open source system that will inform organized citizens, government agencies and private firms. “3D printing and open source design will definitely be disruptors in the 21st century by many accounts.”[7]

Is Peak Plastic too optimistic about the possibility of change among corporate leaders, considering past bad behavior? Is ‘clean up’ a credible solution once plastics in the ocean start breaking down into minute particles? What are the comparative costs of de- and re-polymerization? And, critically, can progress be made along the lines Buffington favors without a grassroots, bottom-up movement?

The grassroots recycling/anti-incineration/zero waste movement has won the hearts and minds of the country in the past 50 years. This movement led to new rules that established post-World War II recycling in the U.S.: mandatory recycling, minimum content, unit pricing, purchasing preferences, capital accumulation, and investment programs. These rules made recycling part of everyday life in U.S. cities and towns. No fundamental change can occur without the mobilization of this homegrown recycling, anti-incineration, and zero waste constituency.

In fact, this movement, which crosses gender, race, class, and age, has already started to achieve the bans essential to pushing back on the virgin plastic industry. State and local bans on polystyrene, single use food wares (e.g. plastic straws and cutlery), and plastic bags are now common throughout the U.S. Kraft Foods, Aldi, Amcor, and Nestle’ have pledged to have zero waste packaging (reusable, recyclable, or compostable) by 2025. But pledges from Fortune 500 companies have been issued for decades with no implementation. Nothing works like organized pressure from below, as people exert their rights as citizens to change the rules and as consumers who purchase goods.

The Save the Albatross Coalition has supported ‘connect the cap’ legislation in California which will require bottlers to leash bottle caps, which when loose in the sea resemble food and are deadly to albatross chicks. While AB 319 and AB 2779 did not pass the State Assembly last session, the Coalition will work to get this bill introduced again next year. In addition, the Coalition is recruiting local governments to file nuisance lawsuits against brand name companies whose containers, wrappers and bottle caps are found on their beaches. “We are acting locally to solve a global crisis,” said Rick Anthony, a recycling pioneer and chair of the Coalition and the Zero Waste International Alliance. “We have to control this at the home and then at the local level. The protection of our quality of life and sustainability starts with local actions.”

Washington State passed a 0.15% tax on grocery and convenience stores and other retailers on items commonly tossed on the street, i.e. litter. This tax goes into a fund to address all of those items you see littered along the highway and in public spaces. In California, Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080, the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, would reduce unnecessary packaging, cut down our reliance on disposable items, and redesign products to be truly recyclable or compostable. Both of these state bills have passed out of their house of origin and will be considered by the other house later this session.

We Must Make Haste
Private industry is responding to the worldwide plastic pollution crisis. No less than 40 companies in the U.S. and Canada are operating low-grade plastic plants at commercial scale. Another 20 are similarly investing in transformational technologies that depolymerize and then repolymerize plastic waste into high value virgin quality pellets for food grade packaging.

Air Canada started to reduce single use plastic on its flights this year, moving towards the goal of eliminating it altogether. Restaurant chains are beginning to recycle plastic gloves used by food preparers with the glove manufacturer.

Not all ‘innovation’ is positive. Dow Chemical and Hefty companies want to build pyrolysis plants throughout the country to turn low-grade plastics into fuels. Phoenix, AZ just contracted with a company to use similar thermal depolymerization to manage recovered plastics.

Hard work lies ahead. The Hefty Energy Bag hard-to-recycle plastics incineration program – now in Cobb County, GA, Boise, ID, Lincoln, NE and Omaha, NE, is a wake-up call. Of the 40 new companies offering plastic recycling alternatives, 27 are thermal processes, or incinerators. The Baltimore Clean Air Act, written by Energy Justice Network and passed unanimously by the City Council, is an example of one tool to force best available control systems on all plants. Taxes on hard-to-recycle plastics and other packages are needed to increase the cost of wasting for cities and businesses. Outright bans on new virgin plastic capacity are in order, given the global emergency. Reduction in plastic consumption is the key goal here.

We cannot recycle our way out of the plastic conundrum. We have to control its production and eliminate post-consumer waste.

This bottom-up citizen’s push and the current scramble by innovative companies to return reprocessed plastic to the supply chain of commerce can work, but it is not clear if there is time before we reach Peak Plastic in 2030.

Peak Plastic is optimistic that we can, in this short time frame. But only if we transcend the false narrative that pits a growing economy against a cleaner environment, and implement the rules needed to reign in laissez faire plastic production.

Footnotes
[1] See, Moore and Cassandra Phillips, Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans, 2012; Also, Moore, Charles, “Invasion Of The Biosphere By Synthetic Polymers; What Our Current Knowledge May Mean For Our Future” Acta Oceanologica Sinica, April 2019

[2] Buffington, PhD, is Professor of Supply Chain Management at University College and the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. He has ample industry credentials as well, and previously authored The Recycling Myth, Praeger, 2015

[3] Murray Bookchin, Our Synthetic Environment, Harper & Rowe, 1975

[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling, Plastics: Material-Specific Data, 2015

[5] For Buffington’s full argument against traditional recycling of plastic see, The Recycling Myth: Disruptive Innovation to Improve the Environment, Praeger, 2015

[6] There are several types of depolymerization including hydrolysis, glycolysis, methanolysis, and thermal (pyrolysis).

[7] Fast Company, Adele Peters, Precious Plastic: These DIY Machines Let Anyone Recycle Plastic Into New Products, 10/7/2017