America Recycles Day Letter To Recycling Businesses, 2014

The 18th Annual “America Recycles Day” (ARD) will be on November 15, 2014.  ARD is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to encouraging Americans to recycle and buy recycled content products.  Since 1997, the ARD campaign has grown to nearly two thousand events, with more Americans pledging to increase their recycling habits at home and work.

There is no better opportunity to draw attention to the nation’s woeful consumption and discards habits that America Recycles Day.  According to the US EPA, in 2012, Americans generated 251 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), or 4.38 pounds per person per day.  Included however are 65 million tons of recycled and 21 million tons of composted materials, for a total diversion rate of 34.5%.

For 2012, the manufacturing of products to include reclaimed materials had saved our nation 1.1 quadrillion BTUs of energy (enough for 10 million households per year), and avoided 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (equivalent to removing 33 million passenger vehicles from our roads per year).  The reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) are beneficial towards global warming and climate change.  Additional benefits of recycling include the creation of jobs, pollution reduction, conservation of virgin materials and natural resources, and preservation of landfill capacities.

The Northern California Recycling Association (NCRA) is a non-profit organization with about 200 members, mostly throughout the Bay Area, representing a broad spectrum of the recycling community.  NCRA promotes waste reduction, reuse, salvaging, recycling, and composting as vital tools for resource and energy conservation, and as cost-effective, environmentally sound methods of disposing of discarded materials.  We support America Recycles Day, and have taken the online pledge and encourage others to take pledges likewise in solidarity.

In the short time remaining, consider whether your business and employees would be willing to also take pledges to help expand public awareness, underscore the importance of and the many benefits of recycling, and to recommit the role of your business.  You’ll find a link to the pledge and a partial listing of Bay Area ARD events at our web site

Whether or not your organization will support or participate in an ARD event this year, thanks for your ongoing efforts to help transform the public from the garbage as usual paradigm, more towards a zero waste mentality.  Thanks for sharing this with others.
Laura McKaughan, President
NCRA Board of Directors

ZWAC Minutes, September 2015


This meeting was held on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 at the offices of John Moore, 1970 Broadway, 9th floor, Oakland. Called for 6 p.m. Call-in number is 510/891-9800.

Present were Chair Boone and committee members Abbe, Brooms, Hoffman, Krueger, McKaughan, Moore, Wright and Yee; no call-ins. The meeting started at 6:07 p.m. Minutes of the August meeting were not discussed. Boone served as secretary.

NCRA POLICY ON ZERO WASTE: Abbe, presenting. There is currently a large conflict within the WR&R industry with many different ideas about what should be acceptable Zero Waste practices. NCRA has never formally adopted the ZW International policy statement and it was moved (Abbe), seconded (McKaughan), and voted (unanimous) that the NCRA board do so. Boone suggested that the NCRA board defer action until October as the NCRA News would not be able to include this matter in its September issue but, after some discussion, that idea was withdrawn.

PROPER MANAGEMNT OF CARTONS AND ASEPTICS: Abbe, presenting. She has been working in several different school districts in Alameda County and each has a different practice because its local public agency’s contract with Davis Street MRF varies so that some USDs teach kids that aseptics are not recyclable and others teach that they are. Tom Wright contributed a lot of detailed information about aseptics, the more advanced sorting machinery available in Southern California MRFs, etc. It was agreed that Wright will write up some background on this issue and suggest what can be done.

LOCAL CO-SPONSORS FOR THE ELLISON ZW BILL IN THE CONGRESS: Boone, presenting. Boone suggested that he write on behalf of NCRA to all Bay Area congresspersons suggesting that they co-sponsor the Ellison bill, agreed. Boone to execute.

TEXTILES AT CAL RECYCLES: Hoffman, presenting. At the CR public event in March, it was revealed that the agency has no detailed knowledge of the disposition of textiles (Hoffman says 85% go to landfill) and seems to have no plans to learn or do anything else. She asked that NCRA directors write CR on this matter; McKaughan reminded the ZWAC members that the 48 hour review period required of board actions would cause any such letter to miss the Friday at 5 p.m. deadline. Boone offered to write his own letter.

FORTUNE MAGAZINE ARTICLE ON CURBSIDE’S DIRE STRAIGHTS: Boone, presenting. It was widely agreed that the article’s heavy reliance on David Steiner’s mission (to shake more cash out of the local governments who pay his firm to run curbside programs) was transparent. Wright likes TOXIC SLUDGE IS GOOD FOR YOU, a book that details how big business twists the public’s perception of environmental issues. Kruger will draft a response of the NCRA board to the Fortune article and have it passed around for improvements and approvals.
FEEDBACK TO THE ASSEMBLY WASTE REDUCTION AND RECYCLING COMMITTEE: McKaughan, presenting. She was present on August 18th when Assemblyperson Gordon’s committee met in Sacramento to take testimony about how the future could be better than the past. Gary Liss was present and recommended that the state adopt a Zero Waste goal. After some discussion, it was agreed that McKaughan should draft a similar letter for NCRA to sign onto.

VIRTUE IN THE NEW OREGON WR&R LAW: Boone, presenting. He had heard that the new Oregon law relied heavily on life cycle assessments to determine work programs of which he had an instinctive distrust; Wright said he had discussed these issues with David Alloway (Oregon DEQ) on several occasions and found that the results of any such study were too much a function of what assumptions were made. No further action.

OUR OWN WORK ON OUTSTANDING BILLS. Brooms, presenting. NCRA did get its 199, 751, and 1052 letters in; Krueger thanked Brooms for seeing these letters out the door.

CLOSING UP: Boone indicated he is going back east in early October for two months or more;  Yee volunteered to be secretary.

Adjourned at 7:43 p.m.

Next meeting should be on October 14th; location TBD.

Respectfully submitted, Arthur R. Boone, Acting Secretary

ZWAC Minutes, July 2015


This meeting was held on Wednesday, July 8, 2015 at the offices of John Moore, 1970 Broadway, 9th floor, Oakland. Called for 6 p.m. Call-in number is 510/891-9800.

Present were Chair Boone and committee members Abbe, Connolly, Hoffman, Moore, and Russell; regrets from Brooms (South Lake Tahoe) and Yee (work). The meeting started at 6:12 p.m. Minutes of the June meeting were not discussed. Boone served as secretary.

LEGISLATION: Moore, presenting. Moore as NCRA counsel has drafted position letters on ABs 199, 888, and 1103 for Chair Boone to sign; letters will be held until next board meeting on July 16 to ratify. Each member had a copy of each letter and it was MSV to approve all three as drafted. AB 199 was “support with clarification/amendment;”AB 888 was “support,” and AB1103 was “oppose unless amended.” The most interesting discussion was on AB 1103 where Abbe clarified that the issue of grocery chains backhauling their own organics to central depots for composting could be questioned by this bill and food donations could be left to the mercy of the waste hauler if such language were to be adopted.

SUSTAINABLE RECYCLING CAMPAIGN [SRC], Abbe, presenting. The second prong of this campaign was the third/green cart for all Oakland multi-unit buildings (3500 structures); all buildings now have their carts and collections have begun. Under NCRA’s grant from the EAB, 20% are being served by using McKaughan and JJ Robinson accompanied by sorters from ILWU employed by local sorting firms to interface directly with tenants. Another 20% are being approached by Cascadia hired hands paid by WMX to speak to property managers. The June 20th kick-off in Oakland CD#5 went well for NCRA and the language tie between the sorters and the residents (mucho Espanol) was very positive. After some discussion, it was MSV that all ZWAC members and all NCRA board members should be asked to give one Saturday by the end of June to volunteer to do outreach in Oakland.

OTHER MULTI-UNITS: Jessica Connolly, presenting. She presented in general terms their work at Marin Sanitary Service in setting up four different groups of multi-unit residents and measuring response based on type and nature of their introduction to the program. Others mentioned Lily Kelly’s work reported at RU-20 and the Stopwaste commercial recycling outreach.

NCRA’S APPLICATION FOR STOPWASTE FUNDING ON FOOD WASTE REDUCTION: Abbe, presenting. The team of Moore, Blachman, and Abbe has asked Stopwaste for about $20,000 to more clearly understand the obstacles of food transfers from those holding unwanted foodstuffs to those wanting such materials; this is an outgrowth of our food waste conference last fall. No funding decision yet. Food Shift has completed a study for Santa Clara County on this issue that is now available in draft. Food Shift also has a contract now with Andronico’s to get their unsalable foodstuffs to not-for-profits.

SF GARBAGE TO SOLANO: Abbe, presenting. The City’s decision to grant a negative declaration on an EIR for the transfer of the city’s wasted resources disposal from Altamont to Hay Road/Solano County has now been appealed by an interested party and the SF Bay Chapter has voted to support that appear but not to join the appeal. The SF Group has taken no position. After some discussion, ZWAC decided not to take a position on this issue at this time.

CLOTHING COLLECTION BOXES IN HAYWARD: Alex Hofmann, presenting. After some delays, the city of Hayward has a newly-revised but not yet published draft ordinance on the rights of and controls over clothing collection box operators. Not all of the contents of the draft ordinance are yet public but some are difficult for her firm to accept. After some discussion, it was MSV that Boone would prepare a letter for board consideration on the 16th that would object to unnecessary features known of in the draft ordinance and would be received in Hayward before the draft ordinance is released. Abbe said the City Council had proven itself worthy under the SRC issues and should be entrusted with any benefit of the doubt.

Adjourned at 7:34 p.m.

Next meeting should be on August 12th; location TBD.

Respectfully submitted, Arthur R. Boone, Acting Secretary

Waste Management Admits Failure At Recycling

So Waste Management Admits Failure At Recycling, But Who’s Really To Blame?

A Critical Review of the Aaron Davis’ June 20 Washington Post Attack on Environmentalists and Real RecyclersAmerican Recycling Is Stalling And The Big Blue Bin Is One Reason Why
By Daniel Knapp, CEO of Urban Ore, Inc., a Materials Recovery Facility now celebrating its 35th year in Berkeley, California, 7/7/15
Forty-five years after the first Earth Day jump-started recycling, companies like mine, Urban Ore, are one big reason why publicly traded wasting companies like Waste Management are losing market share and profitability. Our secret: we’re small, we’re nimble, and we focus on handling the disposal functions by producing quality resources from the municipal discard supply. In short, we’re just the opposite of the flawed recycling systems that are bringing down giants like Waste Management, Inc. When last counted, in 2004, there were about 56,000 of us, chipping away at the big waste companies’ market share. Eleven years later, there are probably more of us, and we’ve grown.

Meanwhile, the wasting giants have made some big bad bets, then pursued them with bullheaded efficiency, egged on by their corporate boardrooms. Big money is the driver in these transactions, not recycling markets. They bet that throwing investor money at highly automated but extremely dirty collection and sorting systems would best allow them to pursue their dreams of market domination. It worked for a while, but now we’re told it wasn’t sustainable. Aaron Davis of the Washington Post reports that at the highest levels of Waste Management, they appear to be giving up. He likes to reduce their key technology to “the big blue box,” but more experienced people know it as “single-stream.”

Single-stream’s essence is to combine all residential recyclables, mix them thoroughly, then try to separate them using automated systems developed for simpler feedstocks by the mining industry. Single-stream is notorious among real recyclers and perceptive environmentalists alike, many of whom not only saw through the industrial strategy from the first, but correctly forecast the outcomes now coming to pass.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Aaron Davis blames environmentalists in general, and California environmentalists in particular, for Waste Management’s failures to make single-stream recycling profitable. He appears to have gotten most of his ideas from the Waste Management people he interviewed. But he didn’t talk to the competition at all, so what did he expect to hear but the backpedaling and evasiveness that he got? And why did the editorial staff of The Washington Post let him get this misinformation and disinformation into print?

The following quotes about single-stream’s failures show that Mr. Davis was wrong to blame environmentalists for the collapse of Waste Management’s recycling businesses. I’m indebted to environmentalist Lynne Pledger of Massachusetts Clean Water Action for most of these quotes, which she put out four years ago, in 2011 in a paper entitled
Concerns With Single Stream Recycling Collection (pdf).

Also, all bolds are mine. If you want to get to the gist of this refutation, read only the boldface in what follows.

Since Mr. Davis singles out California in his hit piece, let’s start with California environmentalist and recycling activist Portia Sinnott. She’s currently Editor of the monthly newsletter of the Northern California Recycling Association. She has been a NCRA Director for decades and served as its President for several years. More recently she has presided over a series of meetings called The Zero Waste Brain Trust that drew working recyclers from all over the state. One big takeaway from these meetings, Portia said two years ago, was that “…a growing number of waste professionals think the current design of MRFs — Material Recovery Facilities — are creating more garbage rather than less.”

The critique of single-stream goes back many years. As early as 2002, St. Paul, Minnesota’s Eureka Recycling study of competing collection and processing methods said that single-stream systems, “with high residual rates, expensive processing, and the lower quality in materials, …presents concerns…. The cost advantages and efficiencies of single-stream…disappear the more closely one looks at the later stages of the recycling process.” This was printed thirteen years ago in Resource Recycling, November 2002, one of several magazines that cover the recycling industry.

Just two weeks ago, Tim Brownell and Bryan Ukena, the current co-managers of Eureka Recycling, posted the following response to Mr. Davis’ thesis that waste companies are not to blame for their failed systems: How dare WMI, Republic (formerly BFI) and the other largest garbage/landfilling companies in North America play victim to Single Stream recycling (?) Almost 15 years ago they began the steady march away from collecting recycling in separated streams, which allowed for the highest value and most environmental benefit from the materials. They claimed Single Stream systems were the future to recovering the most materials and to being the most efficient and environmentally effective programs possible for communities all across the country. It also happened to work well in their compacting garbage trucks. In Minnesota, due to these companies’ “vision” and influence, over 80% of all materials are now collected and processed in this manner. And NOW they have the gall to say the system is broken. ‘Not enough Profits’ is their mantra.” “Looking back 15 years ago we heard a very similar story from the multinational garbage companies as they purchased all of the local recycling companies, stating that recycling wasn’t working, and that they needed to raise fees for services by 40%.”

The big waste companies’ preference for single-stream undercut the finances of the companies that use recycled feedstocks. Clarissa Morawski wrote an influential report on single-stream for the Container Recycling Institute in 2009 that concluded “...the cost savings for a municipality from single-stream collection show up as cost increases for the processors and remanufacturers. The contaminants are thrown away by the paper mills. So, an item such as a plastic bottle that was recyclable when it was placed at the curb becomes trash by the time it is sorted out as a contaminant by the paper mill.”

In the same vein, Sacia and Simmons, writing in the TAPPI Journal, stated that “…Increased equipment wear, due primarily to glass and other abrasive contaminants, has increased maintenance costs (for paper makers) more than 300%. Pulper rejects, which are landfilled and consist primarily of plastics, tin, glass, and aluminum, have increased 800%. Other fiber-related costs have increased by 740%.”

These are business-busting numbers, and they came out nine years ago. But Waste Management and the other big wasting companies went ahead with single-stream anyway. Ideology triumphed over practicality.

What’s a self-respecting government to do? The Department of Ecology (pdf) of the State of Washington recommended in 2010 that local governments “switch the focus from collection to recovery…. Diverting materials from the garbage can to the point of collection when those materials end up disposed at a processor or remanufacturer…is not recycling or diversion,” they said. Many other governments agreed.

Manufacturers complained, too. In 2011, the Environmental Paper Network (pdf) asked its member companies to devote more time and energy to “…resolving the challenges created by single-stream collection programs that drive up the cost of recovered paper fiber and increase contamination.

That same year, Lynne Pledger of Massachusetts Clean Water Action (pdf) wrote that single-stream was distorting markets worldwide. “Paper collected in a single-stream system is marketed to low-value uses like paperboard, much of which goes to overseas mills, rather than high-quality uses like fine printing and writing paper. This is having an adverse effect on domestic (paper) mills…and making it harder for those who want to purchase recycled paper to find it. (Also), …the container stream is contaminated with paper…. Overseas markets will accept contaminated material more readily than domestic markets, so that when world markets are robust there is less concern in the US about high-quality recyclables. But when markets go down which happens cyclically, it is the cleanest materials that find a home. Single-stream materials are excluded or marketed at a significant loss.

Single-stream is only one of several wasting industry technologies now causing trouble for big waste companies’ sunk assets. In 2010, I wrote in a piece for the newsletter of the Northern California Recycling Association (NCRA) about…a sad list of waste company versions of “recycling” such as garbage composting, dirty MRFing, single-stream collection, and Alternative Daily Cover, or ADC, that systematically waste materials that could easily be conserved and used. From an operations perspective, they all look like greenwashing to my jaundiced but experienced eye. Garbage in, garbage out.”

NCRA is on the worldwide web, along with several other big recycling-related NGOs such as the Berkeley Ecology Center and Eureka Recycling. Mr. Davis could have found a veritable symphony of these kinds of statements among real, feet on the ground recyclers had he bothered to look. But he didn’t, instead only quoting Patty Moore, a respected California consultant (and long-time NCRA member) closely associated with the plastics industry. Why would only Patty Moore get to stand in for tens of thousands of recyclers and environmentalists?

Maybe because plastics are so hard to recycle effectively. In their July 2015 newsletter, The Container Recycling Institute reproduced an interesting article from the Winona, Minnesota Daily News about a study being done there by longtime recycling and environmental activist Ann Morse. The study was designed to find out just what people are mistakenly putting into the big blue bins in that rural county. More than 200 large samples were collected, their contents sorted and weighed. It turns out that the biggest Blue Bin contaminant by weight (and certainly by volume as well) is….unrecyclable plastics! Here’s the quote: “Nonrecyclable plastic was by far the largest contributor to the garbage bin, which slowly filled with things like pencil cases, plastic cups, chip bags, newspaper bags and grocery bags. While some bags are made of recyclable plastic, ordinary recycling facilities can’t handle them, Morse explained, so they should only be recycled in special collection areas in stores. Whenever recyclables are placed in a plastic bag, the whole bag is discarded as waste, which defeats the purpose of recycling in the first place. Paper bags, on the other hand, can be recycled along with their recyclable contents.

So I would say Waste Management has itself, and to some extent the plastics industry, to blame for its recycling failures. Not consumers. Not environmentalists. Not working recyclers. Just them.

For residents of Washington DC, I’d say you’re getting half-truths at best from your beloved local newspaper, at least when it comes to recycling.

For those of us working to make that Zero Waste future happen – no burn, no bury, WMI’s failure is clearly an opportunity. That’s because we perform the same task of legal disposal for unwanted goods, but we do it better and more profitably because we focus on quality production from start to finish.

We don’t like to mix unlikes. We like order better than disorder when it comes to materials handling. We think that system designs that degrade materials unnecessarily should be replaced by systems designed by people who understand how to use source separation to produce high quality resources and jobs.

This transition to a true Zero Waste future is job #1 for the new millennium, in my opinion.

Join NCRA & Oakland Recycles Saturday, 11/21!




The Northern California Recycling Association (NCRA) is going door-to-door in Oakland to promote recycling and composting among Oakland multi-family residents and we need your help! Are you available to help us get the word out on November 21?

In partnership with Oakland Recycles, recycling workers from recycling workers ILWU Union Local #6, and the Alameda Sustainable Recycling campaign, NCRA will visit apartment-dwellers in Oakland to let them know more about changes to their waste collection services that became effective July 1st.  The goal of this outreach is to assist the city of Oakland in reaching Zero Waste by promoting the benefits of composting and recycling. We also hope to develop community pride, increase awareness about the new curbside compost collection program, and clarify questions about what is accepted in the recycling and compost bins.

Volunteers should be prepared to walk up and downstairs and will likely walk 1 mile or more over the course of the day. Hats, sunscreen and water are recommended. Light refreshments in the morning and lunch will be provided as well as all other outreach materials. If planning to attend, please RSVP to the email address below. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Date: Saturday, Nov 21st

When: 9am-10am volunteer training, 10am-1pm door-to-door outreach, 1pm-2pm lunch and debrief

Location: ILWU Local 6 Hall 99 Hegenberger Rd, Oakland, CA 94621

Organized by: Northern California Recycling Association

Please RSVP if you can join: 510-320-3140 or EMAIL US