MARKET REPORT: California Builds Bridge to Solid Waste Future

Your equipment may be ready for the new millennium, but what about the rest of your operations? Readying itself for the new millennium, the Sacramento-based California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) is developing a solid waste management roadmap for the 21st century.

As the state's leading recycling and solid waste management agency, the CIWMB is identifying the scenarios that will affect solid waste management over the next 10 to 15 years. From this, the CIWMB will develop policy recommendations.

In forming its plan for the new millennium, the CIWMB first evaluated the current status of California's waste management programs. Prior to State Assembly Bill 939 - which in 1990 specified a 25 percent reduction in landfilled waste by 1995 and 50 percent by 2000 - most Californians thought of their trash as the exclusive property of the local landfill.

Then, California was disposing 42 million tons of waste each year - enough to fill a line of garbage trucks encircling the globe approximately one and a half times, or approximately 3 pounds of waste per person per day. Only 8.5 million tons, or 17 percent, were being diverted from landfills for secondary use.

California has responded well to the 1989 law. Programs have helped to increase diversion to 33 percent in 1998, stimulate markets for post-consumer materials, and expand public awareness of the waste reduction and recycling opportunities. Furthermore, an effort involving state and local governments, private industry, environmental organizations and a committed citizenry has helped to establish an integrated waste management system in California that is facilitated by a new public/private waste management infrastructure.

Cities and counties, along with solid waste and recycling companies, have built programs within their communities that include curbside recycling, green waste collection and processing facilities, construction and demolition processing sites, compost operations, materials recovery facilities, recycling plants and more.

Nevertheless, the new century will usher in some formidable, and in some cases unprecedented, environmental challenges. California's population, presently at 33 million, is projected to be 40 million by the year 2010. Californians also are living longer - approximately 75 years for men and nearly 81 years for women. And the $1.1 trillion gross state product is expected to expand to $1.3 trillion by the year 2001.

Foreign trade activity, especially in the Pacific Rim, is growing steadily as well. Consequently, while Californians are disposing less waste today -37 million tons in 1998 vs. 42 million tons in 1990 - and diverting 18.5 million tons of waste per year, the state is expected to produce significant waste volumes.

These long-term trends will affect the state's waste reduction and reuse efforts, and overall waste management system dramatically.

To respond effectively to the emerging trends, the CIWMB, with assistance from the environmental community, the solid waste industry, the business sector and local governments, has developed a framework for managing California's solid waste in the next millennium.

At the CIWMB's Issues Summit in Southern California last fall, the six-member waste board and its staff began identifying the issues and trends that would most likely affect solid waste handling's future. Among the top trends were the increasing size, age and cultural diversity of the population. This is expected to bring about changes such as increases in biowaste generated in the homes of baby boomers caring for aging parents.

Other areas that are expected to affect the waste industry include:

* bIncreased consolidation. This could affect waste reduction and recycling programs, and expand the controlling reach of regional landfills.

* Globalization of the economy. International control of trade agreements and foreign requirements on packaging could affect material flows and prices.

* Increased growth and development. This could decrease the amount of crop and grazing land, which would in turn reduce the organics waste stream, and increase municipal solid waste generated in these areas. And, lost crop land also could reduce the opportunities for compost consumption.

Last March, a "Future Search Conference" was held in Sacramento to build scenarios to address the issues identified at the fall summit and to determine desired outcomes for the next 10 to 15 years. This included an emphasis on source reduction and reuse, and developing sustainable markets for recycled materials.

Based on these scenarios, the CIWMB is formulating proposals to present to Governor Davis and the state legislature to help manage the new millennium's waste stream.

For example, the CIWMB is examining bioreactor technology as a method to "close the loop." Bioreactor technology, if used as part of a landfill cell design criteria, could accelerate methane gas generation. Once processed, this methane could become a more viable alternate fuel for refuse collection vehicles.

As the collection vehicle is fueled with methane gas at the landfill, it will proceed on its route to collect refuse. It then returns to the landfill with its load, which in turn will generate more methane gas to fuel the vehicle. This process closes the loop, and currently is being tested in small pilot projects throughout the country.

Developing the picture of solid waste management in the next century and creating a policy framework to deal with it is an important part of California's effort to meet its future infrastructure needs. Today, Californians are diverting 10 million more tons of waste from landfills than they were nine years ago. Having seen diversion doubled within a decade, the CIWMB is optimistic that with its roadmap, the state will be able to meet the solid waste challenges of the 21st century.