The Living Arts
An Interview with Richard Anthony, Zero Waste San Diego
by Elyssa Paige
More than 1.4 million tons of waste are disposed of at the Miramar Landfill in San Diego every year, according to the city’s Environmental Services Department. That’s 1.4 million tons of squandered resources. Now is the time for a paradigm shift from waste management to resource management.
Guiding the way is Zero Waste San Diego, a non-profit organization whose goal is to create communities which follow natural cycles in designing all products to be composted, reused, repaired or recycled back into the environment or the economy. Richard Anthony, Board Member of Zero Waste San Diego, The California Resource Recovery Association, and the Grassroots Recycling Network, spoke with Vision Magazine about this rise in our environmental consciousness.
Vision Magazine: How does Zero Waste work to heal the environment?
Richard Anthony: It’s all about resources, survival and sustainability. Consider how we’re pumping carbon into the atmosphere at a level that‘s causing our polar ice caps to melt. Or look at how parts of [the ocean near] Hawaii are solid plastic. According to a recent study conducted by John Davis of the California Resource Recovery Association, if we recycle everything in California, it would actually be equivalent to taking out all the emissions of all the cars in California. Zero Waste today is about survival of the planet and I don’t think we have a lot of time.
VM: The Miramar landfill in San Diego is scheduled to be at capacity in 2012. What is Zero Waste San Diego doing in order to prepare for that?
RA: We put together a zero waste resolution. These are the main points: get the organics out of the landfill and back to the farms, do a mandatory recycling ordinance, pass the construction and demolition ordinance [which would] force builders to recycle 75% of what they generate, do a major campaign on social marketing, and turn all landfills into resource recovery parks.
VM: Describe the success you’ve had so far with putting these ideals into action in San Diego.
RA: I was amazed at how quickly the ship turned on mandatory recycling [in the city of San Diego]. We said earlier that the best thing we could do to cool down the planet is to recycle everything. Using that same logic, [representatives of Zero Waste San Diego] went to the City Council and got the mayor’s office on board. Now we have a mandatory recycling ordinance in effect today stating that anybody who generates recyclable materials must separate them, using blue bins for bottles, cans and paper; and green bins for yard waste. Right now, the ordinance applies to single family residences, large apartment complexes and large commercial complexes. Next year it goes to medium-sized [complexes] and in the third year, everybody in the city has to be separating. The city is now training staff and gearing up for implementation.
VM: Why has it taken so long for San Diego to realize the importance of resource management?
RA: We need to remember that up until 1945, the entire world, including the United States, was recycling. We used to compost our organics on the farm, we picked up cans and bottles at the curb, and there wasn’t any plastic. This has all changed on the grounds that it’s easier to collect it mixed and bury it in the ground. Not only is it easier, but it’s also cheaper. Landfills in San Diego are typically subsidized by the local government. By subsidizing waste and lowering the cost, they’re encouraging people to waste rather than recycle and take the path of least resistance. The problem is that landfills create methane, which has 21 times the global warming potential than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Now that there are almost seven billion people on this planet, I think it’s got to be a requirement that resource management is a part of the way we live at home, at work, and at play.
VM: The policies definitely need to change. What about the manufacturers? The tape we’re recording on came in a plastic wrapper that I put in my garbage.
RA: You had to do that in San Diego, but in L.A. and San Luis Obispo, you could have put it in your blue bin and we would have sold it to China. Plastic is worth about $1000 a ton so it’s a huge market item now.
VM: But why are we selling our resources to China? Why aren’t we using them here?
RA: Here’s the problem straight up: Oil companies run the country; they run the world right now. At the level we’re pumping, it could be gone in 25 years. But the oil companies have never had to take manufacturer responsibility for their products. They pump the oil out and put it into plastic that’s made out of oil, and they have no responsibility to take it back. So, a big part of Zero Waste is producer responsibility. We need to change things upstream, meaning at the source—at the manufacturer. Then downstream, it becomes compost and recycling. Besides products like baby diapers and treated wood, we believe that 83% of everything that’s generated can be recycled back into the market.
VM: What can we do in our own lives to create change?
RA: I’m not going to tell you how to live, what to eat and what to buy. I’m going to say [that] you are accountable for what you do. Most people see that and will try to change. We need to give them opportunities to make it convenient and available.
The government provides public service to do the right thing and we have to educate the government on what the right thing is. Get political and vote for representatives who support change. Get involved and confront the companies that you like. Send them a letter [telling them] to be green. They’re afraid of the consumers and they will change. Vote with your dollars. If it’s not recyclable, boycott it. Organize to make it happen; start with your neighbors and your family. It’s for the health and safety of the planet and everybody’s got to get on board, across the board.
Learn more about Zero Waste San Diego at www.zerowastesandiego.org. Contact Richard Anthony at RicAnthony@aol.com or visit www.richardanthonyassociates.com. Educate yourself further by checking out the following websites: www.sierraclub.org, www.greenpeace.org, www.grrn.org; www.epa.gov, www.ciwmb.ca.gov and www.cawrecycles.org.