The Mark Of Zero

The Official Blog of the Zero Waste Network

Friday, January 23, 2009

New York Times

January 22, 2009

Moving Day Without All the Waste


BETWEEN graduating from college and moving in with his fiancée, Jim Mimlitsch moved nine times in 14 years. He hated moving, but accepted it as his fate and developed a habit of hoarding cardboard boxes.

For convenience, he kept a set of boxes on standby in the back of his closets.

But after Mr. Mimlitsch, 38, bought a condominium in Irvine, Calif., in 2002, he happily handed off his boxes to a friend.

“I just didn’t want to have them anymore,” he said. “It just felt more like home that way.”

Then last June, Mr. Mimlitsch became engaged and began to prepare for yet another move, to his fiancée’s apartment in Laguna Hills, Calif., and for the headache of acquiring more cardboard boxes.

When he told the real estate agent through whom he was renting out his condo how much he dreaded this aspect of the move, she suggested he contact Spencer Brown, the owner of a three-year-old company,

Over the phone, Mr. Brown explained the deal. He would show up at Mr. Mimlitsch’s place with a truck filled with Recopacks, rentable plastic bins made entirely from recycled plastic. Mr. Mimlitsch would pack them, a moving company would transport them, and Mr. Brown would pick them up, empty, one week later.

Mr. Mimlitsch was sold.

For years, Fortune 500 companies have rented reusable plastic crates to relocate from one office to another. Pharmacies and supermarkets regularly use them to ship merchandise.

Now the crates are coming to the residential moving market, thanks to consumers’ desire for options they see as both convenient and environmentally responsible, and to the cost of cardboard boxes (which has remained high in many areas in spite of a recent collapse in the cost of the recycled cardboard from which most are partly made).

When Mr. Brown started out in 2006, he said, about 3,500 of his crates were typically being used for residential moves at any given time; now the number is closer to 7,500. Given the overall demand, Mr. Brown said, he predicts there will be “hundreds of companies in the next 10 years” like his.

His firm, which operates mainly in Los Angeles and Orange County, is opening its first franchise this month, in Riverside, Calif., and plans to open nine more in March nationwide.

Across the country, a seven-year-old company called Movers Not Shakers in Brooklyn rents and moves bins, mostly around New York City and New Jersey.

In December, Mark Ehrhardt, the company’s owner, started a Web site called that he hopes will become a for-profit listing service for eco-friendly movers around the United States. (There is a notice on the Movers Not Shakers Web site that reads, “Hello other moving companies — wanna join in and create a national bin network?”)

Other moving companies around the country, concerned about their industry’s reputation for waste, are taking other steps to be more green, including converting trucks to biodiesel, setting up free cardboard-box exchanges (in which consumers return boxes for use by others) and offering biodegradable replacements for bubble wrap and foam made from materials like cornstarch and recycled paper sludge.

Patrick Wilkinson, a founder of Movegreen, a year-old two-truck company based in Santa Barbara, said that consumers “want to help this movement grow, and because of that our business has done really well.”

Movegreen’s trucks run on biodiesel, and the company says it plants 10 trees for every move through a nonprofit group called Trees for the Future. The business also plans to design and order 200 to 300 of its own plastic bins, which it hopes to have by June.

But in the moving business, as in most businesses, going green can be expensive, and it may not always pay off. Fairly or not, movers often suffer from problems of reputation beyond just the issue of waste — for lateness, careless handling, high rates — and any changes that make their moves more expensive or less efficient can be disastrous.

“When a person is moving, they want to cut out any kind of potential surprises,” said Mr. Ehrhardt of Movers Not Shakers. “They just want things to go smoothly because they are transitioning already. So they don’t want any kind of surprises or New Age thinking.”

Mr. Brown, of Rentagreenbox, ran into trouble when he inadvertently damaged a few engines in converting his trucks to biofuel. And Mr. Ehrhardt said he has been trying for years to find an alternative to packing tape. Giant rubber bands have proved too unwieldy, and water-based biodegradable tape is too expensive — at about 10 times the price of regular tape, it is not a cost he thinks he can justify to his customers. So after three days, he winds up with “comically large” balls of tape.

Hence the attraction of reusable bins. Prices for short-term bin rental are comparable to purchase prices for cardboard boxes: a large bin of about 4 cubic feet rents for $5 a week from Rentagreenbox and $3 a week from Movers Not Shakers; U-Haul charges $3 for a 4.5-cubic-foot box.

The reusable bins are less practical for interstate moves or moves to storage. “The quicker they turn around, the higher the value to everyone,” Mr. Ehrhardt said.

While there are environmental and financial arguments for both types of container, few studies conclusively compare the relative merits of plastic bins and cardboard boxes made from recycled material. But there is a widespread view among environmentalists that it is always better to reuse a product rather than manufacture a new one.

“Reusable durable packaging shows a lot of environmental benefits,” said Saskia van Gendt, a resource conservation expert for the Environmental Protection Agency office in San Francisco. (She was quick to add that “the comparative benefit of the durable plastic bin is contingent on its repeated use.”)

Thomas Vinson-Peng, the program director at the Center for Environmental Excellence at the University of Texas, Arlington, said: “Most people have seen the little logo with three arrows that says ‘reduce, reuse and recycle.’ Recycling is good, but reuse is better.”

Cardboard boxes, when they are reused, typically last for about four moves, said Joanne Fried, a spokeswoman for U-Haul International. And their fibers, according to Dwight Schmidt, the president of Fiber Box Association, a cardboard industry group, can usually withstand seven rounds of recycling (in which about 43 percent ends up as a new box).

Plastic bins, not surprisingly, last much longer. Mr. Brown estimated that some of his have been used 400 times.

For some consumers, convenience is as big a draw as eco-friendliness, movers who use the plastic bins say.

Erik Frederickson, a design consultant for Rentacrate, a Boston-based company that has mainly rented to businesses, said the firm has received more and more requests from homeowners who had used the crates at work and want to avoid the hassles of cardboard-box assembly.

Maureen Dempsey, who used Movers Not Shakers for a move from Manhattan to Brooklyn in November, said she was pleased with how easily she could wheel her bins, stacked snugly atop one another on a dolly, through the tiny apartment she was leaving.

Susan Laughter, another Movers Not Shakers customer, said she appreciated not having to deal with getting rid of dozens of cardboard boxes — a task that in New York City requires collapsing and bundling them — after she moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Mr. Mimlitsch, too, was glad to not deal with cardboard boxes again, but he also found another aspect of using the crates surprisingly satisfying. What many might regard as the main drawback of the rental system turned out, he said, to be “a positive for us.”

“Just knowing that we had a hard stop and we had to be done a week later, we couldn’t give in to exhaustion and frustration,” Mr. Mimlitsch said of the period after he got to his fiancée’s apartment. After all those years of moving, he was grateful for the tight deadline that kept him from procrastinating in his unpacking.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pollution Prevention Workshops Offered by the Zero Waste Network

The University of Texas at Arlington's Zero Waste Network is offering a pollution prevention (P2) planning workshop to help businesses save money by reducing waste, bringing economic benefits through environmental improvements. The course will also help companies comply with the Texas Waste Reduction Policy Act (WRPA).

Held in partnership with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the workshop will teach lean manufacturing techniques and other strategies that businesses have used to improve efficiency while decreasing or eliminating pollution. Experts in pollution prevention, environmental management systems (EMS), environmental regulations, lean manufacturing, and energy efficiency conduct an interactive workshop with classroom exercises that allow businesses to immediately identify wastes in their process and evaluate money saving options.

The workshop is geared toward Environmental, Health, and Safety managers; plant managers; production personnel, engineers and related professionals. In 2007, workshop participants reported savings of more than $200,000 by implementing pollution prevention practices; they eliminated over 11,000 pounds of pollution, and reported improvement in compliance, energy use and water conservation.Workshop dates and locations are as follows:

Sept. 16-17, 2008 – Austin
Sheraton Austin Hotel

Oct. 2-3, 2008 – Houston
H.E.S.S. Center

Oct. 15-16, 2008 – Corpus Christi
Ortiz Center

Nov. 5-6, 2008 – Dallas/Fort Worth
UT Arlington Automation & Robotics Research Institute

Visit or to register, or contact Katherine McCrea at or (512) 904-2281 for more information. For additional information on P2 planning requirements, go to

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

British company announces plans involving Fayetteville

BY MARSHA L. MELNICHAK Northwest Arkansas Times

A Fayetteville economic leader said Monday that news of an international company teaming with a Fayetteville research and technology company to create fuel for cars from municipal waste could change the world.

INEOS, the third-largest chemical company in the world and largest privately owned company in Britain, announced Monday that it aims to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol fuel from landfill waste based on technology developed in Fayetteville.

“This could be a pivotal event for Fayetteville. It could be a pivotal event for the world, ” said Steve Rust, president and CEO of Fayetteville Economic Development Council. The process developed under the leadership of James L Gaddy, president of Bioengineering Resources Inc. of Fayetteville, changes any carbon-based material into ethanol. “ We expect the Fayetteville site to continue to be the technology center for INEOS Bio as it grows, ” said Bruce Walker, site manager for INEOS Bio in Fayetteville. INEOS Bio was created July 1. It was created, according to a press release issued at locations worldwide Monday, “ to commercialize and license” the technology that developed during the last two decades by BRI. Details are vague. Neither the press release nor Walker would say if it was BRI itself or the process developed by BRI that was purchased. “ The team in Arkansas has now joined together with INEOS to create a new, stronger, multidisciplinary and global INEOS Bio team, which has the skills, capabilities and resolve to commercialize the technology quickly, ” reads the history of INEOS Bio on the company’s Web site. As of Monday, the BRI phone number for its location at 1650 E. Pump Station Road is answered “ INEOS Bio.”

Jobs What the announcement means for Fayetteville is also vague. The number of jobs the new company could bring to Fayetteville and whether commercial production of the ethanol will be done in Fayetteville are not known. The press release Monday indicated the company aims to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol fuel from biodegradable municipal waste in about two years. However, neither the press release issued by parent company INEOS nor Walker would say where the site for the commercial facility will be. “ We expect to announce the location of the first commercial plant fairly shortly, and we will aim to quickly roll out our technology around the world, ” Peter Williams, INEOS Bio’s chief executive officer, is quoted as saying in the press release. Reading from a questionand-answer sheet about the company, Walker said it could be expected to create “ a number of direct, permanent, skilled jobs” to operate the plant, in addition to “ a larger number of temporary jobs” during construction and “ other permanent jobs ” as part of the supply chain development. “ The exact number of new jobs has not yet been determined, ” Walker said. He said the Q & A sheet was not written specifically about Fayetteville but is about INEOS companies in general. “ As the press release said, over the next two years, the big priority for us will be to demonstrate the technology in a commercial facility, but the site for that hasn’t been identified yet, ” Walker said. He said the pilot plant is in Fayetteville and the laboratories supporting the development of some of the technology are in Fayetteville. INEOS Bio of Fayetteville has about 30 employees, according to Walker. He said a large number of them were previously BRI employees. “ In a sense, Fayetteville has been an incubator for the underlying technology and has scaled it up to pilot plant size. The next step is to scale it up to commercial size, ” Walker said.

For Fayetteville “It’s a super, super big deal to have the research facility here,” Rust said. “To have that in Fayetteville is really tremendous. They’re building the pilot plant, the first scale-up short of production model, and that will be where they do all the future research on this.”

In addition, wherever the commercial plant is built, the technology will be from Fayetteville.

He said INEOS Bio would be bringing people and jobs to Fayetteville, but he did not know how many. The greater scope, he said, was that it should encourage more recognition of Northwest Arkansas as the “ Green Valley, ” the place to go to connect with innovators and leaders in the sustainability field.

He said INEOS Bio’s news helps put Fayetteville on the map because it will get coverage in Great Britain, other parts of Europe and hopefully across the United States.

“This is not a flash-inthe-pan type thing. It’s going to continue and grow, ” Rust said. “ We are the Green Valley, and I think the biggest reason is that we have the mothership of sustainability, Wal-Mart.”

Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody described the INEOS Bio announcement as another block in the wall for Fayetteville as a center for sustainability.

“The plan is to develop a pilot plant here in Fayetteville that will be able to take our municipal waste and turn it into desperately needed clean fuel,” Coody said.

It also helps the area because it provides the green-collar jobs that Fayetteville is trying to attract.

“This particular situation is good for us to solidify our position in the world with the idea that Fayetteville, Ark., is a home for the new green technology, and that’s going to be very good for our local economy,” Coody said.

He said INEOS wants to put plants based on the Fayetteville technology all over the world. "This is not an overnight hit,” Coody said. “This is a long-term project, but true economic development for a city isn’t something that happens overnight.”

For the world The new process produces fuel from waste and eases waste disposal problems. It has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on foreign oil. The INEOS press release notes that until now one of the challenges with ethanol is that it is primarily manufactured from food crops. “ They’re turning corn into ethanol, but, you know, that’s crazy because you’re burning food in your gas tank. This is burning municipal waste, anything that’s carbon, ” Rust said. The ethanol produced by the INEOS process can either be blended with traditional fuels or replace them altogether, according to Monday’s press release. Williams is quoted in the press release as predicting that North America and Europe will see about 10 percent more gasoline being replaced with bioethanol. The three-step process has already been proven at the pilot plant in Fayetteville. According to the INEOS Bio Web site, the Fayetteville plant has operated continuously since 2003 on a range of waste materials. The first step of the process is intense heat, which reduces the organic material to a gas. The gas is cooled and combined with a bacteria developed by BRI to produce ethanol. The ethanol is then purified to make it ready for use in cars.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Enhancing Performance through Environmental Management Systems and Regional Initiatives

By Grady Coomes, REM, Environmental Coordinator, City of Dallas Water Utilities Department

We in the environmental profession are always trying to find ways to enhance our environmental programs and become more efficient with reducing our impact to the environment. Many times we find ourselves reacting to environmental compliance issues and seeking new ways to stay ahead of the game. A more proactive way to accomplish this is through Environmental Management Systems or EMS.

EMS is a systematic approach to both managing your environmental compliance and reducing your footprint on the environment. A continual system that integrates the environment into everyday business operations, EMS means that environmental stewardship becomes part of the daily responsibility of every employee. This can reduce your bottom line and save your organization money. The system is based on a simple PLAN - DO - CHECK - ACT Model. Under an EMS, you establish an environmental policy, examine your impacts on the environment, set goals and procedures to reduce those impacts, evaluate your progress, and make improvements as necessary.

In April 2005, the City of Dallas began implementing an EMS based on the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 14001) requirements. The purpose of the EMS was to improve the environmental performance and sustainability of the city, enhance accountability for compliance and stewardship, and to direct an environmental culture change throughout the city.

Since implementing EMS, the city has made significant improvements to sustainability, environmental compliance, operating procedures, and environmental awareness. Some of the more noteworthy accomplishments have been made in environmental performance. These areas include recycling, waste management, water quality, water conservation, air quality, energy consumption, and green building. For more information on City of Dallas EMS and sustainability initiatives, visit

EMS will also help your organization build partnerships with the community and other organizations. These partnerships are necessary to effectively manage regional environmental issues. In 2007, representatives from the City of Dallas, in conjunction with other public and private organizations, formed a regional EMS initiative to learn more about EMS. Since then, this public/private partnership (with assistance from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Environmental Protection Agency Region 6, and North Central Texas Council of Governments) was formalized as the North Texas Regional Environmental Management Systems Partnership (N-TREMS).

The partnership’s focus is using EMS to address regional issues and impacts such as air quality, water quality/resources, and waste. The idea is to set common goals to improve the environment for the North Texas region and increase environmental performance initiatives.

If you would like more information or would like to join N-TREMS, please contact Grady Coomes at

Monday, May 12, 2008

Upcoming National Environmental Partnership Summit

The Environmental Partnership Summit formed five years ago from the merging of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR), the Compliance Assistance Providers’ Form and the Performance Track Participants Association (PTPA). A gathering of interdisciplinary environmental professionals and assistance provider from all over the country and world, this summit is for those who want to learn how to put environmental stewardship into action.

This year’s theme is “Accelerating Environmental Performance: Pathways to Action”. The summit with demonstrate how a variety of business and government programs have taken the environmental lead and will show how others can do the same. In addition, it provides a great opportunity to network and exchange ideas with other fellow attendees and exhibitors.

The Summit will hold several training sessions, workshops, exhibitions, and discussions on Pollution Prevention performance, measurement, and methods, on Lean Manufacturing, on Environmental Management Systems, and on several other environmental topics. In addition, the Summit will feature several members of the Region 6 P2 Roundtable, including, Dianne Wilkins, Pollution Prevention Program Manager of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Audree Miller, Pollution Prevention Program Coordinator of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Lisa London, Director of Programs at the University of Texas at Arlington, Lynn Turner, Environmental Health Specialist at the Zero Waste Network, and Thomas Vinson-Peng, Director of the Zero Waste Network. Several other key national players in the environmental and pollution prevention field will also be speaking at this great event.
To find out more information about the event, visit:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pollution Prevention makes its way to Korea

Representatives from the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable made their way to Korea for a second time in March. Working with the South Korean federal government and several local industries, NPPR is promoting Pollution Prevention methods and building a strong Pollution Prevention base in Korea.
Four NPPR representatives made the trip including Thomas Vinson-Peng, director of the Zero Waste Network, who was making his second trip around, Ken Grimm, of the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Recourse Center (PPRC), Scott Butner, director of ChemAlliance, and Tony Cooper, of the Washington Department of Ecology. The quartet worked closely with local agents to prepare and present a Pollution Prevention Training Workshop. Lean manufacturing was one of the most popular topics in the training. Site visits were also made, and several companies who were visited last October by the joint US/Korean team had visible improvements.

International efforts will continue as Pollution Prevention methods and Zero Waste movements continue to spread their global appeal and as more countries learn about how waste reduction is a win-win solution providing savings and environmental benefits. NPPR plans to continue its international efforts. If you wish for more information, contact the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable at (202) 299-9701 or

*Pictures courtesy of Scott Butner.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Companies in Region 6 receive the Water Efficiency Leader Awards (WEL Awards)

Last December, EPA announced six winners of the 2007 Water Efficiency Leader (WEL) Awards for efforts in reducing, reusing, and recycling water. Three of these six 2007 winners were centered in Region 6.

The EPA recognized the national need for efficient use of water resources and has created initiatives such as the WaterSense program. The WEL Awards were also created by the EPA to help foster this nationwide ethic of water efficiency. A panel of national water experts chose the winners of the WEL Awards. Their decisions were based on the group’s leadership, innovation, and water saved. The winners and their highlighted water conservation efforts are as follows:

Intel Corporation, Ocotillo Campus (Chandler, Arizona) – Corporate – This company recycled 75 percent of the water used during manufacturing, took back 825 million gallons of treated wastewater from the city’s wastewater plant, internally re-used 530 million gallons of water, and treated and returned 575 million gallons of water to the local underground aquifer.

Frito-Lay (Plano, Texas) – Industry – Their nationwide effort resulted in a 39 percent decrease in water consumption per pound of product since 1999.

Lackland Air Force Base (Lackland, Texas) – Military – This base used a comprehensive approach to tackle water conservation. Efforts included bathroom fixture retrofits, water efficient landscaping, and water efficient heating and cooling systems. In addition, they used recycled wastewater for irrigation, watering, and cooling. Other aspects of Lackland’s approach consisted of employee outreach, school curriculum, and tenant education.

Santa Clara Valley Water District (San Jose, California) – Government – This agency helped reduce community water demand by 55,000 acre-feet through it’s conservation and water recycling, and they have plans to further reduce demand.

Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center (KPPC) at the University of Louisville (Louisville, Kentucky) – Nongovernmental Organization – This center also works to find profitable pollution prevention solutions to reduce the need for end-of-pipe treatment. They helped one metal finishing company profit financially while having a 30 percent net water saving.
Allan Dietemann, Seattle Public Utilities (Seattle, Washington) – Individual – Mr. Dietemann has promoted water conservation for 20 years. He is most well noted for the 1% Program in Seattle, a ten year effort to reduce water consumption by businesses, government, and homeowners. He also has a central role in promoting water efficiency to consumers by product labeling and appliance efficiency standards.

  The Zero Waste Network is a program of the University of Texas at Arlington, Center for Environmental Excellence and the Division for Enterprise Development.  

The Zero Waste Network is a member of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange P2Rx, a national network of regional information centers: NEWMOA (Northeast), WRRC (Southeast), GLRPPR (Great Lakes), ZeroWasteNet (Southwest), P2RIC (Plains), Peaks to Prairies (Mountain), WRPPN (Pacific Southwest), PPRC (Northwest).