Maybe it’s too late … maybe O‘ahu has been locked into the “burn or bury” syndrome for too long, but there is another option … it will take a bit of work, a real commitment to the environment, and a willingness to change, but communities across the country, businesses both large and small, and nations around the world are moving in a new direction … adopting the principals of Zero Waste!
What is Zero Waste? Zero Waste is a set of policies and goals, based on the concept of “waste as a resource.” Zero Waste is part of a sustainable solution for our islands’ economy … by conserving resources rather than throwing them away … by investing in a Zero Waste infrastructure, rather than pouring money into huge landfills or incinerators.
Zero Waste, first and foremost, is a different way of thinking about solid waste. It is a truly “integrated” Waste Management System in which each material that is recovered from the waste stream is seen as a resource and managed according to its unique properties and economic potential. Waste is not seen as “waste.” It’s seen as resource. Instead of managing waste we will manage resources and strive to eliminate waste. This will change the way we view the materials and products we consume each day.
Rather than looking at our production systems as one way and linear, we can redesign them to be cyclical, as in nature, where there is no such thing as “waste” and materials are kept in the production cycle. Zero Waste is emerging as a paradigm shift, a new, comprehensive socio-technical system that addresses our resource use from product design to disposal.
Zero Waste is a design principle for the 21st century. A system where instead of buy, use, then throw away, we focus on:
● Reducing: Not creating waste in the first place ... Reducing consumption, minimizing packaging, buying in bulk, buying longer lasting durable goods,
● Reusing: Finding another home for things we no longer want or need, or finding new uses for things that are no longer suitable for their original purpose.
● Recycling: Turning our discards into new products. Saving energy and conserving valuable natural resources.
What Zero Waste is not is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. It’s not something that someone else can do for you. Zero waste is NOT about getting to zero. It is about being on the path to zero.
The Elements of a Zero Waste System
● The Material Recovery facility (MRF)
For traditional recyclables [Newspaper (ONP), Corrugated Cardboard (OCC), Mixed Paper, Mixed Office Paper, Aluminum Cans (UBC), Glass, Plastic Containers, Tin Cans, etc].
● The Composting Facility
Source-separated organics (SSO) only! Items composted will include food scraps, soiled paper, yard waste, animal manures, biosolids (sewage sludge), and biopolymers (the facility can also be integrated with a biofuel facility that manages cooking oil and greasetrap waste.
● The Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHARM)
For non-traditional recyclables. Items collected include the hard stuff: e-scrap, TV’s, books, junk plastics, Styrofoam, discards from local thrift stores, etc. It can also provide recycling for paint, Household Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Waste from small businesses.
● Reuse Facilities
Reuse options are diverse and may require a range of facilities. UBM’s – (Used Building Materials) can be a source of profits. The local thrift store network … it exists and is working! Support & expand it.
● The Construction / Demolition (C&D) Facility
Deconstruction of buildings for reuse should be the first option, then demolition and recovery for recycling. Const & Demo waste aren’t the same! Construction Discards can easily be source-separated for marketing. Demolition Debris is mixed waste and expensive to process.
● The Residue Facility
In a “Zero Waste – Or Darn Near” world, a realistic goal is that the residue is less than 10%
If the majority of the organics and hazardous wastes have been dealt with, the residue will be essentially inert may be disposed of in a “dry tomb” landfill with little potential impact.
O‘ahu already has the basic elements of a Zero Waste Management System in place (though it could use a CHARM). The City and County just needs to expand their capacity and effectiveness, and fully support reduction and diversion efforts.
Some of the policy issues that need to be addressed are:
● Developing a residential Pay As You Throw system (incentivizing recycling by charging more for the more trash you throw away).
● Expanding Business recycling. Requiring businesses to have a recycling plan and mandating the diversion of a long list of marketable material.
● Initiating a Construction Demolition (C&D) diversion program. Many mainland communities now require diversion plans as part of the building permit process.
● Developing a statewide Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program – also known as Product Stewardship. A policy approach that holds producers liable for the costs of responsibly managing their products at end of life and incentivizes reduction of packaging and the production of durable (rather than disposable) products.
The Transition to Zero Waste: EcoCycle of Colorado (one of the Nation’s largest non-profits operating a truly integrated diversion program – education, collection, processing marketing, composting) and a central player in the nation-wide drive to Zero Waste, has developed a “bridge strategy” to transition to Zero Waste in 10 years … (Wow – just think where we would be if we’d started minimizing waste and maximizing diversion 10 years ago?)
Eco-Cycle believes that if we are willing to make the effort a community can transition to Zero Waste within 10 years. Their plan proposes definitive programs, policies and infrastructure. The ten-year timeline is broken into three phases: In years 1 to 4, a community achieves 50 percent; in years 5 to 8, it achieves 70 percent. Years 9 and 10 are the final challenging push to 90 percent. The journey begins with voluntary participation and ends with mandatory source separation in every home, business and institution. (for more information contact Eric Lombardi at ecocycle.org)
Costs & Benefits: Nobody wants another landfill … well sorry, even if you build another H-power you are probably going to have to live with a landfill. What is it worth to make sure that your next landfill is your last? You will have to invest a bit of money on the necessary infrastructure, and make some major changes in your “waste” management policies, but look what it’s costing you to costing you to burn your trash. And really, did shipping it to the mainland ever look like a solution?
A Zero Waste System has many benefits …
It will reduce the rising cost of both residential and commercial solid waste management, which means lower taxes and fees. Zero Waste management is cheaper and more cost effective than burying or burning our valuable discards.
It will create more jobs. For every one job waste disposal creates, recycling creates 5-10 jobs. New jobs involved in processing recyclables, expanding local composting operations, expanding existing reuse operations such as thrift stores and materials exchanges, and developing a whole new manufacturing sector.
It will help preserve a cleaner more beautiful environment both locally and globally.
The concept of Zero Waste Management is spreading across the country. There are already too many communities who have adopted Zero Waste to attempt to enumerate in this short message, but they range from California, to Colorado, to Arkansas to North Carolina to Vermont.
Numerous Business such as Honda & Toyota, Xerox, Pillsbury, Hewlett Packard, and Fetzer Vineyards have embraced Zero Waste policies and are saving money.
So What’s Next?
Adopt ZW as the City & County’s Waste Management Policy: Educate your decision makers, let them know that it’s time to change the way we look at “waste”. Check out our website for a draft resolution.
Demand Decision Makers Manage Resources not Waste: Neither landfills nor incinerators are an appropriate response to our environmental problems. More energy can be saved, and global warming impacts decreased, by reducing waste, reusing products, recycling and composting than can be produced from burning discards or recovering landfill gases.
Educate Residents, Businesses and Visitors: Zero Waste is a strategy not a technology. As such, it aims for better organization, better education and better industrial design. To achieve the cultural change needed to get to Zero Waste, communities must establish programs to educate and train residents, school children, college students, businesses, and visitors about new rules and programs.
Develop New Rules and Incentives to Move Towards Zero Waste: Communities can significantly change what is “economic” in the local marketplace with new policies, new rules and new incentives. The plastic bag ban (enacted on Maui and Kaua‘i) is just a start, what about water bottles and disposable Styrofoam food packaging?
Enact Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Rules: Communities need to help and encourage local businesses to take back products and packaging at their stores and factories from consumers. They should also advocate for state and national EPR policies and programs for brand-owners and producers. As much as possible, discard management costs for products and packaging that are difficult to reuse, recycle or compost in most local programs should be shifted from local government to the producers of the product. EPR policies should foster collaborative programs to be developed with support of small, local businesses and nonprofits, and not just rely on a single entity for reuse, recycling and composting.
Support Reuse Businesses, Non-profits and other Citizens Groups: Identify, help expand and help promote reuse businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and citizens groups. Focus on the value of reusables, not just the tonnage of products in that stream. Establish efficient repair and reuse programs to retain the form and functions of products. Help reuse products for their original intended use as a priority.
Get Compostable Organics out of Landfills: Getting valuable organics back to the soil (including garden clippings, food scraps, food-soiled paper and clean wood waste) is a major improvement. Organic materials in landfills produce methane and are a major cause of leachate contamination. Encourage Planning Departments to support farming over subdivisions and consider composting a crop.
Support Zero Waste Practices at Businesses and Institutions: Communities should require all businesses and institutions to subscribe to Zero Waste services, require that recycling and separate hauling services are provided universally to all of them, and require that discarded materials are source separated to retain the highest and best use of those materials.
Construction, Demolition, and Remodeling (C&D) Diversion: Adopt deconstruction, reuse and recycling policies citywide (including requiring all contractors to submit plans and deposits to meet community targets), and implement programs and facilities needed to achieve Zero Waste. Work with Green Building programs to prioritize deconstruction and reuse.
Challenge Businesses to Lead the way to Zero Waste: Thousands of Zero Waste Businesses already divert over 90% of their wastes from landfill and incineration around the world. Zero Waste Businesses are reducing their costs of managing resources and discards, increasing their operating efficiency, decreasing their carbon footprint (including energy use) and decreasing their long-term liability. Identify, recognize and promote Zero Waste Businesses locally and challenge others to follow.
Resources: If you’d like more help, Zero Waste Kauai has a well thought out powerpoint that is great for presentations to neighborhood boards, community organizations, and business groups. We’d love to get you a copy (complete with text), and if you’re wondering about greening an upcoming event, check out our Zero Waste Event Guide at our website, zerowastekauai.org.
If you would like more information on Zero Waste, check out these websites:
The Grass Roots Recycling Network - www.grrn.org/zerowaste
The Zero Waste Alliance - www.zerowaste.org
EcoCycle – www.ecocycle.org
The Sierra Club – www.sierraclub.org/committees/zerowaste/policies/
Zero Waste America – www.zerowasteamerica.org/
Zero Waste International Alliance - www.zwia.org
CalRecycle - www.calrecycle.ca.gov
Zero Waste Kaua‘I – zerowastekauai.org
County of Hawai‘i - hawaiizerowaste.org/zero-waste
John Harder is a founding member of Zero Waste Kaua‘i and the former head of The Office of Solid Waste Management for the State of Hawai‘i. He has over 20 years experience in the Solid Waste field and has managed Solid Waste Programs for Kaua‘i County, Maui County, and the Commonwealth of Saipan. He has constructed and operated landfills, transfer stations, and recycling facilities and feels that it is time to take Solid Waste Management to the next level, and that Zero Waste is the sustainable and economical solution to Hawai‘i’s Solid Waste problems.
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