The Comic Book that Started a Movement: The Lone Recycler

Date: 16 Dec 2014 | posted in: waste - recycling | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when the Lone Recycler, lead citizens in the SF Bay Area against the cruel intentions of the garbage incineration industry; which lead to a national movement that continues to this day.

From 1980 through 1982, five planned garbage incinerators in the SF Bay Area were defeated. In rapid succession the defeat of incinerators in the SF Bay Area resulted in the cancelation of 30 planned incinerators in California.

From 1980 through 1997 over 300 planned garbage incinerators were defeated by spontaneous action by organized citizens, small businesses and progressive officials.

Introduction – by Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA

A new wave of approximately 100-150 garbage incinerators have been proposed since the mid 2000s. To date one has been built. A look back at the history of anti garbage incineration is well in order.

In the early 1980s the conventional wisdom was that recycling could recover only 35% of discards, and even some recyclers called incineration “resource recovery.”  But the recyclers in Berkeley, California, led by Dan Knapp and including Mary Lou Van Deventer and Mark and Nancy Gorrell, had a bigger dream of recycling everything.  The city council voted unanimously to begin the procurement process for a garbage incinerator.

The recyclers tried to convince the council that burning the resources would foreclose the recycling options and cause pollution.  At first the council members wouldn’t even meet with recyclers, and when they finally did, they wouldn’t change their plan.  The frustrated recyclers decided direct democracy was their only recourse, so they gathered signatures for a citizens’ initiative, and they put a five-year moratorium on incineration on the November 1982 ballot.  Their campaign slogan was “Give Recycling a Chance.”  They won more than 60% of the votes!  Afterward Dan and Mary Lou helped citizens in several other San Francisco Bay Area cities defeat incinerators too.  Seven incinerators were planned; none was built.  One joint powers authority even dissolved itself.

In 1984 Dan and Mary Lou swapped a lot of dinners, beer, and wine with their friends architect Mark Gorrell and illustrator Nancy Gorrell, and they laughed a lot as they wrote the saga of The Lone Recycler to envision a Zero Waste future.  Step by step Nancy took the developing bones of the story into her studio and fleshed out the group’s characters, wrote dialogue, invented incidental characters and games, and illustrated everything.  The San Francisco grass roots recycling group Richmond Environmental Action, provided funds for the publication.

The intention was to promote citizen activism and sustainable resource management instead of centralized control of waste and destruction.  In the end they transformed Slobberg into Wonderberg and even recycled the bad guys.

CAUTION TO PARENTS: Children tend to take this comic into a corner and spend a long time reading.  If you prefer that they play more with their electronics, don’t give them this comic.

Download the full issue of The Lone Recycler

Avatar photo
Follow Neil Seldman:
Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.