Eye on the Environment

Eye on the Environment

Changing the way we see and manage resources

By David Goldstein 07/25/2013

What is in a word?
 Some recycling advocates hate the word “waste.” They might tolerate the word if its use is limited to the verb form, meaning “to use, consume, or expend thoughtlessly …” (American Heritage Dictionary), but don’t tell them the cart in front of your house is full of “waste.” Instead, your discards are “resources,” and any effort to manage these potential commodities should focus on recovery.

Following this line of thought, a few years ago the California Integrated Waste Management Board was abolished and its programs transferred to the new California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Similarly, the city of Oxnard’s Solid Waste Division became the Environmental Resources Division.

While this linguistic shift may be useful for changing the way we all think about the materials we throw away, it can sometimes confuse the public. Anyone walking into the Ventura County Government Center for an issue related to garbage wants to quickly identify where to go. Consequently, the public agency I work for is called the Ventura County Integrated Waste Management Division.

Nevertheless, when people come into the office to submit recycling plans needed for approval of construction or demolition permits, these plans must be completed on a form listing items such as cardboard, drywall, wood and metal. There is not a heading on this form for “waste.” When we think about what we are wasting, we should keep in mind that waste is just resources not yet recovered.

Local conversion technology projects may change waste, energy
In official renderings of its name, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, mentioned above, does not separate the words “resources” and “recycling” with a comma. It seems to be listing two environmentally beneficial options as the alternatives for waste management.

That vision of the future, where resources are either recycled or recovered in another way, may be coming a step closer to current reality in Ventura County, as conversion technology projects are planned. Conversion technologies have the potential to turn many of our unrecyclable discards into products or energy. Unlike incineration, which uses fire to reduce garbage to ash and has often been conducted without significant energy recovery, conversion is a non-burn set of options, including gasification, pyrolysis, distillation and anaerobic digestion.

On Aug. 8, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Del Norte Regional Recycling and Transfer Station in Oxnard, local public and private sector managers of waste will gather to review the status of many of these projects. The public is invited.

Focusing on recycling
Until our materials-consuming-based economy converts into a harmonious system fueled by resource recovery, we need to focus on conventional recycling. In some ways, we are doing great. Recycling programs are widely available for the most easily recycled materials.

These recycling programs, however, are not always used. For example, according to the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), the national recycling rate for beer and soda bottles is just 41 percent. Even worse, GPI estimates national wine bottle recycling at just 34 percent.

Fortunately, some public policy measures can make a difference. For example, here in California, we have a “bottle bill,” and the recycling rate for glass bottles covered by the “California redemption value” system is 84 percent, according to CalRecycle.

Although California’s 84 percent recovery rate may be inflated by some bottles receiving payments even though they did not pay into the system, there is no doubt that bottle bills boost recycling. The difference between beer bottles and wine bottles can be attributed mostly to bottle bills. You can sell any empty beer bottle to a local recycling center for 5 cents (or 10 cents for bottles of more than 24 ounces), but most recyclers will not pay you anything for wine bottles.

Not overdoing it
The answer to boosting recycling is not simply to put more of everything into recycling containers. Bill Sorokes, the plant manager for Strategic Materials, where Ventura County’s glass is prepared for recycling, says, “Leave out the Pyrex, ceramic, light bulbs, leaded glass and other nonrecyclable glass.” Strategic Materials has automated systems to remove most contamination, but when glass with different melting temperatures gets through the system and ends up in the molten glass formed into new bottles, those new bottles are weak and can explode on the filling line of bottlers shooting liquid into the glass.

Recycling right is important for the environment and the economy. Making glass from recycled glass cuts energy consumption and air pollution while creating 36 times more jobs than making glass from raw materials, according to a 2011 report by the Container Recycling Institute.

Keep your eye on the environment for big upcoming changes to resource management, and in the meantime, recycle right.

Eye on the Environment is a public service of the Ventura County Public Works Agency.

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