Nudging Recycling From Less Waste to None


 
Sara Marshall peers into a drop-off point for recycling in Nantucket. The town is a leader in “zero waste.”

At Yellowstone National Park, the clear soda cups and white utensils are not your typical cafe-counter garbage. Made of plant-based plastics, they dissolve magically when heated for more than a few minutes.

At Ecco, a popular restaurant in Atlanta, waiters no longer scrape food scraps into the trash bin. Uneaten morsels are dumped into five-gallon pails and taken to a compost heap out back.

And at eight of its North American plants, Honda is recycling so diligently that the factories have gotten rid of their trash Dumpsters altogether.

Across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as “zero waste” is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations.

The movement is simple in concept if not always in execution: Produce less waste. Shun polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging that is not biodegradable. Recycle or compost whatever you can.

Though born of idealism, the zero-waste philosophy is now propelled by sobering realities, like the growing difficulty of securing permits for new landfills and an awareness that organic decay in landfills releases methane that helps warm the earth’s atmosphere.

“Nobody wants a landfill sited anywhere near them, including in rural areas,” said Jon D. Johnston, a materials management branch chief for the Environmental Protection Agency who is helping to lead the zero-waste movement in the Southeast. “We’ve come to this realization that landfill is valuable and we can’t bury things that don’t need to be buried.”

Americans are still the undisputed champions of trash, dumping 4.6 pounds per person per day, according to the E.P.A.’s most recent figures. More than half of that ends up in landfills or is incinerated.

But places like the island resort community of Nantucket offer a glimpse of the future. Running out of landfill space and worried about the cost of shipping trash 30 miles to the mainland, it moved to a strict trash policy more than a decade ago, said Jeffrey Willett, director of public works on the island.

The town, with the blessing of residents concerned about tax increases, mandates the recycling not only of commonly reprocessed items like aluminum, glass and paper but also of tires, batteries and household appliances.

Jim Lentowski, executive director of the nonprofit Nantucket Conservation Foundation and a year-round resident since 1971, said that sorting trash and delivering it to the local recycling and disposal complex had become a matter of course for most residents.

The complex also has a garagelike structure where residents can drop off books and clothing and other reusable items for others to take home.

The 100-car parking lot at the landfill is a lively meeting place for locals, Mr. Lentowski added. “Saturday morning during election season, politicians hang out there and hand out campaign buttons,” he said. “If you want to get a pulse on the community, that is a great spot to go.”

Mr. Willett said that while the amount of trash that island residents carted to the dump had remained steady, the proportion going into the landfill had plummeted to 8 percent.

By contrast, Massachusetts residents as a whole send an average of 66 percent of their trash to a landfill or incinerator. Although Mr. Willett has lectured about the Nantucket model around the country, most communities still lack the infrastructure to set a zero-waste target.

Aside from the difficulty of persuading residents and businesses to divide their trash, many towns and municipalities have been unwilling to make the significant capital investments in machines like composters that can process food and yard waste. Yet attitudes are shifting, and cities like San Francisco and Seattle are at the forefront of the changeover. Both of those cities have adopted plans for a shift to zero-waste practices and are collecting organic waste curbside in residential areas for composting.

Food waste, which the E.P.A. says accounts for about 13 percent of total trash nationally — and much more when recyclables are factored out of the total — is viewed as the next big frontier.

When apple cores, stale bread and last week’s leftovers go to landfills, they do not return the nutrients they pulled from the soil while growing. What is more, when sealed in landfills without oxygen, organic materials release methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, as they decompose. If composted, however, the food can be broken down and returned to the earth as a nonchemical fertilizer with no methane by-product.

Green Foodservice Alliance, a division of the Georgia Restaurant Association, has been adding restaurants throughout Atlanta and its suburbs to its so-called zero-waste zones. And companies are springing up to meet the growth in demand from restaurants for recycling and compost haulers.

Steve Simon, a partner in Fifth Group, a company that owns Ecco and four other restaurants in the Atlanta area, said that the hardest part of participating in the alliance’s zero-waste-zone program was not training his staff but finding reliable haulers.

“There are now two in town, and neither is a year old, so it is a very tentative situation,” Mr. Simon said.

Still, he said he had little doubt that the hauling sector would grow and that all five of the restaurants would eventually be waste-free.

Packaging is also quickly evolving as part of the zero-waste movement. Bioplastics like the forks at Yellowstone, made from plant materials like cornstarch that mimic plastic, are used to manufacture a growing number of items that are compostable.

Steve Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute, a nonprofit organization that certifies such products, said that the number of companies making compostable products for food service providers had doubled since 2006 and that many had moved on to items like shopping bags and food packaging.

The transition to zero waste, however, has its pitfalls.

Josephine Miller, an environmental official for the city of Santa Monica, Calif., which bans the use of polystyrene foam containers, said that some citizens had unwittingly put the plant-based alternatives into cans for recycling, where they had melted and had gummed up the works. Yellowstone and some institutions have asked manufacturers to mark some biodegradable items with a brown or green stripe.

Yet even with these clearer design cues, customers will have to be taught to think about the destination of every throwaway if the zero-waste philosophy is to prevail, environmental officials say.

“Technology exists, but a lot of education still needs to be done,” said Mr. Johnston of the E.P.A.

He expects private companies and businesses to move faster than private citizens because momentum can be driven by one person at the top.

“It will take a lot longer to get average Americans to compost,” Mr. Johnston said. “Reaching down to my household and yours is the greatest challenge.”

Source:  The New York Times & WIH Resource Group

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New York City – Town of Smithtown NY Chooses CNG to Cut Refuse Collection Costs


Faced with rising refuse collection costs, the Town of Smithtown, New York, decided to require its refuse collection contractors to use compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks. It was the first New York municipality to institute such a requirement. On January 1, 2007, the 30 contractor-owned diesel refuse trucks collecting solid waste and recyclables from the town’s 116,000 residents were replaced by 22 CNG models.

Smithtown selected four bidders for seven-year contracts: Brothers Carting, Dejana Industries, Jody Industries, and V. Garafalo Carting. The companies were responsible for buying the new CNG trucks. To offset the higher cost for these trucks versus diesel trucks, the companies had the option of claiming the Federal Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit for up to 80% of the incremental cost. An alliance of local organizations helped the contractors find financing options.

To establish CNG fueling infrastructure, Smithtown partnered with natural gas supplier Clean Energy. With no leasing agreements, access fees, or capital outlay for Smithtown, the contract required Clean Energy to provide the fueling infrastructure and commission local service providers. Because of Smithtown’s new contract with the refuse collectors, Clean Energy had to complete the fueling station in six months–two to four months faster than it usually takes to locate a station, obtain permits, and secure a compressor.

To accomplish this, Clean Energy received permission from the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT) and Office of General Services to allow expansion of a station in nearby Hauppauge, which Clean Energy already operated for New York State. The Hauppauge expansion supported NYDOT’s goal to increase natural gas use as a vehicle fuel and brought additional revenue to the state of $0.05 per gasoline gallon equivalent. Clean Energy expanded the Hauppauge volumetric gas flow rate from 15 to 2,000 scfm and opened the station within four months.Smithtown entered into an agreement on fuel pricing with Clean Energy through 2013. CNG costs for the refuse trucks started at $2.33 per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) through 2008 and increase each year to conclude at $2.94 per DGE in 2013. The contracted CNG price could decrease if the price differential between diesel and CNG goes above a set threshold.

“Controlling refuse collection costs for town residents was the primary reason Smithtown chose CNG,” explained the coordinator of the Greater Long Island Clean Cities Coalition. “The commitment from Clean Energy to set a stable fuel price was very important.” Switching to CNG provides environmental and energy-security benefits for Smithtown.

The CNG refuse trucks are projected over the life of the contract to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by 265 tons and particulate matter by 15 tons. Smithtown also expects to displace more than 1.5 million DGE of petroleum-based fuel.The benefits are amplified when other towns adopt a similar strategy. Smithtown’s success inspired nearby Brookhaven to plan the deployment of 67 CNG trucks in 2009 in a similar effort.

Clean Cities inspired Smithtown’s move to CNG. In May 2006, Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s Environmental Protection Director, saw a Clean Cities alternative fuel presentation at the Federation of New York Solid Waste Associations Solid Waste/Recycling Conference & Trade Show in Bolton Landing, New York. The presentation persuaded him that CNG was the best choice for Smithtown’s refuse fleet. For more information, contact Russell Barnett.

Source: United States Department of Energy (DOE)

If you have any questions about this news or general questions about our diversified services, please contact Bob Wallace, Principal & VP of Client Solutions at WIH Resource Group and Waste Savings, Inc. at admin@wihrg.com.

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