Notes on waste, water, whatever
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Category — States

If you don’t build it, it won’t come

The first “it” stands for incinerators; the second “it” stands for waste. That’s the gist of this interesting but slightly maddening (because it offers few specifics and assumes waste-to-energy plants are, at some level, a necessity) short article in Waste Advantage magazine by Walker Larsen. The title of the piece caught my eye: “Addressing the Conflicting Priorities of Waste Reduction and Energy Development.” If a community builds a large incinerator (or waste-to-energy [WtE] or gasification plant), it will have an economic and environmental incentive to run it at full capacity and a disincentive to reduce waste (weight equals money in garbage land). But “Waste is wasteful,” Larsen writes, and it’s not a renewable resource. It therefore doesn’t deserve government incentives for renewable energy. (Hear, hear.)

Larsen, who works on “ventures projects” for an arm of the Conservation Law Foundation, acknowledges that we’re generating too much waste  and not recycling enough. He’s all for new rules that encourage and streamline the development of markets for recyclables, but a little vague on what materials should be handled and when. ( If the price for plastics drops, for example, should our bottles be burned for BTUs instead of recycled?) Larsen favors a rejiggering of incentives. Instead of rewarding burners for producing more energy (a spur to collecting more waste), why not provide payments “based on a combination of facility conversion efficiency and upfront material reuse/recycling to encourage the more efficient use of less material as fuel, and reward creative reuse and recycling.”  It sounds like a good idea (if you think WtE plants have the right to exist, that is); it also sounds like a slippery slope.

[Photo of Isle of Man incinerator by Andy Radcliffe]

January 14, 2011   1 Comment

And you wonder why some people continue to buy bottled water?

dead-squirrel1When I give water talks, I tell my audience that in 2007, 88.9 of the nation’s community water systems (there are about 53,000 of them) met or exceeded federal safe-drinking-water standards, which left twenty-four million people drinking  sub-par water. Everyone wants to know: Who are those people? Well, 156,498 live in small Colorado towns that don’t have the money or personnel to look after aging water systems. As David Olinger reports in today’s Denver Post, one town had a salmonella outbreak (probably from animal waste leaking into a cracked water tank, which contained six inches of sediment), another had dead squirrels in its water tank (the top wasn’t bolted on), and live birds fouled another. Statewide, there were 62 boil-water alerts in 2008 (I’ve been tracking boil-water alerts over at my other blog: The breakdowns stem from a combination of aging infrastructure (tanks and pipes more than 50 years old), stricter federal rules, and population growth,  Olinger writes. The state’s drinking-water program manager said most of the current 120 inspection-based violations — inadequate maintenance or incorrect water sampling, for example — are not directly health-related. Reading that, I remembered something an EPA water specialist told me: incorrect sampling or reporting is often an attempt to hide a health-based violation.

The cost to repair Colorado’s failing systems, in hundreds of cities, towns and districts, has geysered from $800 million in 2005 to $1.3 billion today. The federal stim, expected to bring $32 million to the state’s health department, ain’t going far. All of which makes me wonder: should the state spend over a billion to clean up water, of which less than five percent is actually consumed? If you’re rebuilding entire systems, why not provide dual plumbing, and treat water to the appropriate level for consumptive (drinking and bathing) and nonconsumptive (toilet flushing, lawn watering, car washing) use?

March 22, 2009   No Comments

Bottle bills now cover water bottles in 2 whole states

I stand corrected (2/3/09): Now there are 5 (five!) states whose bottle bills cover water: California, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine, and Connecticut.

Last week Connecticut  joined Oregon in expanding its container deposit law to cover bottled water in addition to carbonated beverages.  (You can read about it in the Hartford Courant.) Environmentalists have been fighting for decades for this rule change. Why did their efforts succeed this time? The economy:  lawmakers also decided unclaimed beverage deposits – potentially more than $40 million a year – will revert to the state instead of to bottlers, where they used to go.

Some consumers – and many bottlers – think the deposit is unfair: why target beverage containers and not, say, peanut butter jars? Because most peanut butter isn’t consumed on the go, and peanut butter jars don’t litter our highways, woods, and waterways. All containers should be recycled, of course, but bottled water has had a notoriously low recycling rate – as low as 14 percent in recent years. But there’s good news: According to a recently published, but unavailable-to-the-public, report from the National Association for PET Container Resources, water bottle recycling has risen. From an International Bottled Water Association press release:

“According to data from an earlier 2006 bale content study for all beverages, the number of PET bottles counted per pound was approximately 12. In 2008, the total number of PET bottles increased to 13.78, a reflection of the dramatic increase in water bottle collection, as well as the continued lightweighting of other plastic containers. The 2007 NAPCOR study on water bottle recycling has determined that the recycling rate for water bottles is 23.4%, representing a significant 16.42% increase over the 2006 recycling rate of 20.1%.”

I asked Betty McLaughlin, executive director of the CRI, how to interpret the news. She said, “This is good news of course, and we applaud the improvement.  On the other hand, it is plainly obvious that we need to embrace other collection systems, beyond municipally funded or subsidized curbside and drop off systems if we wish to achieve more aggressive targets.” In other words, we need more, and broader, bottle bills. She continued: “The eleven states with container deposit legislation [bottle bills]]get 66-95% return rates for their beverage containers, so those high numbers in those 11 states skew the overall national rate. Years ago, the American Chemistry Council used to report separate figures for recovery rates for carbonated soft drinks (covered under 11 bottle bills) and other PET containers, but in 2004 they stopped doing that.  So, we have interpolated numbers since the last available reported number in 2004 for carbonated soft drinks (33.7% ) and the rate for all other PET bottles (14%).  Without hard numbers, we say the recycling rate for non-deposit PET is probably less than 20%. “

February 28, 2009   No Comments

Money and water (in bottles)

WHEC TV in Rochester, New York, reports that at a fundraising dance at Canandaigua Academy, sponsored by a school club called the Future Business Leaders of America, water fountains were turned off and thirsty dancers steered toward $1 bottled water. Angriness ensued. After, a school administrator acknowledged mistakes were made, apologized, and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Still, it makes me wonder. It wasn’t that long ago that a sports stadium at a Florida university was constructed without any drinking-water fountains at all.  (After much anger and some heat stroke, the fountains went in.)  I’ve never been denied a free cup of water at places that sell the bottled variety, but that day may come.

The Florida Times Union reports that state lawmakers, attempting to balance their budget, are considering a tax on bottled water. Water was exempted by the legislature in 1949, when no one was drinking single-serve bottles of the stuff. Today “the break is estimated to cost the state $42.3 million a year.” I wonder if the state is rethinking the $230 it charged Nestle Waters for a permit to pump hundreds of millions of gallons a year, without further charge, from Madison Blue Springs State Park (to be bottled as Deer Park). According to a March 2008 story in the St. Petersburg Times, “As an added incentive for Nestle, the state approved a tax refund of up to $1.68-million for the Madison bottling operation. To date, Nestle has received two refunds totaling $196,000 and requested a third tax refund.”

Meanwhile, in New York State, Gov. Paterson has proposed a so-called “obesity” tax on non-diet soft drinks, and Corporate Accountability International, through its Think Outside the Bottle Campaign, has called on Paterson to quit spending taxpayer dollars to provide bottled water in state buildings and at state functions. I was at a TOtB press conference today in New York City’s Union Square. It was overcast and so windy that concrete blocks were blown off a nearby ten-story construction site, and a street had to be closed off. Small crowd at Union, but the Reverend Billy, of the Church of Stop Shopping, raised a few amens. As soon as Matt Rosenberg, of, sends me a clip he shot of the event I’ll post it.

Yesterday,Think Outside the Bottle targeted Connecticut leaders in the town of Rocky Hill, asking them to quit the bottle and support investment in municipal water systems. As reported at, ditching bottled water could save the state $500,000 a year, according to state officials.  In yesterday’s Stamford Advocate, State Rep. Beth Bye says the state spends $11,600 a year to supply bottled water, Poland Spring brand, to offices in the Capitol. (I’m just guessing, but maybe the $500,000 covers water bought in local government offices throughout the state.) “We have good water,” Bye said. “You don’t have to bring water from Maine.” No word on whether anyone from Nestle Waters, which owns Poland Spring, showed up. The corporation’s headquarters are just thirteen miles away, in Greenwich.

February 12, 2009   No Comments