Recology has been working to transform the landfill industry for over a decade. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Landfills are the place where we put all the things that cities and towns don’t recycle, the things that we don’t yet know how to recycle, and the things that were made without any thought given to their recoverability. Unfortunately, product designers are still slow to catch up on making recoverable products. Many municipal programs still don’t offer complete recycling and composting programs throughout the U.S. Many families, businesses and well-meaning people don’t understand composting. And then there are all the other quirky things, like ADC for example.
In California, 10% or nearly 3.5 million tons of the 34.9 million tons of material that were disposed of last year (including what was landfilled in California, imported and exported) was alternative daily cover, or ADC. According to CalRecycle, ADC is:
CalRecycle-approved materials other than soil used as a temporary overlay on an exposed landfill face. Generally, these materials must be processed so that they do not allow gaps in the face surface, which would provide breeding grounds for insects and vermin. Public Resources Code section 41781.3 stipulates this practice is recycling, not disposal, and authorizes Cal Recycle to adopt regulations, such as Title 27 California Code of Regulations, section 20690. Approved materials include processed green materials, sludge, ash and kiln residue, compost, construction and demolition debris, and special foams and fabrics.
In other words, ADC is material that actually goes to the landfill, and for all intents and purposes is landfilled, but ADC is counted as landfill diversion because it prevents clean soil from being imported and then contaminated at a landfill. That’s not so bad right? Instead of using clean soil to cover an exposed landfill on a day to day basis, why not use other materials that serve the same function? Well, a closer look at what was actually used as ADC may be enlightening.
Much of what was used for ADC in California in 2008 was auto shredder waste, sometimes called “auto shred” or “auto fluff.” According to the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology, “Auto fluff is waste left over from shredding old cars for scrap metal. It can contain heavy metals and poly-chlorinated biphenyls.” Although this material would probably have been landfilled anyway, it counts towards the diversion rate.
So, now that you know that ADC can be counted towards landfill diversion, how are the diversion leaders in California using ADC in 2008?
Oakland used 202 thousand tons of ADC that year. San Jose used 159 thousand. San Francisco used 63 thousand.
In 2008, city of Oakland reported a diversion rate of 66%, but nearly 25% of that was achieved through ADC. Without ADC, it’s diversion rate would have been 41%!
San Jose diverted 65% that year, and 10% of that diversion was through ADC. Without ADC, it’s diversion rate would have been 55%!
San Francisco achieved a 72% diversion rate, but only 3% was from ADC. Without ADC, it’s diversion rate would have been 69%.
The important point here is that many cities across California are getting diversion credit without doing the heavy lifting. There are many cities that do not really divert materials from landfills. They may not create programs to educate people about reducing their consumption, programs to make it possible to reuse materials, and certainly don’t work to create robust recycling and composting programs. It means that although cities are achieving relatively high diversion rates, they are still landfilling valuable materials but getting the credit for landfill diversion by abusing the leeway CalRecycle has given them to count ADC towards their diversion rate.
Until there is a level playing field regarding what material can be used as alternative daily cover, and how landfill diversion is calculated, we will have to keep pounding the drum of resource recovery and insisting on the concept of WASTE ZERO. It is the only real and permanent way to make a positive impact on our natural world, our children’s future, and create the jobs that are so badly needed right now.
By now you may know that California has a new state goal of diverting 75% of “garbage” from landfills by 2020. 2020 is a big year for the state. San Francisco and Oakland have their own goal of reaching zero waste by that year. The city of Mountain View has set the goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by that year. Why is 2020 so important?
Over twenty years ago, the California legislature mandated that 50% of landfill-bound materials had to be diverted to other uses. San Francisco, with its growing population opted for the higher goal of 75% several years later. The year 2020 is the target year for proving what can be accomplished in three generations. The idea of zero waste has gained momentum here in the United States because, whether aspiration or not, the technology, know-how, public will and information is now available for us to make it happen. Yet, according to CalRecycle, although some places in San Diego County are on their way to meeting the 75% recycling mandate, there are many places within that county and throughout California where cities, towns, municipalities and unincorporated areas struggle to divert even 50% of their landfill-bound materials.
So what is zero waste?
Zero waste is the perspective that no materials are sent to landfills or incinerators. At Recology we believe in WASTE ZERO, which means making the best and highest use of all resources. There is a slight distinction. It is not enough to aspire to send nothing to landfills. Rather, the idea of WASTE ZERO is that the materials that are diverted from end-of-life destinations should be used in smart ways.
Raising the bar on mandated recycling isn’t just about the destination of landfill-diverted materials. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation not only to save our natural resources, but also to create jobs. Assembly member Chesbro, who authored the bill, said that the original 50% mandate helped to create 125,000 new jobs since 1989 and provide $4 billion in yearly salaries. Members of StopWaste.Org mentioned that for every job lost at a landfill, three more were created in recycling. Here’s to more jobs! Let’s keep recycling!