Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Recycling

Helping apartment dwellers recycle

Recycle2Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) has sponsored a bill requiring owners of buildings with five or more units to provide recycling services.

He recently joined with representatives of organizations supporting the bill in a news conference at the Bella Vista Apartments in Woodland Hills -- which Blumenfield said “demonstrated it can be done and done efficiently” -- to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the legislation. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed an earlier version of the bill.

The Times' Mary MacVean has more details on the bill at the Home blog.


BPA ban passes California state Senate

Mountain lion killed in attempt to cross 405 Freeway

Sierra magazine ranks UC Irvine among top 10 green schools

Photo: The news conference on the proposed recycling law are, from left, Ryan Minniear, executive director, California Apartment Assn., Los Angeles; Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield; Douglas Corcoran of Waste Management; and Mike Young, political and development associate, California League of Conservation Voters (Assembly Democrats).

California says yes to recycled water

The state Senate today passed a bill allowing so-called graywater systems in homes and commercial buildings.

The bill, AB 849, is aimed at clarifying a patchwork of local regulation that has at times prohibited these "non-potable water reuse systems," which divert drain water for irrigation and other purposes.

If signed by the governor, the new state law would prohibit local jurisdictions from banning graywater systems, which have gained popularity as more municipalities face restrictions on fresh water. It would allow those jurisdictions to enact stricter graywater standards than those of the state only if they provide climatic, geographic and topographic reasons for the tougher regulations.

The state adopted uniform rules for installing graywater systemsin 2009, according to an analysis of the bill, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles).

The Assembly already has approved the bill.


BPA ban passes California state Senate

Mountain lion killed in attempt to cross 405 Freeway

Sierra magazine ranks UC Irvine among top 10 green schools

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: A graywater system collects and filters laundry water in an East Rancho Dominguez low-income housing development. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times

L. A. water bills set to rise--but how much? DWP seeks advice

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is hosting a webinar to help L.A. residents better understand future rate increases under two scenarios for the city's water infrastructure.

The webinar for residential customers, set for 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, is expected to feature live presentations by LADWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols and other water and power executives, followed by a question-and-answer session and comment period.

One of the two scenarios being considered by the DWP to maintain the flow of water in L.A. would pay for only the "bare basics" of what the city needs, said James McDaniel, DWP's senior assistant general manager for water.

"It's stuff we absolutely have to have to meet our basic requirements, stripping out anything that isn't critical to keeping the lights on and the water flowing," he said.

Under this "basic business needs" scenario, a typical L.A. household's monthly water bill would go up $2.24 this year and in each of the following two years -- for a total increase of $6.72, or 15.3%.

The second scenario incorporates strategic investments, including accelerating the planned replacement of the 7,200 miles of drinking water pipes DWP oversees, increasing the use of recycled water for irrigation and industrial purposes, diverting additional stormwater to replenish the local groundwater supply and continuing residential rebate programs for low-flow toilets, high-efficiency laundry machines and rain gardens.

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Trash trucks fueled by 'trash gas': a growing trend

The company that operates the largest trucking fleet in the waste industry is fueling more and more trucks with so-called trash gas. On Tuesday, Houston-based Waste Management Inc. will add its 1,000th truck fueled with natural gas. Powered with captured and converted methane gas from the company's Altamont, Calif., landfill, the new truck will service Long Beach, picking up recyclables.

North America's largest waste services company, Waste Management operates almost 300 landfills and runs 22,000 big trucks daily, 720 of which are in Southern California. All of the trucks Waste Management runs out of its L.A. Metro fueling station are powered with liquefied natural gas (LNG) derived from the methane generated through decomposition of organic waste in its Altamont landfill. Since November 2009, the landfill has been generating as much as 13,000 gallons of LNG per day.

Later this summer, Waste Management anticipates approval of a similar liquefaction production facility at its Simi Valley landfill. If selected for funding from the California Energy Commission, the Simi Valley landfill could generate at least as much LNG as its Altamont facility -- enough to power an additional 300 trash-gas trucks daily.

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California congressman tackles toxic trade in new bill

Modern-day alchemy is alive and thriving. Impoverished populations in China, India, Nigeria and Ghana burn old desktop computers, hard drives and circuit boards, breathing in metallic fumes while searching for minuscule amounts of gold and other valuable metals embedded in computer chips.

Sometimes the men, women and children who spend hours each day burning plastic, wires, tin and lead-laden tubes are rewarded with hard drives holding personal data that they can sell to scammers.  Other days, the tools of the 21st century are ripped apart, then dumped into rivers, in open fields and irrigation canals, their toxins permeating well water, their poisonous fumes pervading entire communities.

Old laptops and cellphones, quickly trashed when their owners upgrade, are called hazardous electronic waste, or e-waste. In recent years, U.S. recycling companies have evaded environmental standards, exporting large quantities of e-waste to developing countries, most of which don’t have the technology to properly salvage electronics or the political will to protect their workers from toxic materials.

“It’s cheaper for e-recycling to take place overseas,” said Mike Enberg, the e-Stewards manager at Basel Action Network, a watchdog organization focused on the “toxic trade,” or American exportation of e-waste to Third World countries. “There are few environmental and safety requirements overseas and labor is very inexpensive.”

The incentive of offshore labor, though, does not factor in the impacts the toxic trade causes, according to Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), who have joined forces to corral the practice.

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L.A. adds milk, juice, soup cartons to curbside recycling program

CartonLos Angeles is expanding its efforts to be the recycling-est city in the country. Starting Tuesday, residents can throw milk, juice, soup and wine cartons into their blue bins. The inclusion of cartons in L.A.'s curbside recycling program could divert as much as 430 tons of waste from landfills.

New York, Chicago and Philadelphia already have carton recycling programs, as do almost 200 other California cities, including Oakland, Sacramento and Long Beach.

"This is a big deal in the sense that we’ll be the largest city in the state that has a carton recycling program," said L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "It solidifies our position as the No. 1 recycling city in the nation."

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, L.A. recycled 211,300 tons of waste through its curbside program. L.A. currently diverts 65% of the 10.1 million tons of trash it generates annually –- more than any other large city in the United States.

"We’ll be at 70% by the time I leave office," in 2013, Villaraigosa said. "That’s our goal. We want to be a zero waste city one day, and although that’s a high threshold, every year we’re working toward that.

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Greening graduation: Recycled diplomas and plastic-bottle-based gowns


It’s graduation season, which for many schools means that it’s also prime time to show off their dedication to sustainability.

In New York, The New School decorated with local and seasonal flowers, while Pace University printed its programs on recycled paper with soy ink.

Johns Hopkins University in Maryland gave out water in biodegradable bottles. Boston University used compostable or recyclable tableware.

Unity College in Maine sent out online invitations, printed its diplomas on recycled paper and handed out just one recycled paper or alternative-fiber program to each family and graduate. The school also used fluorescent lighting in its gym powered by electricity from renewable sources and served guests local organic foods.

But what all the institutions -- and a growing number of schools around the country -- have in common is their fashion sense.

Graduation gowns at the New School were made from a fabric combining recycled polyester and plastic. Pace allowed students to rent their garb to reduce waste. Boston, Johns Hopkins and Unity all used regalia made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.

Caltech did the same thing at its commencement ceremony Friday, using caps and gowns from a Virginia company called Oak Hall.

So is this campus greenwashing or an educational green revolution? Read more in the Times’ Business section.


Stepping out on the recycled red carpet

Yes, even clothes can be recycled

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Graduates at Caltech wait in line for commencement to begin in their caps and gowns made from recycled bottles. Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times

Book review: 'Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution'

ForceofNature hc final cover When Wal-Mart first started pitching me a few months ago about a slew of eco-friendly upgrades to their Lancaster store outside Los Angeles, I was skeptical. Clean electricity, natural and LED lighting, and non-toxic upkeep are par for the course in liberal, urban Santa Monica. But at a superstore in a suburban desert town?

But lo and behold, I took a field trip and there were the "Super Sandwich Bales" that Wal-Mart uses for recycling, the Bloom fuel cells out back, and a multitude of green products on the shelves. The world's largest retailer is beginning to install wind turbines on its parking lots, solar panels on its roofs and -– it seems -– more sustainability in its business plan.

Other companies are doing the same, but Wal-Mart may be the greening game-changer, says Edward Humes in his new book, "Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution." The Pulitzer Prize-winning author charts how the retail giant went from being a target for environmentalists' scorn and lawsuits to greening its supply chain.

It's a meticulously researched and engrossing narrative, one that starts with river guide and sustainability consultant Jib Ellison. With equal parts fervor and lucky timing, Ellison managed to convince then-Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott that the company could be a environmental leader  while saving a buck or two (actually, more like millions).

The transformation wasn't easy, nor was it overnight. Ellison was up against Bentonville's historically insular, dubious and defensive company culture, Humes writes. Sustainability wasn't fully embraced until management began to see it as a  bottom-line booster and a cure for the company's reputation as being unfair to employees, unhealthy to communities and unsafe for the environment.

But after Scott told the entire Wal-Mart team in 2005 that the company was to forge ahead with greening, Humes makes a convincing case that the effort is not only bearing fruit but also persuading others to follow suit. From quick fixes such as shrinking packaging to more intensive projects such as transitioning to organic products and creating a green product index, as well as forays into fuel-efficient trucking and renewable energy, Wal-Mart is betting big on sustainability.

The question now, Humes writes, is whether rolling the dice will help the company win over another generation. We'll see. But for those interested in the relationship between business and environment -– once wary, now warming -– Humes' book is a compelling case study.


Wal-Mart's motive is no secret: Going green saves it money

Wal-Mart pairs with SolarCity to put panels on stores in California, Arizona

Wal-Mart completes a megawatt solar project in Apple Valley

-- Tiffany Hsu

General Mills, Procter & Gamble pressured to trim packaging [Updated]

CerealboxesThe average American generates about five pounds of trash per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Now a San Francisco-based nonprofit is asking some of the manufacturers who produce it to accept more responsibility for recycling it.

Last week, the environmental group As You Sow filed shareholder proposals with two of the country's largest makers of consumer packaged goods, urging Procter & Gamble and General Mills to adopt "Extended Producer Responsibility." So-called EPR programs typically establish fees requiring corporations to help pay for the reclamation and recycling of their post-consumer waste.

"It means everything you buy at a grocery store, someone would be paying fees to recycle that," said Conrad MacKerron, senior director of the corporate social-responsibility program for As You Sow. "Right now, it's haphazard by municipality whether something is recycled and who does it and how efficient it is, so [EPR] would really change the infrastructure of waste in this country in a positive way. This resolution is a first step in that direction."

A form of Extended Producer Responsibility already exists for electronic waste in many states to properly dispose of the toxic materials embedded in many electronic devices, as well as recapture valuables, such as precious metals. [Updated 5-9-11, 12:20 p.m.: The original version of this post cited California's e-waste law as an example of Extended Producer Responsibility. It is not an EPR program because consumers, rather than producers, pay for e-waste recycling in California.]

The argument for end-of-life e-waste reclamation has resulted in the adoption of 23 EPR e-waste laws throughout the country, largely because there are precious metals to be reclaimed and hazardous waste to be kept out of landfills. Establishing EPR for commodities such as cardboard could be more difficult.

"We have received a shareholder resolution on the topic, but it has not been made public, nor have we taken any public position on the issue," said Tom Forsythe, vice president of corporate communications for General Mills in Minneapolis.

Although Forsythe had no comment on General Mills' position on Extended Producer Responsibility, General Mills cereal boxes are recyclable. They are also made from 100% recycled content, at least 35% of which is post-consumer.

Procter & Gamble did not return a phone call requesting comment on the shareholder resolution. A new "future-friendly" public service campaign, however, recommends buying nonperishable items in bulk to reduce unnecessary packaging.


Can I Recycle ... ?

Wasteful packaging: Do consumers care?

The Garbage Maven: Talking trash and recycling

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: General Mills cereal boxes. Credit: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press

Biodegradable plastics: Plant symbol chosen as icon

Untitled The bioplastics industry may have a new symbol to slap on its products and packaging – an abstract plant to denote plastics made without petroleum.

More than 1,500 designers submitted entries into a contest seeking an icon to represent plastics created using potatoes, corn, wheat, tapioca, sugar, algae and other natural materials.

The competition, backed by El Segundo bioplastics maker Cereplast Inc., was inspired by the 1970 contest that produced the image of three green arrows now ubiquitously as the emblem of recycling.

Cereplast's founder and chief executive Frederic Scheer also founded the Biodegradable Products Institute and is chairman of the Bioplastics Council of the Society of the Plastics Industry.

Laura Howard, a graphic design student at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, nabbed the $25,000 grand prize. Her symbol looks a bit like the insignia found on Eva, the robot sent to look for plant life on a future, wasted version of Earth in the Pixar film Wall-E.

The entry was chosen by a panel of judges after 2.8 million public votes helped narrow down the field to 200 submissions.

RELATED: Wasteful packaging: Do consumers care?

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Laura Howard's winning image


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