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A City Committed to Recycling Is Ready for More

Felicity Barringer, New York Times
Mayor Gavin Newsom is competitive about many things, garbage included. When the city found out a few weeks ago that it was keeping 70 percent of its disposable waste out of local landfills, he embraced the statistic the way other mayors embrace winning sports teams, improved test scores or declining crime rates.

But the city wants more.

So Mr. Newsom will soon be sending the city’s Board of Supervisors a proposal that would make the recycling of cans, bottles, paper, yard waste and food scraps mandatory instead of voluntary, on the pain of having garbage pickups suspended.

… Another major innovation in the past decade was the development of infrastructure for turning food wastes – a major part of the waste stream in a city with thousands of restaurants – into baggable compost that is used in California’s vineyards and the vast farms of the Central Valley.

The garbage from San Francisco’s 750,000 residents is picked up on the pay-as-you-throw principle – the more garbage bins you need, the higher your monthly fee. (The average customer pays $23.58 a month.) Also, in the past couple of years, it has banned plastic grocery bags and permitted the recycling of hard plastic toys.

The city has 12 recycling streams, or programs, devoted to different materials, including regular garbage, construction debris, furniture and paint.

“When we look at garbage, we don’t see garbage, O.K.?” said Robert Reed, a spokesman for Norcal Waste Systems, the parent company of Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling Company, the main garbage collectors in the city. “We see food, we see paper, we see metal, we see glass.”
(7 May 2008)

A Woman, a Village and a War on Plastic Bags

Kevin Sullivan, Washington Post
MODBURY, England — Rebecca Hosking’s moment, when a happy English farm girl cried tears that changed her life, came on a speck of sugar-white beach in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

… The beach on Midway, 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu, was covered with thousands of dead albatrosses rotting in the tropical sun. In their split-open bellies, the BBC wildlife film producer said, she saw the plastic that had killed them: cigarette lighters, pens, toys, pill bottles, knives and forks, golf balls and toothbrushes.

… In April 2007, several months after returning from the Pacific, she called a meeting at a local art gallery. She invited all 43 local merchants, most of whom she’d known since she was a baby. She tempted them with wine and food, and 37 showed up.

She showed them her film, poured out a handful of Hawaiian sand full of bright-colored bits of plastic pollution, and described the filthy bay floor three miles from their shops. Then she hit them with her plan: Modbury should ban plastic bags.

Hosking knew it was a gamble in a conservative, old-fashioned country village more into fox hunting than carbon trading. She was sure her old friends would be sympathetic, but only if it wouldn’t hurt their businesses.

… “I’m not an eco-warrior,” she said. “We just did a little thing that worked. And, blimey, it’s rocketed around the world.”

Who is changing the way people work, think, consume or create? Innovators, a regular feature beginning today, will profile some of the world’s ground-breakers and contrarians, problem solvers and restless minds.
(6 May 2008)

Junkie Nation

Joyce Marcel, Common Dreams
Just imagine for a minute that you wake up one morning to learn that someone has stolen the arm off of the Statue of Liberty. And with it, her torch. No more will she “lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Instead, her great lamp is already shredded; it’s on a slow boat to China as we speak.

To be followed, soon after, by the Verrazano Bridge.

Farfetched? Maybe today. Maybe not tomorrow.

Earlier in the week, I toured a scrap metal business in the Northeast Kingdom.

In a startling way, the price of scrap metal has risen so high that people are selling everything they can get their hands on. Suddenly, that old washer and dryer in the side yard, the ones with the vines growing through them, are valuable. So are those old tire rims.

Scrap metal businesses are booming. In Vermont, metal yards are running two and three trucks a day to the ports of Albany, Montreal and Boston. I was told that in Montreal, they have a machine that can suck in an entire car and cut it down to “frags,” which can be packed into containers. The rest of the car – the insulation, plastic and padding, the “fluff” – gets blown by huge blowers into a different bin and trucked to the landfill.

It’s not surprising that the biggest buyer of American scrap metal is the world’s biggest consumer/manufacturer, China. Turkey is right behind, and other Asian countries with booming new economies are also following.

The scrap metal people are working overtime to fill the demand. They’re buying, shipping and selling like mad. While it’s nice to have a booming industry in Vermont, you can see that this one has its limitations.

Since we’re not a manufacturing country anymore, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we could easily run out of scrap metal if this keeps up.
(7 May 2008)