It’s Not Just San Francisco Anymore! A Report on San Diego’s First Zero Waste Conference

Date: 11 Mar 2014 | posted in: waste - zero waste, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail


It’s Not Just San Francisco Anymore!
A Report on San Diego’s First Zero Waste Conference

by Neil Seldman*, ILSR, Washington, DC
February 4, 2014

The first San Diego County Zero Waste Conference was held under the sponsorship of Zero Waste San Diego (ZWSD) and the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA).  All presentations are available through ZWSD. Jon Huls, Green Street eMedia, recorded the conference and the video is also posted at

The meeting was worth the trip across the country.


Poor Berkeley!  It sits in the shadow of San Francisco as the sun goes down in the West each day during the height of summer.  Berkeley’s diversion numbers are close to SF’s, and it does all that recycling and reuse and composting without resort to monopoly contracting by a single operator, as SF does.  The “ecology of commerce” model we’ve worked on for forty years in Berkeley remains a work in progress, with six major materials recovery enterprises handling most of the work, three publicly owned and three privately owned, a structure that is constantly threatened by a solid waste management-inspired administrative structure that is out of touch and out of date.  The tail wags the dog in Berkeley, but the dog is pretty healthy in most of its parts, and we’re working on freeing recycling from its administrative shackles too.

No, “It’s Not Just San Francisco Anymore,” and it never was.

– Dan Knapp. PhD, Principal, Urban Ore, Inc., Berkeley, CA

ZWSD’s Rick Anthony and Laura Anthony used the highly successful ’10 Minute’ conference format established by the Northern California Recycling Association (NCRA). Specialists in all aspects of zero waste presented data and succinct comments with strict enforcement by a timer and rather loud buzzer. Arthur Boone, recently retired veteran and venerated California recycler, came up with the concept for NCRA. Appropriately, Boone, who is a Protestant Minister, gave the opening Convocation with a non-denominational prayer for strength and guidance for those committed to a better world.

Rick Anthony enumerated the theory and goals of the zero waste mission, enumerating the key practical steps needed for reaching 90% or more diversion from landfill and incineration.  These goals are readily attainable in San Diego County with a zero waste goal and regional plan that will:

+ Ban organics from landfills,

+ Source separate into the 12 market categories and sub clusters developed by Urban Ore, Berkeley,

+ Resource recovery parks for local economic development,

+ Highest and best use of materials.

Rod Muir, Sierra Club Canada, commented that by just a “flick of the wrist” people can determine the future of resource management by putting discards in the recycling and compost bins rather than the garbage bin.

Oceanside Vice Mayor Esther Sanchez addressed the realities of reaching zero waste. The city of 200,000 has a goal of 75% recycling by 2020 and 90% by 2040. Since embarking on zero waste policies and programs in 2010, Oceanside reports a recycling level of 72%. This is a significant level as San Francisco, the country’s highest recycling city, reports an 80% rate. The contrast in approaches to zero waste is significant. San Francisco’s 800,000 residents and businesses achieved elevated recycling rates under unique circumstances; a decades-old perpetual franchise for one hauling company. San Diego County, by necessity, strives to reach the California goal of 75% diversion, and beyond, with over100 incorporated cities, towns, unincorporated areas, Indian Reservations and military bases, each in control over their own waste stream.  The proximity of San Diego to Mexican and Pacific Rim Markets make recovery environmental and economic priorities for each jurisdiction.

The Zero Waste Conference thus was a necessary venue for sharing the experiences of jurisdictions, businesses, non-profit organizations and haulers in the county.

Climate Change  

K. Hampal Zero Waste, City of Burbank described the master-composting program in Burbank as a vital step to combating the drought in California that has brought ‘dust bowl’ conditions. Landscaping takes up 50% of all water use in California. Specific remedies include contouring landscapes that can save water, bring back butterflies and grow food.

John Davis director of the Mohave Dessert Solid Waste Authority shared his insights into the science of measuring the environmental performance of products taking into account many parameters that effect decision-making on climate change issues. These include transportation loss rates, water usage, acidity, extraction technology, product and packaging design.

Lynn France Solid Waste Director for the City of Chula Vista described the preferential purchasing program that seeks to reduce environmental and human health impacts of different products, looking at toxicity, biodegradability, reuse and recyclability, safety and cost.

Roger Kube of Surf Rider San Diego called for combined producer and consumer responsibility and legislative campaigns by organized networks of citizens and businesses. Over 100 jurisdictions have banned plastic bags in the state and a statewide ban in being considered by the legislature, as reported by Jacy Bolden, Encinitas Environmental Commission.

Rich Flammer, Hidden Resources, added to the picture of food and water waste caused by lack of composting infrastructure. Ana Carvalho, Environmental Specialist for San Diego County, referred to the Pope’s recent talk condemning the waste of food while people go hungry.  Six billion pounds of food and enormous amounts of water are wasted worldwide. Feed America San Diego reported that donations of edible food could equal 800,000 meals annually if channeled to schools and food banks.


Mike Rowan of Goodwill Industries presented the economic side of increased recycling and reuse. Its drop off centers and stores helped create 3,800 jobs in the county. The Sustainable Surplus Exchange bridges the community and businesses to channel surplus goods to non-profit organizations in the county. In 2011, 125 companies contributed over $1 million to local groups. Pauline Martinson, director, I Love a Clean SD/Waste Free San Diego describes an innovative repair and distribution program run primarily by volunteers. They have created a repair database for regional cooperation in the reuse sector.

Heidi Sanborn, California Product Packaging Council summarized the state of the art of Extended Producer Responsibility in California including mattresses, pharmaceuticals, carpets, and product and packaging redesign.

The Rare Hare Studio is devoted to repurposing diverse materials for teachers, students, community groups and families. EDCO, a hauling company has grown its zero waste businesses by adopting recycling, composting, construction and demolition processing.  Snooze, a new restaurant chain based in Colorado but expanding rapidly in San Diego County, has a mission in its business plan to reach zero waste. Tom Wright consultant to Whole Foods Market presented that company’s goal of 90% waste reduction in 90% of its stores by 2017. Sustainable Surplus focuses on recycling and composting from multi family dwellings. Nancy Strauss described the Del Mar Fair Grounds zero waste accomplishments. Gary Liss, Grass Roots Recycling Network (GRRN) brought the audience up to date on the US Zero Waste Business Council network and the criteria used for certification.

Teach the Children Well

Additional behavior and culture change agencies operate in the county as well. In Solana, Jessica Toth reported on the Center for Environmental Innovation.

In Encinitas, Healthy Day Partners has helped schools save $40,000 annually in reduced food wasting. Uniform protocols adopted by school districts have also helped change habits among students, teachers and households through hands on instruction and training. The program includes the creative reuse of water bottles and other packaging. School districts have reduced overall waste by 80%. There is a delightful video of elementary school students explaining their Separate, Compost and Reduce Products (SCRAP) program that includes vermicomposting and gardening.

Concluding Remarks

San Diego County Supervisors Dave Roberts and Chairman Cox applauded the accomplishments to date and the goals of San Diego’s zero waste practitioners. Each is expected to support new rules and policies at the county level to help realize the 2020 and 2040 goals set forth by the conference participants.

Neil Seldman, ILSR reviewed the policies and programs that made California a national leader in recycling and zero waste. These include grass roots Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies, minimum content legislation, Recycling Market Development Zones, CalRecycle’s in state recycling and reuse priorities – local use over export of materials jobs and businesses.

Indeed, it is not just San Francisco anymore!

San Diego County is making its own, diversified, road to zero waste. It has already contributed to the business, community and government culture change and rule change needed to reach zero waste. The zero waste campaign will accelerate the pace and broaden its scope.

ZWSD will soon issue its peer reviewed zero waste guidelines for San Diego County. The San Diego County Zero Waste Conference will be an annual event.

* Neil Seldman was tutored in recycling and has worked in Southern California since 1976. He worked with citizens groups to defeat proposed incinerators in San Diego City and County and City of Los Angeles and has been a zero waste advisor to recycling companies, grass roots organizations, state and local governments. He is in regular contact with ZWSD, CRRA, NCRA, GRRN, LA Bureau of Sanitation, Californians Against Waste, non-profit organizations, recycling businesses and consultants in the region.

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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.