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James Greyson

Sep 29, 2011


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Hi Paul, welcome great to see you here and thanks for adding this proposal! If you're considering all forms of waste (as well as solid garbage) then do you include GHG emissions as waste from fuels etc? "New methods must be found to make profit that does not rely on insatiable wasting." If you like the approach then this question has been answered in the allied proposal on the CoLab Fix the system - get a global 'circular economy'. This provides product price correction to design out accumulating waste caused by markets. Your proposal is global but I read that you ask for a US-based department to implement. Perhaps I missed the international aspect? I guess either many national departments or an international body. Would love to know your thoughts on the international body that tried to do what you ask many years ago and was shut down. The UN Zero emissions forum (http://archive.unu.edu/zef/ ) could have implemented zero waste internationally by now but instead it was mothballed, writing on its site "UNU-ZEF has succeeded in fulfilling its original goals, with the Zero Emissions concept having been adopted by industry and governments worldwide. Hence, this website not going to be updated or maintained any more." My feeling is that zero waste hasn't been pursued more widely as it is commonly misunderstood as being in conflict with economic growth and business success. Hence the apparent need to merge technical and economic visions for waste. We need a new economic model as well as new product models. James

2011 Judges

Oct 11, 2011


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Overall assessment: Well presented but direct impact on climate change not clear. Specific comments and suggestions for improvement: - Designing sustainable waste systems is an important goal, but a more complete and specific analysis is needed that would outline a more comprehensive suite of solutions along with the statement of the problem. It would also be necessary to address issues such as whether such systems would ultimately increase e.g. energy needs, greenhouse gas emissions, and the like. - The need for such a concept is made clear, but unfortunately, the proposal is not sufficiently specific to make the case. In fact ,the remanufacturing process has already been adopted by Caterpillar Corporation with its “Remand” program that remakes the big construction equipment at least 3-4 times, upgrading the device and its performance at each remanufacture stage.

Paul Palmer

Oct 12, 2011


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Responding to James (Blindspotter) Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I looked up that United Nations group that you provided a URL for. I was not previously familiar with them, so I read their concept statement. As could be predicted, the UN never even tried to come close to a Zero Waste approach. The entire reuse effort, worldwide, has been reduced to a primitive attempt to create all the waste that anyone wants but then attempt to reuse it AS WASTE!. Compare, for example, the movement toward industrial parks, which garners much environmental praise. Yet all this means is that two factories produce all of their normal waste products while sending it over to the other one to make use of it, usually in some low-grade forced manner. This is not reducing waste but facilitating it. This kind of approach is doomed to failure, but because it serves the purpose of shedding responsibility for design failure onto someone else, it is the most popular form of reuse. This is what the recyclers always advocate - abundant discard followed by an abortive effort to capture a few scraps of no value or significance compared to the true expenditure of energy, labor and raw materials that went into the original product. You can always tell when this kind of inadequate, low level of reuse is being contemplated. Here are a few signs: 1. the process is designated zero waste TO LANDFILL; 2. the cycles of nature are invoked as a goal; 3. partial successes are embraced while complete success is abjured (as in the common phrase "zero waste or darned close"); 4. the word "diversion" is used as a goal (this is code for recycling discards); 5. the goal of zero waste has everything but the kitchen sink loaded onto it, as for example, in the mission statement used by the ZWIA (Zero Waste International Alliance). This is not a goal or a definition, it is a prescription for environmental utopia. That is similar to the goal enunciated by the (now closed) UN effort that you referenced. A proper, effective, workable definition of Zero Waste does not have to range over every pop environmental issue now making the rounds. It is this: Zero Waste is the effort to redesign products and processes right from the start so that discard is designed OUT and reuse is designed IN. This definition says it all. It provides a measure of whether or not any particular enterprise is inside of or outside of the Zero Waste umbrella. Don't look at garbage management, don't invoke some supposed natural cycle, don't get mixed up with incinerators or lung cancer - if you are redesigning products or processes for maximal reuse, that is a Zero Waste effort. When discard is no longer assumed, the whole superstructure of garbage and dumpsters and incinerators and all the consequent pollution and wasting and greenhouse gas emission they cause - will simply fade away. Design rationally and leave the insanity of garbage management behind. My proposal is long and it lays out many of the underpinnings of Zero Waste as a redesign proposal. You may have had trouble reading to the end of the document but if you go back and read it over, you will see that I dispose of the canard that natural cycles are a proper target for industrial reuse, as glibly offered by the UN mission statement. I believe that nature sprang up as model a few years ago due to intellectual laziness. It is just so easy to say nature will show us the way and we don't have to change anything or do much work. But it is not true and that is as much of an indictment as anywhere else in science. In all of the Zero Waste labeled efforts throughout the entire world, you will find that nowhere has anyone promoted the redesign of products themselves (and their associated manufacturing and commercial processes) so that discard is designed out of the life cycle except myself and the Zero Waste Institute. Does this make it wrong? Not at all. Many scientific truths began by swimming against an entrenched political and commercial tide. In this case, we have an extremely well connected and politically powerful industry that is making billions of dollars every year by destroying the planet's resources. In the US, it is common and typical for every city to impose a franchise fee on the garbage collection charges of ten to fifteen percent, which goes directly into a fund that the city commissioners get to spend with little public scrutiny. It is very difficult to get numbers, but I have estimated that annual garbage collection fees in California alone are two billion dollars. Given the typical 15% so-called "franchise fee" (actually a disguised tax paid by the citizenry as a surcharge). this puts three hundred million dollars into the coffers of the cities. The garbage companies are delighted to pay this fee as it buys them an entrenched position in city politics that they could hardly come by with any other quasi-legal means. They don't pay this fee - their customers do. In return, what they get is immensely favorable sweetheart deals from the cities. They get police and court enforcement of their billing (yes, this is unbelievable but it happens). They get guaranteed profit margins (in Marin county it is running 9.5% I am told). They get unimaginable contracts, called "evergreen" which are renewed for twenty more years EVERY YEAR! That's right! They never expire because there is always twenty more years on the contract. That means that a city which wants to buy out the contract and go out for competitive bidding instead, has to buy out twenty years of contract. No other city service gets treatment even close to this. And they get to split up their businesses so that all the profitable ones are in their private domains while all the ones that lose money get folded into their city contracts with the guaranteed profits subsidized by the city. Yes, the garbage companies might as well be endowed with Royal Charters by King Philip for the perks that they enjoy. So naturally, they don't want any cockamamie Zero Waste ideas to come along and threaten to restructure society in any kind of conserving or rational way. They support post discard recycling to the hilt because this is a bogus reuse program that doesn't threaten their profits in any way. I hope this explains why Zero Waste as a redesign theory is suppressed politically and commercially and is replaced everywhere by a richly financed recycling movement that seeks to pull the wool over the public's eyes with irresponsible but superficially appealing devices to chop at and eliminate responsibility. They want a lazy, irresponsible public to believe that garbage is inevitable and garbage companies and dumps are the natural way to handle poorly designed, shoddy goods. You point to a single company, Caterpillar, and you say they are using Zero Waste methods. I don't know what that company does but I have looked at the claimed zero waste efforts of several others (on my website) and invariably it is just a variety of end-of-pipe recycling. I expect that if you inspect Caterpillar's claims, you will find it is primarily discard and recycling with very little design for long life. However, if they are being truly farsighted in their designs, then good for them, and let's get on with applying those concepts broadly and get rid of these backward, uncivilized garbage companies and their dumps already. This is the 21st century and we are still making use of fifth century processes. We should be ashamed. And MIT students should especially be the ones to feel the shame and work to make the kinds of technological changes I advocate. You ask if greenhouse gas emission falls under the Zero Waste umbrella. Of course it does, as I point out on the first page of my website. While there may be no feasible way to merely use a Zero Waste analysis to shut down any power plant, the reasoning applies perfectly. If you cannot design for reuse of your discards (read: emissions) then you should have no right to create those discards. The same goes for nuclear plants creating unusable radioactive discards. All these power plants simply expect the entire population to put up with the consequences of their mad rush for profit. They expect the public to pay for some kind of mitigation, which, since as it turns out, none exists, that means that we just have to all suffer. Renewable energy sources are not magical solutions since they also depend on huge production of equipment, but at least the equipment is ordinary industrial equipment, not atmospheric contamination or the most dangerous and poisonous substances known to science. So the answer is yes, Zero Waste analysis provides a rational, coherent framework for thinking about the design of all goods and processes. I was understandably surprised by your comment that the recommendations were not specific enough. How much more specificity could you possibly ask for? I provided links to discussions on my website of actual redesigns of actual products that could last for hundreds of years instead of being discarded after one use. I am trying to commercialize several of these innovations, which could not happen if they were not pretty specific. I have a whole section labeled Projects which covers thirty different product categories. Look at the one for Buildings and Architecture. Look at the proposal for redesigning monolithic concrete slabs into squares that can be disassembled and reassembled elsewhere. Look at the proposal for redesigning steel storage containers, which are often shipped here and then abandoned, for a new life. I offer a rational design for setting fence posts that has not changed for two-thousand years. How could any proposal be more specific without actually setting up a factory and producing Zero Waste products (which is indeed my goal). As to your last point, about the relation between this proposal and climate change. Once again, it sounds like you did not peruse the proposal through to its end and strive to absorb the lessons laid out. We are talking about the entire manufacturing base of all of our countries, all being hijacked to produce shoddy goods, then discard them, then produce them over and over again. Somehow you manage to not see this futile, useless remanufacturing as being a huge waste. Can you peg it as less than several trillion dollars per annum of wasted manufacturing effort? You need to rethink your comment. How much of this unnecessary production is supported by the thousands of fossil fuel burning power plants in all our countries? But if you want to see actual numbers - well that is what my proposal is all about. The people urging the world to sit back and discard, discard and recycle want to make sure you never see such numbers. A few such studies have been done (microchip manufacturing was one such) but the true magnitude of the wasteful overproduction of goods whose obsolescence is planned for must be studied academically, in universities, in design departments, in chemical engineering departments etc. Where is the impetus and money for that to come from for the first time ever? That is what my proposal is all about. To create for the first time a central research effort that can study the waste and come up with designs for a better way to design production, one that does not continue twenty centuries of egregious wasting for twenty more centuries.

James Greyson

Oct 13, 2011


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Hi Paul, just to clarify, comment 1 is from me and comment 2 is from the judges (see list at http://climatecolab.org/web/guest/community ). If you get a chance it would be lovely to know of your thoughts and suggestions for improvement for the zero-waste flavoured proposal at http://climatecolab.org/web/guest/plans/-/plans/contestId/4/planId/13801 Thanks, James
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