Alert 676: “Zero Waste” in Delaware–Can we get it right?

Past informs future in little Delaware
“Zero Waste” advocated and perverted….
Markell’s Executive Order No. 18 “Leading by Example ….”
In these times of change and opportunity, can Delaware get it right?


This doesn’t make entirely pleasant reading.  It’s a bit long.  But there is a reason for “going there:”  The past is prologue.  History is trying to repeat itself.  Some of the names have changed but the underlying (incineration) scams remain.

Delawareans have successfully fought burners under Governor Carper, Governor Minner, and now Governor Markell. Differences are not obvious–the servility to special interests, arrogance, and disregard for health just doesn’t seem to change.  Fortunately, many legislators are concerned about the people who elect them.

The good news is that Delaware has among the strongest laws in the US against incineration.  Laws that are presently being emulated in other states. The bad news is that these laws are under attack.

“Zero Waste”

Zero Waste is a powerful idea that some don’t take seriously as it sounds unrealistic to them.  But Zero Waste gives us a framework for thinking about how to handle the excess stuff that our society produces, whether we call it garbage, trash, discards, or whatever.

From the Zero Waste International Alliance:

Zero Waste Definition
The Planning Group of the Zero Waste International Alliance adopted the following definition of Zero Waste on November 29, 2004. This is intended to assist businesses and communities in defining their own goals for Zero Waste.
  • “Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
  • Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.
  • Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

If you haven’t yet, take 20 minutes to watch The Story of Stuff

(Sometimes people talk about traditional “trash” as generated by homes and offices, and sometimes they include coal ash, dredge “spoil” and other large waste streams.  This can lead to confusingly different numbers.)

Delaware’s sad track record

Delaware has done an unusually bad job of “waste” management, mostly, in my opinion, because of the influence of the self-serving “Delaware Solid Waste Authority“—we’ve often written about it as the “Garbage Empire” or the “Dirty Authority”) and the mega-incompetence of the Delaware DNREC solid waste regulators.  Green Delaware’s sites have dozens of articles and Alerts about this sad history, which has often done direct harm to residents health and quality of life.
Essentially the official state dump company, the Garbage Empire has long since morphed out of control, scheming obsessively to get another garbage incinerator–it once had one that failed spectacularly–while minimizing recycling as much as possible.  The Empire has truly mastered the art of pretending to promote recycling while actually minimizing it.

But times are changing, and even in backward Delaware, recycling has been expanding in the past several years–especially in the City of Wilmington.
Green Delaware has played a role in stopping incineration in Delaware, a fight that obviously is ongoing.  We have also worked over the years towards Zero Waste.

Our 2003 “Undump Delaware” proposals had these key points:

  • Prohibiting the land filling of yard waste and paper;
  • Making curbside recycling available statewide;
  • Defending Delaware’s strong laws against incineration (The “Dirty” Solid Waste Authority was (and is) lobbying hard to roll back these laws);
  • Planning for the phase out of the Cherry Island garbage dump; and
  • Reforming the “Dirtyboard” of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority.  (Several have been on the Board since the 1970 and all behave with contempt for the public they are supposed to be serving.  The members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state Senate.)

In 2006, we brought in two national experts, Rick Anthony and Neil Seldman.  From Green Delaware Alert #486

“In the last two weeks many people worked very hard to bring to Delaware two top experts in discards (“waste”) management: Neil Seldman and Rick Anthony. (Special thanks to Marlene Rayner.)  We held public meetings, meetings with state officials and recyclers, interviews with media, and hours of discussions aimed at firming up concepts for a “zero waste” future for Delaware.  (Green Delaware worked with the Sierra Club, the Civic League for New Castle County, and the Rose Hill Community Center to put these events together.)”

Later–and behind our backs in typical DNREC fashion–Seldman and Anthony were hired by DNREC for $50,000 to provide “a third partyanalysis and recommendations on how to manage resources currently disposed in landfills in Delaware.

The report found that:

An estimated 1 million tons1 of resources are disposed at landfills in Delaware each year. ILSR analyzed existing data using a market characterization of the discard stream. Based on one scenario of material value, findings indicate that as many as 1,574 jobs could be created and $40 million in annual gross revenue could be gained from sale of materials at the 50% recycling and composting (including mulching) level. At a 75% recycling and composting level, the number of jobs could increase to 2,360 jobs and materials revenues to $60 million. At the same time, households, local government and businesses could avoid $25 million annually in disposal fees if 50% recycling composting levels were reached. Avoid disposal fees could climb to $35.5 million if the State reached a 75% recycling and composting level. ILSR concludes that a $20 million investment over a six-year period can provide the necessary infrastructures for recycling and composting to reach the 50% and 75% levels. This investment should focus on public awareness and education, management training, financial incentives for public and private haulers and processors, and a phased-in requirement to separate materials at the source of generation. A $6 per ton surcharge on materials landfilled would provide grant funding for infrastructure programs. The surcharge could sunset after the sixth year. In addition to financial savings, high levels of recycling and composting would extend the state’s landfill capacity for additional decades. Further, such high levels of recycling and composting would reduce greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere (directly from landfills and indirectly by reducing virgin material impacts), as well as reduce energy, water, and raw material usage. [Green Delaware had no special input into this report but generally agrees with it.]

So it “looks like a plan,” doesn’t it?

But, of course, this was not the Garbage Empire’s plan. The Empire, over strong community opposition but with DNREC permission, chose instead to spend about $100 million expanding its notorious unlined, leaking, stinking, Cherry Island Garbage Dump.  (DNREC is now, in 1010, in the process of allowing expansion of the Empire’s dumps in Kent and Sussex Counties.  Dumping fees are being raised rapidly to pay for these dump expansions.)

This is a LOT of money that could be going towards making Delaware a Zero Waste state.  The Empire is developing a new “Statewide Solid Waste Management Plan” loaded with the usual nonsense.

N.C. Vasuki, long-time head of the Empire, was making his last play–before his retirement–for another garbage incinerator.

The waste business has always been a harsh one, with lots of unsavory interests making a lot of money.

Push back was immediate.  From Alert 486:

This has been an unusually difficult issue, and a difficult time for Green Delaware.

Months ago the incineration schemers rolled out two “incineration teams,” one under the auspices of DNREC and Governor Minner, the other (remarkably) promoted by Common Cause of Delaware.  Both of these excluded community and environmental advocates.

At the same time, aggressive attacks were launched against Green Delaware and Alan Muller personally.  These attacks came not only from the expected sources such as the Delaware Solid Waste Authority and the Editorial Board of the News Journal, but from leaders of Common Cause, the Green Party of Delaware, and even a former Green Delaware Steering Committee member.

Many people, for example, listened with amazement as John Flaherty bellowed “Green Delaware is losing members… Green Delaware is losing members…” on WDEL radio.  Abusive late-night phone calls were received by our consultants in California.

As a recent example, when Green Delaware reported a graphic, originating with a DSWA consultant, showing an incinerator at or near Cherry Island, a story was circulated that Alan Muller had made it up himself.

Added to the public attacks was the usual quiet back stabbing from the mainstream of Delaware’s “environmental community.”

Is this pleasant?  Obviously not.  But it is part of advocacy in Delaware.  Per usual, some people “rolled” but many did not.

In addition our “Progressive Voices” radio show was hijacked and the usual ongoing harassment by New Castle County was ramped up, as it usually seems to be when something important is happening.

The bogus “waste” task force was instigated by John Kearney, then or formerly with our friends at the “Clean Air Council,” and also, then or formerly, an applicant for a job with the Garbage Empire.  We thought it was set up to promote burning.  The two “outside experts” thought so to and resigned, writing:

“We provided you and taskforce members information on zero waste strategies.  However, you have proposed a goal which has landfill and incineration at its base and your proposed report is set up to validate these concepts.  We presented you with the Zero Waste International Alliance ( definition of zero waste and proposed a statewide strategy and while you have used our names you have ignored our positions in all your actions.”

The task force eventually fizzled out without producing a report, but did produce a lot of bad feelings and contributed to the downfall of Common Cause of Delaware.  Overall, a bad scene.  Some legislators took a strong stand against incineration, including Senators Karen Peterson and David McBride.  Overall, I suppose it was a draw:  The Empire didn’t get its burner, but many relationships were damaged and progress towards Zero Waste stalled.

Why rehash all this?  Because it’s happening once again!

On Feb 17, 2010, Jim Black of “Clean Air Council” circulated this email: House Joint Resolution 5 requests the Delaware Department of Natural Resources , Delaware Solid Waste Authority, and other interested parties to work together to discuss and create legislation, to be delivered to the Legislature by the first day of session in 2010, to bring Delaware into compliance with the Governor’s expressed goal of “zero waste” by 2020. Below is the report of the Zero Waste Working Group. Thanks, Jim Black, Clean Air Council

Sounds official, doesn’t it?
However, HJR 5 never passed the Senate and has no validity.  The “Zero Waste Working Group” was put together by Jim Black and has no official standing .   Black responded to our questions in an email: “There is not a direct connection to HJR5… CAC helped originate HJR5 but it did not pass the Senate so it is non binding … We have no official capacity … I brought the group together. .. I don’t remember the dates off hand [of the meetings] … We kept no minutes …The meeting were not “Public Noticed”.”

We asked Mr. Black who participated in his group.  His response: “Alan it would be easier to list the organizations that did not participate.“  Those not participating would seem to include people knowing much about Zero Waste.  Those who were involved included DNREC, the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, Delmarva Power (PEPCO), the Maryland-Delaware Solid Waste Association, and other special interests.  This is not to say special interests should be excluded, but where is the public representation and the understanding of Zero Waste?
Black, or course, is promoting two incineration schemes in Delaware and has used his “Solid Waste Working Group” to promote his incineration agenda.  The group is listed as having 26 members.  None contacted Green Delaware to let us know what was up.  Apparently they were carefully chosen.  (Black began sending us some information about two weeks ago.)

As one might expect, the “report” reflects the interests of waste haulers, burner promoters, the Garbage Empire, and so on.  It essentially mirrors the draft “Solid Waste Plan” of the Solid Waste Authority.  There’s little of substance in the “report” but considerable mischief.  Here are a few comments but read it for yourself.
The worst part is the perverted definition of Zero Waste as “The maximum reduction and diversion of resources from landfill for the most beneficial use …”  This might sound reasonable but it intended to open the door to incineration.  This was also the theme of the previous “task force” promoted by Common Cause.

“We are confident that our plan and DSWA’s will merge into one as we are in agreement on most issues.

Comment:  Sadly true.  And why this “report” is useless.

Step 2 — Develop a Zero Waste Web Site – The second step, which has been initiated, is to have a state Zero Waste web site called DERecycles. DERecycles is operated by DERecycles Inc. and funded through advertising revenue. This site will provide all information on any aspect of reducing and managing waste in Delaware and will remain the official waste and recycling web site as long as it is meeting the needs of the state as determined by the DSWA, RPAC and DNREC.

Comment:  This one’s really strange.  How could this peculiar little site , whose owners are unidentified, be the “official waste and recycling web site … as long as it is needing the needs of the state?

Step 3 — Develop an Educational Outreach Campaign – Third, in order to achieve our Zero Waste goals, an aggressive education and outreach campaign will be launched. …This educational program will be lead by the waste haulers. The haulers have been selected to do this because of their connection to every waste generator in the state through their monthly bill.

Comment:  Fox guards henhouse.

Step 4– Expand the Yard Waste Ban State Wide – Our fourth goal is to expand the yard waste ban to Kent and Sussex Counties to make it state wide.
Comment:  This is actually a good idea but it’s already being done as part of the DNREC permitting for the Kent and Sussex dump expansions.

Step 9– Issue RFPs [Requests for Proposals] for the Development of Waste Processing Facilities in Delaware – The ninth step is to issue RFPs to businesses to set up facilities in Delaware to process our waste resources and capture the benefits of these resources locally.
Comment:  Who would issue these and who would contract for such services?

These facilities can be built to recycle not only our paper and containers and to compost our food and yard wastes they can be designed to process our problem wastes such as construction and demolition waste, post combustion byproducts (ash), sewage sludge, dredge spoils, and industrial process wastes.

Comment:  In other words, Black’s Zero Waste Working Group wants RPFs issued for incinerators (!).  Nonetheless, there is no reasonable way that “post combustion byproducts” (coal ash) and “dredge spoils” can be “processed.”

Keep the bottle bill separate -The ZWWG recommends that the revision of the “bottle bill” should be kept separate from any legislation for recycling. ZWWG recommends that if the “bottle bill” must be considered in conjunction with recycling, that the change in the regulations should be designed by a working group made up of the parties. This working group will be charged with bringing a plan to the legislature before any change in the”bottle bill” would be considered.

Comment:  As we reported earlier, the Markell administration has proposed, at the behest of the beverage industry, to eliminate Delaware’s bottle deposit law.  This is a BAD idea.  A legitimate “zero waste working group” wouldn’t dodge this issue.

Remediate and Reclaim Closed Cells of Landfill Properties by Recovering Recyclable Materials
Finally, we should start to mine the resources in the closed Pigeon Point Landfill and the closed cells of the Cherry Island Landfill to recover recyclable materials and energy resources with the ultimate goal of reclaiming and the remediation of valuable riverfront property to become State Park land for the enjoyment of all people by 2050. This can be done and it will set an example for others across the country. Not only can we become zero waste in current practice but we can clean up from the poor practices of the past.

Comment:  This appears to be a proposal to dig up the contents of old dumps and incinerate them.  Dumber than dumb.  A joke of an idea we’ve heard before our of the mouths of Garbage Empire officials.

Executive Order Number 18

Governor Markell issued this on Feb. 17, 2010, entitled “Leading by Example Towards a Clean Energy Economy & Sustainable Natural Environment.“  It says a lot of good things, some things Green Delaware has long advocated for, but a careful reading also shows big problems.

For instance, “Target:  At least 30% of the annual electricity demand for buildings owned or operated by the State executive branch should come from clean, renewable sources by the end of fiscal year 2013.” Sounds good, until we realize that Markell has been promoting “biomass” power–as in the Newport incinerator scam also promoted by “Clean Air Council”–a power source dirtier than coal.

For instance, “Target: All state executive branch agencies, departments, and offices will aim to achieve a 75% rate of diverted waste from landfills by the end of fiscal year 2010. … How:  Reduce, reuse, and recycle!” This is good too, IF the “diverted” waste doesn’t end up being incinerated.

We’re in times of unprecedented change and opportunity.  Our state and our country are either going to move ahead, making dramatic changes, or keep falling back.  Markell seems to understand that.  Or, he seemed to while running.

But “the Devil is in the details,” and we can’t always have it both ways.

Delaware is a small place with a limited talent pool and a noticeable scarcity of backbone.  Can we get basic things right?   “Yes we can!”, but surely not through the schemes of BASF, the Garbage Empire, the “Delaware Economic Development Office,” and “Clean Air Council.”

More info and action items are on the Green Delaware web site.

Alan Muller

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