New Programs Increase California's Diversion Rate

Editor's Note: Steven R. Jones has been appointed to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), Sacramento, Calif., by Governor Pete Wilson. Jones, 46, has been the chief executive officer for Cal Sierra Disposal Inc. since 1993.

WW: How do you think California will overcome its final hurdles of reaching a 50 percent diversion goal?

SJ: Californians have met the goal of 25 percent diversion by 1995. That project diverted about 11 million tons of material out of the waste stream statewide. The 14 to 20 million tons of additional diversion necessary to reach 50 percent is going to come through programs designed to deal with organics and inerts as well as expanding traditional efforts through increased market development.

The Waste Board has put a number of things in place designed to help move towards the 50 percent goal including efforts to develop compost markets; Recycling Market Development Zones (RMDZ) - which offer low interest loans for businesses using recovered recyclables in new products, creating market-driven demand, jobs, and, hopefully, profit for the entrepreneur; and a tiered permitting program that allows the permitting process to move faster in some cases.

However, what I consider to be the most essential factor, is massive investment by the private sector in building infrastructure coupled with the public-private partnerships that spur progress. California's refuse industry is providing vision, operational expertise and investment to achieve the mandate.

WW: In what ways do you think California is a leader in solid waste management?

SJ: I think the private sector waste industry is essentially responsible for California's leadership in solid waste. But the Waste Board also has contributed to this reputation for leadership. Due to the ambitious nature of AB 939, the Board has expanded from a traditional "regulatory" role to include an "advocacy" role. Examples include: pursuing market development projects and public education, which is critical due to the magnitude of our goals, and demands that the public-private partnerships include the general public as well. Our education efforts are designed to promote reduce, reuse and recycle as everyday practices, and to eliminate confusion among the public about the varied aspects of integrated waste management, including the safe and efficient service offered by today's state-of-the-art waste handling facilities. Because, while we work on diverting 50 percent, we need to educate people that the remaining 50 percent needs to be disposed of and that will be the case forever.

The Board also has instituted regulatory reform to foster more diversion and regulations that strike a balance between the regulatory burden and the degree of environmental protection being sought. Additionally, $17 million dollars have been loaned to businesses throughout the state through the RMDZ loan program which has created or saved hundreds of jobs. The last I heard, our RMDZ program, a kind of enterprise zone for recycling-based manufacturing, was the only one of its kind in the nation.

WW: What issues are Californians facing that will eventually emerge in the rest of the country?

SJ: Organic waste management through composting and other recycling efforts is something to which we are devoting considerable time and resources. While this effort is taking place elsewhere, our approach will nevertheless get a lot of attention from others in years to come, because of the size of California's waste stream.

I think other states will start to face issues concerning household hazardous waste disposal. As a garbageman, I've experienced first hand what happens when two chemicals, which by themselves are harmless, but in a packer unit mix and can create some real health and safety problems. Finally, increasing costs of recycling combined with market development issues face us all.

WW: What are some of the creative solutions you've witnessed to solid waste problems?

SJ: In the AB 939 era, I would say curbside recycling programs, the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) concepts with design growth and technology growth, both for clean and dirty MRFs. The biosolids area concerning inclusion into compost mixes and land applications also.

And the one I'm most proud of is the solution to Tuolumne County's solid waste problems, where I worked with Dick Hanson at Cal Sierra to build a waste infrastructure that included a MRF, garbage baling, and exporting to Nevada when closure of the landfill was completed shortly after we opened (see World Wastes, May 1996).

WW: What advice would you give someone who would like to serve in a similar capacity to yours at the CIWMB?

SJ: Build your career on a couple of simple principals, whether on a garbage truck or a management entry level: be honest, be prepared and don't take yourself too seriously.

The real honor here is that my peers in the industry endorsed and supported me. The governor and his staff narrowed their list to a handful of finalists, and knowing the others, I can say any of us would do a great job for the governor, the industry, and the citizens of California.