Swipe Cycle

Don't discount recycling when searching for a new biz model


To enter the new green paradigm requires a change in thinking, which naturally leads to change in behaviors and strategies. In the transforming market place especially, self-touted greenies might blunder if they use marketing tools that belong to a past era.

Take swiping, for example. As old as sales itself is the tactical put-down: “My new whozit is so fabulous that your longtime whatzit must be trash.” So went the comments of Bruce Stephens, quoted in the recent Bohemian article (“Bottle Blues,” Jan. 6) about the business he co-owns with Napa supervisor Bill Dodd. The two entrepreneurs plan to profit from washing wine bottles for reuse. Cool idea. But Stephens plugs his bottle-washing business by dissing glass recycling. Not cool. In fact, I’d call that a major tactical error. Time to call in the damage-control experts before serious setbacks result, once again, for recycling. (See Letters, p6.)

When I checked in with the gracious pros, they had nothing but good to say about the glass-reuse venture. “This is a great business idea. We support it 100 percent,” said Tim Dewey-Mattia of Napa’s Recycling and Waste Services. “However, there is no need to take a swipe at recycling. The real message should be that recycling and reusing bottles are both part of the solution, along with waste reduction including thinner bottles and more efficient production processes where the bottle begins.”

Responding to the claim made in the article that recycling is not worth the effort because it only saves a little silica, Dewey-Mattia points out that the strongest reason for recycling glass is not merely to save silica any more than it is to merely save space in landfills, though both are achieved in the process.

“It’s the energy savings,” he says. “It takes only two-thirds the energy to produce a glass bottle from recycled glass than from virgin materials. That’s a significant savings. Couple that with the fact that washing a bottle saves four times the energy, and we get a comprehensive, positive message, a hierarchy in which both reuse and recycling are good, and reuse is better than recycling.”

Latecomers to green industry often make two critical mistakes: they can use old-paradigm business strategies (undermining, for one); and they can fail to recognize that the foundation of their business opportunity was built by hard-won legislation and decades of public education done largely by nonprofit organizations whose members continue to help change the American throw-away mindset. David Briggs is among the North Bay’s waste-management career professionals. He’s disappointed by the claims Stephens is quoted as making about recycling.

“We promote reuse businesses, but the project consultant’s comments, including that ‘recycling is hardly different than buying new bottles,’ may do more to misinform the public than any messages I’ve read related to the impact of glass recycling on issues ranging from landfill space preservation to climate change,” says Briggs, who has worked in the recycling and waste-management field for more than 20 years, and now manages recycling programs for the Napa County. “Reuse and recycling both fit into an integrated approach,” he stresses.

“Reuse and recycling are not in conflict with each other as ‘green’ strategies,” explains Kevin Miller, waste manager for the city of Napa. “Both are representative of the integrated waste-management hierarchy—reduce, reuse, recycle. At the top of the hierarchy is waste prevention, with reuse coming in higher than recycling but both being far superior options to litter or land-filling of discarded materials.”

Recycling professionals are hoping to add wine bottles to the bottle bill. “It would be a huge boost in both recycling and reuse efficiency,” says Dewey Mattia. “Besides adding funding to a struggling program, this addition will lead to more color sorting of glass and high-grading of bottles, which will provide quality feedstock to the bottle manufacturers and more bottles to bottle-washing companies. It’s a win-win situation.”

There you go. New paradigm thinking at its best. Meanwhile, old-market thinking and old paradigm strategies—such as self-promotion tactics that take swipes at the public good—are clunkers trashing the new green marketplace. They should be scrapped and, yes, recycled.

Sonoma County Library