By Nik Balachandran, Founder and CEO, Zabble Inc.
None of us expected the world to dramatically change within a span of a few months. Businesses, governments and people all have had to adjust to the new normal in different ways. The solid waste and recycling industry has seen its own share of changes. We have seen temporary policy changes, relaxing bag bans in grocery stores, a shift in waste volumes in commercial and residential settings and the introduction of new types of waste like PPE.
At first glance, it may seem that the amount of waste has gone down as businesses shut down during the first few months as cities and counties instituted shelter-in-place regulations. Only essential workers were allowed to continue to work at physical workplaces and the rest working from home. Commercial waste volumes did drop by up to 40% in many counties while residential and multi-family volumes increased to make up for it with more online orders.
The interesting thing to ask, perhaps, is what the per capita waste generation looks like pre-COVID and now. While the current numbers are not readily available we can look at pre-covid data. According to EPA, the average waste generated per capita in the US every day is 4.5 lbs, out of which only 35% is recycled or composted. The rest ends up in incinerators and landfills. Forty-four percent of this waste stream is made up of paper/paperboard, organics and plastics. It was pretty apparent that 5.6 million commercial buildings generated more waste annually than 136 million residential properties.
Our singular focus at Zabble is to help these organizations that operated out of commercial buildings to achieve Zero Waste. So in 2018 we developed a software paradigm to track programs that incrementally made progress (amount of waste reduction, decreased landfill waste and contamination in all streams) toward Zero Waste, because Zero Waste is as much a journey as it is a destination. We have been working with some of the largest educational institutions and corporations in helping them track and adjust their Zero Waste programs. That is, until Covid changed the landscape of waste.
Reusable and second-hand sharing practices have come to a standstill. Online shopping has almost doubled leading to increased cardboard boxes. More take-out food orders have substantially increased delivery in food containers and plastic bags. PPE litter has become the latest nuisance to plague the environment. More than 200 million masks and 1 billion gloves were ordered to be shipped by FEMA alone by June 2020. Hospitals are seeing a dramatic increase in PPE usage and disposal. “Before the pandemic, the 23 Northwell Health hospitals in New York used about 250,000 pairs of gloves a day; now, it’s 500,000 pairs”, says Chief Expense Officer Donna Drummond. One study by the American Nurses Association found that “43% of waste produced by infectious isolation procedures was attributed to personal protective equipment (PPE)”
There is a massive uptick in single-use disposables fueled by the false claim that disposables are safer than reusable options. This myth was debunked by a group of 100 experts comprising scientists, doctors, professors and epidemiologists.
So where is all this heading?
It is safe to assume the per capita generation of waste is higher now than pre-COVID. As businesses reopen the primary focus is the health and safety of its staff and customers. However, it is also a time to reflect on the new waste footprint.
- To keep daily operations, supply chains and waste infrastructure resilient organizations must track the amount of waste, type and origin within their buildings or facilities.
- Track unused supplies in the waste stream to excess purchasing habits and contamination to improper disposing of items (like PPE) in the right bins.
- Use reusable options where available.
- Constant communication with the right messaging can boost staff morale and lead to a cleaner and safer environment.
By being aware and conscious of our habits in the present, we can create a new normal that is better than the past.
For more information on Zabble, visit www.zabbleinc.com.
By David Krueger, NCRA President, 7/13/20
Editor’s Note: This is an update of the June 9 article – Loving Reusables in the Time of COVID, in which NCRA recommended counties be encouraged to revise their SIP Orders to allow reusables with some restrictions, provided the customers and the store follow Cal-OSHA guidelines (pdf),
On March 16, 2020 Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo Counties, plus the City and County of San Francisco and the City of Berkeley issued identical Shelter-in-Place Orders. (APNews, 3/16/20) On March 31, these jurisdictions issued identical updated Orders which banned reusables in retail establishments. These Orders all contained the same language on reusables, found in Appendix A of each Order: Social Distancing Protocol, Measures to Prevent Unnecessary Contact, which is a checklist for businesses to follow and directed to post:
Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.
This language was then adopted by other jurisdictions including Napa and Sonoma Counties.
In response, on June 10 NCRA emailed custom letters to more 10 Northern California health officials, asking them to change their Orders to allow reusables again. and encouraging them to use the language from the Mendocino County Order:
Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home that must be handled by employees. Customers bringing their own reusable items that do not require handling by employees is permissible.
To date, Alameda County and Contra Costa County have adopted the Mendocino language allowing reusables, as requested by NCRA.
The City of Berkeley’s Order (which supersedes Alameda County’s) states that “Customers are permitted to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home, but they must not place them on any surfaces” making it difficult to use the items as “surfaces” includes shopping carts.
Santa Clara County’s Order stills says “Do not allow customers to use their own cups or other reusable food containers from home for takeaway”, but allows customers to use their own shopping bags as long as businesses “Require customers using reusable bags from home to bag their own groceries”. On July 1, Napa County adopted the Santa Clara language regarding reusable bags in response to letters from NCRA.
The City and County of San Francisco has stated that they will be revising their Order on July 13 to allow reusable bags “… provided customers follow specified measures to bag their own items and ensure reusable bags do not touch employees or check-out conveyors”. Santa Cruz County’s Health Officer, Dr. Gail Newel, responded to the NCRA letter that “I am fully supportive and nothing in our local orders or guidance prohibits such practices.”
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ZERO WASTE DECLARATION
Zero Waste International Alliance, 2020
The first Earth Day was 50 years ago. Recycling, its natural industrial child, was envisioned to complete the resource circle, save the wilderness, generate jobs, and build the back end of the GNP all at once.
Now, in 2020, we are ready to establish a collective goal of:
“Zero Waste: the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” ZWIA, updated 2018
This Zero Waste World can be founded on environmental and social justice principles that help create vibrant communities in harmony with nature:
Redesign: Manufacturers can redesign products for highest and best use focusing in on reuse, repair and composting with recycling as a final option.
Ban Wasteful Products: We can ban products that require wasting to compel redesign for durability, repair, composting and recycling.
Source Separation: We could collect all discarded materials and products separated at the source and further sort them into higher quality fractions for reuse, recycling, or composting, with nothing left out and nothing left over.
Resource Recovery Parks: We can build a new worldwide network of resource recovery parks to handle all discards as refined resources.
Advocate: Use our power as advocates and professionals to show what is possible and help policymakers avoid mistakes in meeting the goals that we help them envision.
To achieve a worldwide culture that sustains the planet in perpetuity we stand together!
To sign-on to this declaration, please …
By David Krueger, NCRA President, 6/9/20
Editors note: Most, but not all of these links are downloadable pdfs.
There has been a lot of confusion lately about whether or not stores and restaurants are allowed to let customers bring their own shopping bags, mugs, or other reusable items. While the State does not prohibit reusables, local jurisdictions are allowed to have COVID-19 regulations that are stricter than the State’s. (Packaging Law, 4/22/20)
On March 16, 2020 Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo Counties, plus the City and County of San Francisco and the City of Berkeley issued identical Shelter-in-Place Orders. (APNews, 3/16/20) These Orders all contained the same language on reusables, found in Appendix A: Social Distancing Protocol, Measures to Prevent Unnecessary Contact, which is a checklist for businesses to follow. The specific language was: __ Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.
The Shelter-In-Place Orders have been changing rapidly since March, and the Bay Area jurisdictions listed above no longer have identical Orders.
Alameda County, (Page 6) and the City of Berkeley, (Page 7) now state: “Customers are permitted to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home, but they must not place them on any surfaces.” Stopwaste is seeking clarification from Alameda County and the City of Berkeley regarding the definition of “surfaces” before educating the public about this new Order.
Santa Clara County (Page 4) still says “Do not allow customers to use their own cups or other reusable food containers from home for takeaway”, but allows customers to use their own shopping bags as long as businesses “Require customers using reusable bags from home to bag their own groceries”.
Still Prohibiting Reusables
Contra Costa County, (Page 2)
Marin County, (Page 6)
Napa County, (Page 2)
San Francisco, (Page 2)
San Mateo County, (Page 2)
Santa Cruz County, (Page 2)
Solano County – TBD
Sonoma County, (Page 3)
NCRA Recommendations and Suggested Actions
NCRA and Californians Against Waste recommend using Mendocino County’s (Attachment A, Page 24) language regarding reusables: “Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home that must be handled by employees. Customers bringing their own reusable items that do not require handling by employees is permissible.”
We also recommend that customers be allowed to bring their own reusable shopping bags as long as the customers and the store follow the Cal-OSHA guidelines for the safe use of reusable bags (pdf):
- Bags are not placed on conveyor belts or any other area outside of shopping carts.
- Bags make no contact with employees.
- Customers bag their own groceries.
- Customers do not bag groceries in the checkout area if they cannot maintain physical distancing. Groceries can be placed in a cart and bagged elsewhere by the customer.
- Increase the frequency of disinfection in bagging areas used by customers.
On April 21, 2020 NCRA sent letters to six of the prohibiting jurisdictions listed above encouraging them to allow reusables. On April 27, 2020, NCRA signed on to the attached letter organized by Upstream Solutions. On June 10, we sent eight letters encouraging the receiptant jurisdiction revise their order as per Mendocino County’s (Attachment A, Page 24) . (See each (NCRA LETTER) in Health Officer List below.
What Can You Do?
1. SHOP WITH REUSABLES
When reusables are “legal” again, shop at establishments that allow them and encourage others to follow. Note that some stores and restaurants may still choose to prohibit reusables even if they are not required to.
Here is bagging advice from Zero Waste Sonoma: However, you can still use reusable bags; just leave them in your vehicle, or if you don’t drive to the store, keep them in a backpack or handbag, and ask the bagger to place groceries directly into the cart at checkout. When you exit the store, transfer items from the cart into your bags. As an extra precaution, wash your bags between uses.
2. WRITE YOUR HEALTH OFFICER
Please write your local health officials to allow reusables again. Encourage them to adopt the Mendocino County Attachment A language. “Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home that must be handled by employees. Customers bringing their own reusable items that do not require handling by employees is permissible.” (See each (NCRA LETTER) in Health Officer List below.
Bay Area Health Officials and Sample Letters
Dr. Erica Pan, Interim Health Officer (NCRA LETTER)
Alameda County Public Health Department
1000 Broadway Suite 500, Oakland, CA 94607
510 267-3200, Erica.Pan@acgov.org
Lisa B. Hernandez, MD, MPH, Health Officer (NCRA LETTER)
City of Berkeley, Health Housing, and Community Services
1947 Center Street, 2nd Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
510 981-5308, Fax: 510 981 5395, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Willis, MD, KPH, Public Health Officer and Benita McLarin, Director (NCRA LETTER)
Marin County Health and Human Services
3240 Kerner Boulevard, San Rafael, CA 94903
415 473-4163, email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Tomás J. Aragón, MD, DrPH, Health Officer (NCRA LETTER)
San Francisco City and County Department of Public Health
101 Grove Street, Room 308, San Francisco, CA 94102
415 554-2710, email@example.com
Scott Morrow, MD, MPH, Health Officer and Cassius Lockett, Director (SAMPLE LETTER)
San Mateo County Public Health Department (NCRA LETTER)
225 37th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403
650 573-2519, firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Gail Newel MD, Health Officer (NCRA LETTER)
County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency
Post Office Box 962, 1080 Emeline Ave., Santa Cruz, CA 95061-0962
831 454-4000, Fax: 831 454-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Sundari Mase, Interim Health Officer (NCRA LETTER I/P)
Sonoma County Department of Health Services
1450 Neotomas Avenue, Suite 200
Santa Rosa, CA 95405
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