Recycling success through sustainable procurement, co-ops and waste exchanges

Ziad Mazboudi, P.E., CPESC, CPSWQ, Environmental Division Manager, City of San Juan Capistrano, California, and member, APWA Solid Waste Management Committee

Working for the City of San Juan Capistrano, a small city in southern California, I realize that the purchasing power of the city is not as large as, say, the Cities of Chicago or New York City. But, one must also remember that there are more small- and medium-size cities in the U.S. than large cities. In other words, the purchasing power of all the small cities combined probably exceeds the large cities—and so is their cumulative impact on the environment. This is why in December of this past year, the City of San Juan Capistrano adopted a sustainability charter and guiding principles to make sure that decisions made by the city council and staff actions do not negatively impact the natural environment. Among the guiding principles is to develop a zero waste plan and a sustainable procurement program. Zero waste is the recycling or reuse of all natural and man-made materials back into nature or the marketplace, rather than sending those materials to landfills or similar disposal options. Sustainable procurement is the procurement of environmentally preferable goods and services in a way that also takes into consideration social responsibility and sustainable economic development issues in the manufacture, transportation, sale and use of those goods and services.

There are various levels of sustainable procurement, and obviously a large city will be able to control some of these factors much more than a small one. Nevertheless, even the smallest village can start changing and switching to recycled paper vs. virgin paper and using more rechargeable batteries than single-use batteries. Change in government takes time; it's like a tanker—it takes time to change direction, it can't turn on a dime, so this means we have to start changing direction and educating the people around us. If more and more cities start purchasing products made from recycled materials, then the market for these products will improve, prices will go down and that will create more opportunities for more similar products to become common in the marketplace. For example, all of the city's publications are required to be of 100% post-consumer recycled paper with soy-based ink. By moving forward with this decision, our printing support can plan long-term purchasing and request from the suppliers more recycled paper, and probably get a better price than a one-time purchase. Imagine the power of purchase of 1,000 cities doing the same! And this is not only for paper, but for park equipment, benches and playground equipment, or for street pavement using recycled aggregates or re-refined oil for the fleet. Cities have to make the switch from traditional procurement that doesn't promote sustainability.

One of the great success stories of recycling through recycled products cooperative purchasing was developed in Alameda County, in California. Alameda County has an informal cooperative purchasing program. (The following information is taken from Resourceful Purchasing, a purchasing guide developed by the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board.) Cooperative purchasing is a method to join with other jurisdictions to buy identical or very similar products. Centralized purchasing within a community is much the same. Within a community, needs are combined in a single invitation for bids. All departments order the quantities they need from the resulting contract.

When buying cooperatively, a "lead agency" is the central purchaser for several jurisdictions that order from the same contract. The lead agency may be different for each commodity. Cooperative purchasing is useful for recycled products because it reduces duplicate research and expands total product demand.

The Purchasing Department in the General Services Agency in Alameda County actively seeks recycled products. Many of its contracts allow outside agencies to use them. On request, staff will send a list of recycled product contracts to all jurisdictions allowed to buy from them. Cooperative purchasing has numerous benefits. By joining with other people who are doing exactly what you do, you can save time and money. The key advantages and disadvantages are:

Lower Costs: Unit costs go down when the volume of purchases increases.

Lower Administrative Costs: Only the lead agency prepares, advertises and analyzes the bid and administers the resulting contract. Participating jurisdictions simply determine the quantities they will need during the term of the contract and share their vendor lists.

Increased Volume of Recycled Product Purchases: The more jurisdictions involved, the more recycled products are used.

Increased Availability of Recycled Products: Some vendors require minimum orders before stocking recycled products. Others simply pass along the costs of special ordering small quantities of recycled counterparts to the buyer. When cooperative purchasing increases total demand, vendors may relax minimum quantity requirements to individual users because they have the stock on their shelves.

Standardized Definitions and Recycled Content Percentages: With more jurisdictions using the same contract, fewer variations of the same product will be required. This helps vendors to stock products with the same recycled content requirements.

Local Preferences Do Not Apply: There is one major drawback for some communities. There is no guarantee that a local company will win the bid. Local preferences do not apply in circumstances when the participating jurisdictions stretch beyond the borders affected by local preference policies. Thus, local preferences hinder recycled product purchasing.

The "green wave" is rolling throughout the U.S. and the world and cities are feeling its impact at every level. The California Counties, Cities and Special Districts have taken on the green initiative challenge and are leading the charge when it comes to environmentally responsible purchasing. In an effort to promote this kind of cooperative effort, regional seminars are being held throughout California sponsored by the League of California Cities, the California Association of Counties Finance Corporation, the US Government Purchasing Alliance, the Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) and EcoLogo. These seminars, held under the title "Going Green Seminars," provide expert advice from local and national experts about green purchasing best practices, tools necessary to successfully implement and achieve green purchasing goals.

Finally, waste exchange programs are great ways to reduce waste and provide reuse opportunities. Two great examples in California are the CalMAX program developed by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) and the L.A. SHARES.

CalMAX is a free, online materials exchange service designed to help businesses, organizations, local governments, industry, schools and individuals find markets for nonhazardous materials that may otherwise be discarded.

CalMAX is a simple idea: "One business's trash is another business's treasure." Businesses, schools, and nonprofits can utilize CalMAX to search for available and wanted materials. CalMAX conserves energy, resources and landfill space by helping businesses and organizations find alternatives to the disposal of valuable materials or wastes through waste exchange.

CalMAX supports educators through KidMAX by offering free materials that support the implementation of curriculum instruction or art projects. Businesses are encouraged to support their local schools by listing any free overruns, overstock items and reusable materials on CalMAX.

L.A. SHARES is a nonprofit program that takes tax-deductible donations of reusable goods and materials (both new and used) from the local business community. L.A. SHARES redistributes these items free of charge to nonprofit agencies and schools throughout Los Angeles. Through this interactive website, interested schools and nonprofits create an online profile of their organization, including a "Wish List" and "Top 20 List" of needed items. This profile is then entered into L.A. SHARES's unique, relational database, which proactively identifies each organization's needs and continuously seeks to match those needs with the donated items on record.

When a need is matched, the recipient is notified, via e-mail, to come to one of two area warehouses to retrieve their items or instructed to go directly to the donor for pickup. The system is designed to help schools and nonprofits obtain needed items quickly. This program started as a pilot program for the City of Los Angeles; then, in an effort to expand beyond the Los Angeles city limits and to service even more nonprofit groups and schools, L.A. SHARES became an independent, nonprofit organization. Among the sponsors and partners for the L.A. SHARES program are the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation, Solid Resources Citywide Recycling Division.

These are some examples of out-of-the-box ideas to increase recycling, become more environmentally friendly and help the needy.

More information on the programs described in this article can be found at the following websites:

Ziad Mazboudi chairs Orange County's NPDES General Permittee Committee and the Public Education Committee. He can be reached at (949) 234-4413 or