April 25, 2001 - From the April, 2001 issue

State Integrated Waste Management Board: Michael Paparian Offers an Orientation

Waste speaks for itself-it makes sense that if you waste less, you can make more efficient use of resources and energy. That's why the State's Integrated Waste Management Board—responsible for a variety of disposal programs around California—has made it a top priority to get local governments to reduce trash by 50%. MIR was pleased to get an update on the Board's programs for helping locals achieve that goal-including recycling efforts and innovative ideas for energy reuse-from the environmental community's Board representative Michael Paparian.


Mike Paparian

Mike, could you start by giving our readers an overview of the roles and responsibilities of the Integrated Waste Management Board?

The Board has a variety of responsibilities involving waste and recycling. Our highest priority is to make sure that local governments meet our State goal of 50% waste reduction from 1990 levels.

We also have household hazardous waste programs to promote recycling oil and other products, and we're working on building stronger markets for recycled materials, including a loan program to assist businesses involved in recycling and source-reduction.

Another big issue in California is what to do with old tires, and we have several programs looking at new technologies for tire disposal, as well as cleaning up abandoned piles and regulating storage and transport.

We also have very active public education efforts with one of the best curriculums of any State agency for K-12 education and a variety of programs to assist the general public, government departments and businesses in reducing waste and recycling.

You've been with the Board now for almost a year. What accomplishments are you most proud of so far?

At the top of my list has been the growing issue of electronic waste (e-waste). What do you do with that old computer and monitor sitting in your garage? We estimate that there are at least a couple million of these items in California waiting to be disposed of or recycled, and for the most part, folks don't know what to do with them. The Department of Toxic Substances Control recently clarified that the several pounds of lead contained in each monitor (and television set) means they should not go into standard solid waste landfills. So we'll be working with DTSC to improve the infrastructure for recycling and reusing these items.

I'd also like to establish partnerships with the electronics industry—and eventually other industries—to encourage the development of more easily recyclable products. Manufacturers need to take responsibility for what ultimately happens to their products. It's happening right now in Europe, and Sony is about to roll out a test take-back program in several U.S. states.

Let's turn to one of the broader issues in which the IWMB is involved: energy. Generating energy with biomass or landfill gas have become viable alternatives to fossil fuel-powered plants; not only do they recycle waste, but they're also less environmentally polluting than natural gas or coal. What's the Board's involvement in developing these technologies? And in the midst of this energy crisis, what do you have to offer as a solution?

Several waste-related materials are being actively pursued for energy generation. Next month we're holding a conference to bring together experts to explore new technologies for converting biomass and similar materials and to determine the State's role.

There are quite a few biomass plants in California that utilize the more traditional technology of burning biomass. (A number of them are not operating at the moment mainly due to the uncertainty over being paid by the utilities, but that's outside our jurisdiction.) Particularly in the Central Valley, a lot of agricultural waste is burned in open fields. What biomass plants offer is an ability to recover energy from material that is otherwise just burned off, while also having a great deal more control over the air pollution. For that reason, a lot of air quality agencies are very pleased to get these biomass plants going.

Another source for energy is landfill gas. As waste decomposes in landfills, it produces gas that can be recovered for energy production. Currently, there are about 250 megawatts of landfill gas on-line, and many efforts to increase that number underway.

About a year and a half ago, Metro Investment Report interviewed Judy Wilson, Director of L.A.'s Bureau of Sanitation. She said, "We're moving away from being a landfill agency. Our goal is to be at 70% diversion from landfills by the year 2020. That's a very ambitious goal requiring new facilities-transfer stations. We're planning for the future-Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and eventually moving to rail haul." What role does your Board play in encouraging or discouraging such efforts?

California has a statewide goal that local governments reduce their waste by 50%, which in most cases has resulted in very aggressive curbside recycling and material recovery programs where trash is sorted to recover the recyclable materials-paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, metal, etc.

An area that is particularly interesting at the moment is recycling green and food waste. An increasing number of local governments throughout the State are developing composting programs, as the product is a rich and desirable fertilizer for gardens and landscaping. For example, San Francisco's program to recover food waste from restaurants has been tremendously successful, and they're now looking to expand to residences as well.

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And how are our cities and metropolitan areas doing in terms of complying with the 50% reduction? Give us a report card.

Overall, local governments in California have done well. We've gone from a statewide diversion rate of about 10% in 1989 to 42% in 2000. Forty-two percent of materials that otherwise would have gone to landfills is now being recovered or recycled. And, even with all the growth the State has experienced in the last 11 years, we've gone from a total landfill disposal of 44 million tons in 1989 to 38 million tons in 2000.

It's projected that the equivalent of the City of Chicago will be added to the L.A. metropolitan area in the next 20 years. Are locals capable of managing waste production, even with the conservation efforts?

Our track record shows that we are capable of dealing with it. I think we'll continue to see more and more material coming out of the waste disposal stream and being put to economic use. Waste speaks for itself. And reducing it is extremely desirable in every way, whether it's economic, environmental, or energy.

The City of Los Angeles only has one landfill left-Sunshine Canyon-and estimates are that its life could be extended 20 years. In light of the Mayor's race now moving into a runoff, how should the candidates be talking about this? What options do cities really have with respect to landfills?

There are usually many options, but it comes down to having either the will or the dollars to pursue them. There are localities in California that transport their waste as far as 100 miles, but they have to be willing to pay for it.

The more preferable way to deal with landfill capacity is to produce less waste and recycle. When I visit landfills, I am amazed at the amount of material that doesn't have to be there. Statewide, about 30% of our waste is paper, most of which could be recycled. Thirty-five percent of our waste is leaves, grass, food and other items that could be composted. Some jurisdictions are more aggressive and creative than others in getting these materials out of the waste stream.

Mike, the Board has been conducting working groups to discuss the current Disposal Reporting System (DRS) intended to provide accurate information about waste disposal throughout the State, consistent with the goals of AB 939. Can you give us an update on this effort?

As part of our charge to make sure local governments are meeting their 50% waste reduction requirements, we need to know how much waste each jurisdiction is depositing into landfills.

There are 88 cities in Los Angeles County and only a few landfills. Often, garbage trucks will come to dumping facilities with trash from three or four different jurisdictions, and drivers have no way of deciphering exactly how much came from where. That's what the Disposal Reporting System will do-provide us with more accurate data about where the trash is coming from.

The Board is also looking for a new Executive Director. Can you give our readers some idea of what you're looking for in the way of qualifications and what the timeline is?

We're still in the search process. In general, we're looking for a strong leader with knowledge in the environmental and waste fields. We need someone who can gain not only the Board's confidence, but also that of local governments, the environmental community, and industry professionals. We'd like someone who will help maintain our position as the most forward-thinking waste agency in the world.

Mike, let me end with this question: Why should the public and civic leaders in the Los Angeles Basin focus on the work of the Integrated Waste Management Board? What are the issues that don't get covered in the mass media that the civic leadership and the civic-minded of this Basin need to follow better?

Throughout California there's a strong desire to maintain a clean environment. The things that we do today-recycling bottles, cans, newspapers, composting our garden waste-not only make us feel good today, but can also give us confidence that we're leaving future generations of Angelenos a comfortable environment in which to live. That's why I joined this Board, and that's why reducing our municipal waste and investing in innovative recycling technologies is such an important task for the leaders of the 21st Century.

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