Comments on StopWaste Guiding Principles and Recycling Plan

By David Krueger, NCRA President, 11/23/30

Thank you and StopWaste for the opportunity to provide input as you update your Guiding Principles and Recycling Plan. In general, your draft Principles and Plan align with NCRA’s mission to End Waste, our vision of a sustainable circular economy, and our goal to stop landfilling and incineration. NCRA appreciates the work that StopWaste has done in the past, and our primary comment for StopWaste is to “stay the course” and continue to implement and build upon your existing successful programs. Bringing about systemic change and transforming social norms is a slow, long-term process that requires consistent and repeated messaging and action.

Guiding Principles

NCRA is in alignment with StopWaste’s current (2018) guiding principles and the considerations for updating them that StopWaste presented at the October 15, 2020 NCRA Board Meeting: Systemic Change, Social and Racial Equity, Collaborative Partnerships, Regenerative Economy, Social Norms, Health Indicators. We strongly support your inclusion of Social and Racial Equity as a consideration. We encourage StopWaste to adopt guiding principles that look beyond a narrow “landfill diversion at any cost” framework and take into account the broader impacts of diversion efforts on communities, workers, health, climate change, and the protection of soil, water, and air quality.

Landfill Obsolescence

NCRA strongly supports StopWaste adopting a goal of landfill obsolescence by 2045. This is in complete alignment with NCRA’s mission and vision. It is a very clear and understandable goal. As noted above, this goal must be achieved in accordance with guiding principles that ensure that our efforts to achieve landfill obsolescence do not inadvertently negatively affect our communities, workers, climate, air, water, or soil.

We also recognize that this is a very audacious goal given that the previous goal of 75% diversion was not achieved. StopWaste needs to be prepared to answer questions from the public about how landfill obsolescence is achievable when 75% diversion was not. Other questions that StopWaste needs to address are: How much will it cost to achieve this goal, and how will StopWaste monitor progress towards this goal? NCRA would add that obsolete landfills can be “recycled” into locations for buy-back centers, re-use stores, resource recovery parks, composting facilities, recycling facilities, recycled content manufacturers, etc.

Stay the Course: Continue to Support Collection, Processing, and Public Education

NCRA is concerned that StopWaste may be planning to shift limited resources to new, desirable programs while prematurely discontinuing necessary existing programs that have not yet achieved their goals or full potential. One example is that StopWaste discontinued the program which provided no-cost indoor containers to businesses. That program was effective at encouraging businesses to source separate and will be even more needed as SB 1383 is implemented.

StopWaste’s draft Recycling Plan states, “both the data and the experiences of Alameda County jurisdictions and service providers suggest that the county is reaching the limits of an approach that relies on post-consumption collection and processing.” NCRA respectfully disagrees. While we wholeheartedly support waste prevention and “upstream solutions” and agree that they are preferable to “downstream” solutions, there is still much work to be done to optimize collection and processing.   Contamination of collected recyclables is still at 25% – 35%.   An estimated 50% of Alameda County residents don’t recycle their food scraps. Source separation is neither universally available nor understood. The public still doesn’t know how to sort properly. Significant public education, technical assistance, and enforcement efforts are still needed to ensure correct source separation and to bring about the needed change in social norms. StopWaste has successfully led these efforts in the past, and should continue to do so. Both “upstream” and “downstream” programs will be required to achieve landfill obsolescence, and StopWaste should not abandon the existing “downstream” solutions as it works to implement new “upstream” ones.

Promoting Reusables / Banning Disposables

One “upstream” solution that NCRA recommends StopWaste include in their Recycling Plan is promoting reusable foodware / banning disposable foodware. NCRA supports StopWaste creating a countywide ordinance which features funding for reusable foodware and support for enforcement. Similar to how StopWaste has successfully implemented and enforced other countywide ordinances and bans. While NCRA applauds the creativity and leadership of the individual jurisdictions who have implemented innovative, groundbreaking local resuable foodware ordinances, a unified countywide approach will be easier for the public and food vendors to understand and for hesitant jurisdictions to adopt.

SB 1383 Compliance

SB 1383 is the greatest challenge facing Alameda County jurisdictions since AB 939. StopWaste should continue and expand its efforts to support Member Agencies in achieving SB 1383 compliance. SB 1383 compliance should be a significant part of any Recycling Plan for 2021 and beyond. StopWaste has greater financial resources and staffing than most Member Agencies and is in a unique position to lead SB 1383 compliance efforts in the County. Many of the requirements of SB 1383 are most efficiently and effectively implemented on a countywide level. Examples of how StopWaste could lead SB 1383 compliance efforts include:

  • Inspection and Enforcement.
    StopWaste should expand its MRO inspection and enforcement activities to cover all related SB 1383 requirements.
  • Edible Food Recovery.
    Identifying edible food generators and food rescue organizations, connecting them to one another, and educating generators are all best done on a countywide basis. Food rescue organizations do not recognize jurisdictional boundaries.
  • Procurement
    StopWaste should coordinate the procurement of compost, mulch, renewable gas, biomass-derived electricity, and recycled content paper products by Member Agencies. StopWaste could consider organizing a purchasing co-op for some or all of these products.
  • Public Education.
    StopWaste should continue and expand its public education and technical assistance programs in support of SB 1383.
  • Regional Composting Capacity
    StopWaste should continue efforts to ensure sufficient composting/anaerobic digestion capacity for organics recovered in the County.

If there is insufficient funding for such efforts, StopWaste could consider asking Member Agencies if they would be willing to forgo a portion of their Measure D funding so that StopWaste could more cost-effectively implement these SB 1383 requirements on their behalf.

Thank you for soliciting and considering our comments. Please contact me if you would like to discuss them further.

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Win!!! Loving Reusables in the Time of COVID

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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Loving Reusables in the Time of COVID

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.

Relaxed Restrictions
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?

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.

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,

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,

Christopher Farnitano, MD, Health Officer (NCRA LETTER)
Contra Costa County Health Services
50 Douglas Drive, Suite 310-A, Martinez, CA 94553
925 957-2679,

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,;

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,

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,;

Sara H. Cody, MD, Health Officer (NCRA LETTER)
Santa Clara County Public Health Department
976 Lenzen Avenue, 2nd Floor, San Jose, CA 95126
408 792-3798,

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,

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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Request To Not Support the Boone/Stein O-MRF/MxWP Lawsuit

By David Krueger, NCRA President, 6/14/19

The views expressed in this article are solely Mr. Krueger’s and do not represent a formal NCRA position. Mr. Krueger has over 25 years of experience in the recycling industry.

Waste Management of Alameda County (WMAC) is currently constructing a mixed waste processing facility and an indoor aerobic composting facility at the Davis St. Transfer Station in San Leandro. WMAC’s franchise agreement with the City of Oakland requires them to process all mixed waste collected from multi-family dwellings in the City. Oakland also requires all multi-family dwellings to provide source separated recycling and organics services to their tenants. Multi-family dwellings in Oakland are not allowed to “opt out” of having green cart organics service. Oakland participates in Alameda County’s Mandatory Recycling Ordinance.

The new mixed waste processing facility (Organic Materials Recovery Facility, or “O-MRF”) is designed to recover compostable and recyclable materials from Oakland’s garbage that were not recovered through source separation. Oakland residents and businesses will still source separate their discards into three streams (recycle, compost, garbage) and the contents of the garbage containers will be sorted at the O-MRF to recover any organics and recyclables that were improperly placed in the garbage by the generators.

The indoor aerobic composting facility is designed to compost source separated organics from commercial businesses and multi-family dwellings in Oakland and other WMAC cities, as well as organic materials recovered from Oakland’s garbage at the O-MRF. Organics from Oakland’s single-family homes (which consist primarily of yard trimmings) will continue to be transferred through Davis St. to WMAC’s outdoor aerated static pile composting facility at the Altamont Landfill outside of Livermore.

In another article, Arthur Boone encourages NCRA members and the NCRA Board to support he and Toni Stein’s lawsuit against the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (Stopwaste) and WMAC which attempts to require a new EIR for the O-MRF project and, presumably to ultimately stop the construction of the O-MRF and adjacent indoor aerobic composting facility. I respectfully disagree. Mr. Boone lists ten concerns about the facility. I will attempt to address some of his concerns and to explain why I do not support the lawsuit.

  1. Participation Impacts Issue / Source Separation. Note that the purpose of the O-MRF is to supplement source separation, not to replace it. It is designed to be a “safety net” to catch good stuff that falls through the source separation system and keep it from landing in the landfill. That is how will be used per Oakland’s franchise agreement, and that is how WMAC has marketed the facility to other local jurisdictions. The mixed waste processing will be in addition to three stream source separation by all sectors (single-family, multi-family, commercial) not instead of source separation. Mr. Boone raises a valid concern that some customers may have less incentive to source separate if they know that their garbage will be sorted after collection. However, this participation impact will be dependent upon how the City of Oakland and WMAC educate their customers about the facility and source separation, the financial incentives for source separation in Oakland’s rate structure, and how effectively Stopwaste enforces the mandatory recycling ordinance. If done properly, there should be a minimal impact on source separation. As an example, the Sunnyvale SMaRT station has operated a mixed waste processing facility for over a decade. The cities which use the SMaRT Station (Sunnyvale, Mt. View, Palo Alto) have exemplary source separation programs.
  2. Waste Diversion. While source separation is the best diversion method, anyone involved in the recycling industry knows that we are not yet to the point where everyone source separates perfectly. There is still way too much “good stuff” going into the garbage. The O-MRF is an attempt to capture that good stuff so that it is not landfilled. I think that is commendable. It is analogous to the standard operating procedure for recycling and composting at festivals and public events:  Source separation stations are provided to the public, but a team of event recyclers still has to sort through the “source separated” material after collection to correct errors by the public. This is a low-tech version of the O-MRF and preferable to landfilling the improperly source separated materials. While we must always strive for the top of the discards management hierarchy, we should employ all the other levels of the hierarchy as well. Waste prevention is better than recycling, but we should still recycle what isn’t prevented. Source separation is better than mixed waste processing, but we should still process mixed waste to recover what wasn’t source separated. The alternative is sending more material to the landfill. The end result of any lawsuit which prevents the O-MRF from operating will be more material being sent to landfill.
  3. SB 1383 Compliance. The current draft of the SB 1383 regulations requires all generators to separate their discards into three streams. Oakland will require all generators to separate their discards into three streams, therefore Oakland will be in compliance with SB 1383. The draft SB 1383 regulations also allow jurisdictions to comply by using mixed waste processing instead of source separation (a “one-bin” “Dirty MRF” system), provided that the mixed waste processing facility meets a very high rate of recovery. However, Oakland’s system will use mixed waste processing in addition to source separation, so the O-MRF will not have to meet the stringent recovery requirement. Oakland will be in compliance by virtue of implementing three-stream collection. The additional recovery from sending the garbage stream to the O-MRF will be above and beyond SB 1383 compliance.
  4. Site GHG Issue / Aerobic vs. Anaerobic. Boone inaccurately states that the Davis St. composting facility adjacent to the O-MRF, which will compost organics from the O-MRF, will be an anaerobic digester. That is not the case. It will be an aerobic system which uses forced air and mechanical turning to provide oxygen to the materials during composting. It is not designed to create methane. The aerobic composting facility will be completely enclosed a building. Air from inside the building will be treated in a biofilter before being released outside. During the first stage of composting the material will be enclosed in rotating drums in addition to being indoors, further mitigating odors and emissions. Such a facility should produce fewer GHG emissions than the standard outdoor composting facility. The permit for Davis St. provides for three facilities: The O-MRF, the indoor aerobic composting facility, and an anaerobic digester. The O-MRF and the indoor aerobic composting facility are currently under construction and nearly complete. The anaerobic digester is permitted but is not under construction. It may never be constructed. It is not required by WMAC’s franchise agreement with Oakland. It was permitted to provide WMAC with future options for organics recovery.
  5. Impact on Stopwaste. Stopwaste and NCRA share the same mission. Stopwaste is an innovative, effective Zero Waste organization. Most Stopwaste employees are NCRA members. I don’t believe that NCRA should support a lawsuit against Stopwaste except in very extreme circumstances. I don’t believe that this situation qualifies. Stopwaste’s role in approving the O-MRF was very minor. Stopwaste does not directly permit the O-MRF. Other agencies directly issued permits related to the O-MRF, but they are not being sued. This lawsuit has cost Stopwaste staff time and money which could have been better used implementing Zero Waste programs.
  6. Impact on WMAC. Some of the things said above about Stopwaste also apply to WMAC and specifically to the Davis St. Transfer station, which provides valuable recycling and Zero Waste education services to the region. NCRA famously sued WMAC over expansion of the Altamont Landfill, and is rightfully proud of the results. However, the O-MRF project is not a landfill expansion. It is the opposite. It is a recycling and composting facility designed specifically to divert discards away from the landfill. Northern California needs more composting capacity – especially for organics from commercial businesses and multi-family dwellings – and the indoor aerobic composting facility being constructed adjacent to the O-MRF will help to provide some of that capacity. Suing WMAC over this project sends Waste Management the wrong message. It is punishing them for doing the right thing. WMAC staff literally spent decades convincing Waste Management corporate headquarters to invest millions of dollars at Davis St. to increase sorting and composting capacity to meet the local demand for waste diversion. Waste Management could have invested that capital in a landfill elsewhere, but they chose to invest in diversion in Northern California. I think that type of investment should be encouraged, not discouraged.
  7. Why Single Out This Facility for Opposition? As previously noted, the Sunnyvale SMaRT Station has been processing mixed waste for over a decade. It also sends organics recovered from mixed waste to the Z-Best composting facility in Gilroy. There are other established mixed waste processing facilities in the Bay Area, and more in the pilot or permitting stages. To me, it seems that the O-MRF project – and WMAC, Stopwaste, and the City of Oakland – are being unfairly targeted by this lawsuit. Why stridently oppose this mixed waste processing facility and not others?

I believe that NCRA should support the development of more recycling and composting facilities in Northern California and be skeptical of the NIMBY movements that oppose them. I believe that NCRA should support good faith efforts to achieve Zero Waste, and should encourage experimentation and innovation by different cities and business who are working towards our shared goal. There is more than one road to Zero Waste.

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Let’s All Commit To Plastic Free July Now

By David Krueger, NCRA President

Recyclers and Zero Wasters are perfect conduits for Plastic Free July! Already familiar with the issues, it will be easy to use our social media platforms to pump out this important message!

So, please plan some level of action now – as individuals, businesses, agencies or whatever works for you, so that we are all prepared to blast it out starting in early June. Be sure to find out what is happening locally first!

The Plastic Free Foundation is a not-for-profit which delivers the annual challenge and works on solutions with communities around the world. They have grown from a handful of participants in Western Australia in 2011 to millions across more than 170 countries today.

Their Plastic Free July Campaign has many wonderful, editable resources including the Grocer Poster –  at right, stating “We’re now longer offering plastic shopping bags and the Action Picker – My Challenge Choices, below. Also, check out these case studies:

My Plastic-free Life Blog and Book
Occasional NCRA collaborator, Author Beth Terry is a Parade Magazine 2019 Earth Day Hero. After many years in the Bay Area, Beth recently moved back to Maryland.

In Our Hands Campaign 
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and 21+ members including the Sacramento Zoo and Monterey Bay Aquarium have pledged a long-term commitment to phase out plastics and provide alternatives including Plastic Free July activities.

Join Existing Local Campaigns
For example, the City of Antioch joined the Sustainable Contra Costa County Network Plastic Free July Challenge and promoted it through their channels including NextDoor.

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