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#203 - The Central Issue Of Our Time, 16-Oct-1990

Two new toolkits for solid waste activists have just been published.
One is from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one from Greenpeace, and
both contain tools and weapons that can help local activists fight for
waste prevention and reduction, increased recycling and composting, and
an end to incineration and dangerous landfilling. Each toolkit contains
useful information available nowhere else, and we recommend them both

EDF's contribution is a 320-page book called RECYCLING AND
INCINERATION; EVALUATING THE CHOICES and it will help you and your
local officials do just that--evaluate the choices between recycling
and incineration. Where the EDF study places least emphasis--on solid
waste prevention--the Greenpeace offering is strongest, so between them
they give activists a powerful and fairly complete new set of tools to
use at the local level. The Greenpeace package is called Greenpeace
Action Garbage Prevention Plan. The text of the Greenpeace Plan is only
15 pages but it is accompanied by copies of nine local ordinances that
your town or county government could adopt to prevent the garbage
problem rather than manage the garbage problem.

The problem of garbage has become the central issue of our time. Taking
out the garbage is the activity in our lives that brings each of us
face-toface with the destruction of our planet. The unraveling of
earth's ozone layer, global warming, regionalscale destruction of
forest, lake and farm by acid rain, and a thorough dousing of the
entire planet (and contamination of our own bodies) with pesticides,
industrial solvents and toxic metals--all have occurred in the name of
giving consumers a "high standard of living." But focus carefully on
the leftovers from your high standard of living--in your garbage pail--
and you will find yourself face to face with the crack of doom. To
avoid the end of life as we know it, we must each rethink, item by
item, the materials we buy, use, and discard.... Some things we can
change by making different choices in our personal lives and at the
store, but some things will require us to look upstream, toward the
source of these problems in the manufacturer's Board room, to find out
how things got the way they are.

The fundamental problem is private decisions to use toxic materials
that have very far-reaching public consequences. The use of toxic
materials in the manufacture of household goods poisons workers,
produces hazardous industrial wastes, introduces toxic fumes into our
homes, and ultimately makes landfilling dangerous, which in turn forces
some people to look (mistakenly) to incineration for solutions. The
choice to use toxic materials in consumer goods is made by private
manufacturers for private motives (most of which boil down to monetary
gain) behind closed doors. The further people look into the garbage
problem, the more they realize that almost none of us participated in
the basic decisions that created the problem to begin with--a handful
of people, operating behind veils of power and wealth, set us all upon
our present course of planetary decline. And more and more thoughtful
people are realizing that for these problems to be solved, private
decision-making will have to be opened up to public scrutiny and public
involvement. EDF sees the need for fundamental reforms: "EDF...
believes... we need to fundamentally reform the political institutions,
economic ground rules, and environmental regulations that govern solid
waste management." (pg. 14) For starters, EDF suggests, manufacturers
could be forced to label their products regarding their recyclability,
their recycled content, their "other environmental consequences," (pg.
15) and "the presence of hazardous substances in packages and
products" (pg. 48). Using the example of a manufacturer's decision to
employ cadmium (a toxic metal) as a coloring agent in a plastic
product, EDF suggests that the use of heavy metal colorants in
manufacturing could be "restricted" because "only comprehensive source-
based strategies are likely to prove successful in achieving
significant reductions in the metal content and toxicity of our
waste...." This "comprehensive source-based strategy" is the
manufacturers' worst nightmare--EDF scientists and ordinary
householders examining the raw materials, the manufacturing processes,
in some cases even the choice of products to be made... all with the
goal of making private decision-makers publicly accountable. These are
truly "radical" ideas (in the literal and hopeful sense of that term--
getting to root causes), forced upon us by the environmental crisis and
the need to survive... and it is in this sense that garbage has become
the central issue of our time.

Most of the EDF book and the Greenpeace package are focused not on the
"comprehensive source-based strategy" that we need but rather on the
here and now--the choices that communities can make, and are making, to
manage solid waste. And though we need thoughtful work on the bigger
picture, it is still wonderful to have these practical toolkits. The
Greenpeace package gives you model ordinances for (a) establishing a
moratorium on incineration; (b) establishing a recycling and composting
program complete with mandatory sourceseparation, drop-off centers,
buy-back centers, material recovery facilities, and more; (c) requiring
environmentally acceptable products and packaging and prohibiting
disposables; (d) requiring municipal procurement of recycled products;
(e) developing markets for recycled materials and products; (f)
prohibiting radioactive BRC ("below regulatory concern") wastes from
entering your community; (g) requiring newspaper publishers and vendors
of paper to use "the highest percentage of recycled materials
practicable;" (h) requiring your local government to establish "policy
direction for solid waste system alternatives to be included in your
county's solid waste management plan"; (i) restricting the production,
use and emission of ozone-depleting compounds.

The EDF book contains a wealth of useful information on the problems of
incineration and the promise of recycling and composting. It contains
excellent, detailed chapters on the economics of incineration vs.
recycling (incineration costs roughly two to three times as much)--
clearly-explained analyses and calculations you'll find nowhere else.

It also contains an excellent chapter on "permitting and review for
incinerators" suggesting places in the permitting process where
citizens might intervene effectively. And there's a model resolution
that your local government could adopt before beginning to negotiate a
contract with an incinerator vendor. The resolution says (1) local
government is free at any time to reduce the amount of garbage provided
to the facility when the reduction is the result of recycling; (2) the
incinerator owners and their successors bear all direct and indirect
costs attributable to the production and disposal of ash; and (3)
citizens themselves have a right to enforce air pollution limits to be
written into the contract--if the facility fails to live up to its
permit, citizens can shut it down.

The disposal of the toxic ash from incinerators is given a thorough
treatment (don't overlook Appendix B). EDF's scientists examine and
reject schemes for the "re-use" of ash for making roads or buildings.

Another good chapter is "Important Elements of a Solid Waste Plan"
which can help you and your local government plan out a waste avoidance
and waste management strategy.

It is clear from this book that, though EDF does not take an anti-
incineration position, very few--if any--incinerators would be built if
citizens and local officials read this book and took it seriously. For
out-and-out incineration fighters, it's a gem.

Get: Richard A. Denison and John Ruston, editors, RECYCLING AND
1990); paperback, $19.95; phone (800) 828-1302 or (202) 232-7933. And:
Greenpeace Action Garbage Prevention Plan (Washington, DC: Greenpeace
[1436 U St., NW, Washington, DC 20009; phone (202) 4621177], 1990);
they ask a $5.00 donation for the package.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: edf; waste reduction; msw; waste disposal
technologies; policies; economics; toxic substances; greenpeace;