December 10, 2005

CA AB 1090 - 11/16/05 - Background for Conversion Technology Bill

On November 16, 2005 the California Assembly Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Hon. Loni Hancock, held a hearing in the Los Angeles City Council Chambers. A distinguished panel of speakers presented a series of arguments advocating the passage of AB 1090 - which would correct language in its predecessor (CA Bill AB 939 in 1989) and provide additional "diversion credits" for waste that is diverted from landfill. This hearing was full of facts from credible sources that are germaine to any debate on the subject of conversion technology - the need, the opportunity, the comparative emissions data, and the overall environmental benefits.

These introductory remarks by the Chair of the California Integrated Waste Management Board, trace the brief background of conversion technology legislation in and the need for updating guidelines for diverting municipal solid waste (MSW).


Hon. Rosario Marin
Chair, California Integrated Waste Management Board

The future of waste and resource management in California is the Board’s overarching mandate and we have been diligent in the effort to stay abreast of trends and technologies to ensure that the health and safety of the public and the environment are protected.

The Integrated Waste Management Board, with its local government and industry partners, has come a long way. In 2004, California achieved a 48% diversion rate, and I project that we will be at 50% this year, 2005. Given that the mandate for diversion rests on local governments and the board, and given that there are very few mandated producer responsibility programs, you must agree that this has been a monumental accomplishment.

While we have come so very far, it appears that we might be right back where we started way back in 1989. Today, we are facing some of the similar challenges that we were facing then. It appears to me that we are relying on old methods and old technologies to face even bigger and greater challenges.

When then-Assemblymember Sher wrote AB 939 in 1989, the main impetus was the threat of running out of landfill space, as well as the huge amount of resources that were thrown out as trash every day. At that time, California’s population was about 30 million people and we generated 49 million tons of trash. However, we only diverted about four million tons despite disposing of about 45 million tons. That’s about a 10% diversion rate.

In 2005, California’s population has now grown to over 36 million people, an increase of six million. However, we generate over 78 million tons of waste, that’s up from 49 million back then, but we divert 37 million tons of disposal. However, that means that we still dispose of almost 41 million tons of material every year. That’s 41 million tons of potential resources that clearly have no sustainable market.

Even if we continue to divert half of our generated waste from disposal, and even if we decrease our disposal, with the growth in population, we will be faced with a management crisis at some point. Sooner or later we are going to run out of space.

The US Census projects that by the year 2030 California will be home to more than 46 million people. State and local governments will be responsible for providing basic services for an additional ten million people in the next 25 years--and that includes waste management services.

If we estimate that waste generation will remain pretty constant at a little less than two million tons per year per one million in population, then the state will be faced with the management of an additional 20 million tons of waste. This will put waste generation at about 100 million tons per year--100 million tons of potential resources that should not be landfilled and should be used for their higher and best use. What those uses are will be spurred on by public policy drivers that are somewhat different than what they were back in 1989.

What policy makers are faced with now are more than just landfill space and finding better uses for resources that might otherwise be wasted. We are faced now with vanishing open space, increased costs for energy, increasing dependence on foreign sources of fuel, controlling greenhouse gas emissions, increasing pressure to stop the export of potentially harmful materials and so forth.

There are no new landfills being planned in California, and as you are aware, it would take between ten and twenty years to plan, site and construct, even if you could find somewhere to put it.

Many jurisdictions are beginning to say “no” to the import of waste from other jurisdictions. Lawsuits, local initiatives and even legislative action to ban the import and import and export of waste are being initiated around the state.

We really do not have the luxury of waiting to find long-term waste management options. We need to explore new avenues that show promise as they have in other parts of the nation and the world.

We need to find new markets for larger quantities and different types of waste streams and we must start this process now.

I feel it is our shared duty, our shared responsibility to look beyond today and to the future. In looking into the future of waste management, I find that we must provide the courage to examine all means, all technologies and all ideas of managing our resources. My obligation, our obligation, is to meet the demand of the future by thinking beyond, to know that there are alternatives to landfill disposal. We cannot continue doing as we have always done, because if we do, we will forever be battling the same issues, facing the same old challenges. We must be given the opportunity to explore, to be able to say we have examined every opportunity and every technology that has been made available.

We must do it courageously and cautiously, with our mandate of protecting public health and safety and the environment as our paramount objective. With this obligation come many challenges, but if we are successful in our efforts, we will provide for a much better California for future generations--and that, after all, is our shared, sacred mission.


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