Newsome teamed up with a union leader to publish a strong editorial opposing waste incineration. The article appeared December 19, 2009, in the Sacramento Bee. Here are highlights:
"Increasingly, local and state governments are adopting "zero waste" goals to counter the real dangers of climate change and worldwide resource depletion. But what does "zero waste" mean?
... There are some tempting new technologies that reduce the amount sent to landfills, but in doing so they expend vast amounts of energy and other resources.
... For each ton of paper, bottles and cans we don't recycle, we end up generating an additional 71 tons of waste to create a new ton of paper, bottles or cans. This is because 71 tons of "upstream" waste – raw material extraction, product manufacturing and distribution – is created.
That's one reason high-temperature disposal technologies are so problematic (they're called waste-to-energy, gasification, pyrolysis, plasma-arc and a few other things, but they're really just glorified incineration).
Proponents are roaming the globe to sell governments on the idea that all of our discards – plastics, food scraps, computers, almost anything – can be "converted" in a high-temperature (up to 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit) machine to produce energy.
But when we burn a ton of recyclables, we capture only a small amount of energy compared to all the upstream energy used to make those products. We lose the valuable materials that could easily be turned into new bottles, cans and other products, avoiding other environmental costs as well. And again, we generate that 71 tons of upstream solid waste to create replacement products.
Because thermal technology destroys the resources that go into it, you cannot call the energy it produces "renewable" or "green." It also leaves behind toxic ash, slag and air emissions, including putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.
... On a per-ton basis, studies show that recycling and composting on average reduce carbon emissions 18 times more effectively than thermal processing.
When we turn food scraps, yard trimmings and even used, food-soiled paper into compost, which some cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are now doing on a large scale, and apply it to farms, we replenish depleted soil with the nutrients and carbon that healthy plants desperately need.
About 90 percent of what people throw away is recyclable or compostable, and manufacturers can improve their products so we can recover even more of what's left. In a zero-waste world, there will not be much waste to burn, and most of what's left would yield little energy.
Equally important for the future of our green economy is that recycling and composting mean jobs. The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports that every additional 10,000 tons recycled translates into 10 new frontline jobs and 25 new jobs in recycling-based manufacturing. Landfilling or incinerating those tons creates only one job.
Recycling and composting have proven benefits for people and the planet; allowing you to read next month's stories on today's paper. Landfilling and incineration waste valuable resources that can never be used again. It makes no sense to burn materials or put them in a hole in the ground when these same materials can be turned into the products and jobs of the future. *
Pic: Newsom signs mandatory recycling ordinance last June, SF Examiner