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Single Stream: Closing the Loop
Taking A Whole Systems Approach
Sacramento, CA
May 23, 2005



Overview Design and Agenda Introduction

Morning Presentations

Benefits of Single Stream Challenges of Single Stream Recycled Product Manufacturing - What's the Future?

Afternoon Break-Outs

#1 - What Are We Building? #2 - Do We Have All the Right Tools? Thought Questions


Wrap Up Organizing Photos


These questions are offered to stimulate thoughts and discussion at the break-out sessions. They are not expected to be answered by participants or even specifically discussed, but rather to help set the stage, create the context, be a jumping-off point or they can be ignored. But since the break-out questions are so broad, we thought this might be helpful.


1. What Would A Healthy California Recycling System Look LIke 10 Years From Now?

  1. Do we have a healthy recycling system now?
  2. What could be improved?
  3. If recycling were working GREAT in California 10 years from now, how would it be different from today?
  4. How might the infrastructure be different? Markets?
  5. How should we evaluate the best recycling system? Is the cheapest the best? Why or why not? What does "cheapest" mean? What other kinds of costs can there be?
  6. If our materials would be primarily exported, what would our recycling system look like if a major part of it were overseas? How would we protect California from foreign disruptions?
  7. What about "highest and best use"? Are one-time recycled products enough?
  8. Would people still need to be educated and persuaded to buy recycled products? Would recycled content just "be" in all our products? If so, how would we get to that point?
  9. What would be the drivers for the system? What would keep it going? Would it be focused primarily on collection? What about focus on recycled products or even design?
  10. What would be the environmental goals of the system? Or would there even be environmental goals?
  11. What would be the role of the state and federal governments in California's recycling system?
  12. Would there be integration with "upstream" processes such as product concept and design and, if so, how would that happen?
  13. Would we have the same financial arrangements, or could we imagine financing the system differently?
  14. What would be the responsibilities and expectations for citizens? How involved would they be?
  15. What kinds of regulations might there be that don't exist today? What regulations that exist today might not be necessary if the system were working GREAT?
  16. Would recycling be profitable? Is that its purpose? Is that how it functions best?
  17. Would we have achieved Zero Waste?
  18. Would there be a similar national recycling system or would California's be unique?

2. Can Foreign Recycled Manufacturing Offset Potential Domestic Recycled Manufacturing Losses?

  1. Will California's recycling system be solid if most recycled product manufacturing moves overseas? Is this simply a new stage in the growth and evolution of recycling?
  2. Does it matter where recycled products are made? What if we got all our recycled products from overseas? What would be good about that and what might be problematic?
  3. If we are striving for more environmentally sustainable production, will that be better served domestically or by foreign manufacturers, or does it matter? How can we evaluate and substantiate environmental conditions when manufacturing is overseas? How can we promote environmental sustainability if the products are beyond our control?
  4. What kinds of losses could there be to California's recycling system and to our communities if domestic recycled product manufacturers close? If the local community does not have a manufacturer, does it then have no losses? Are dollars the best evaluation? Are there other factors that are important but perhaps not measured in dollars?
  5. Does it matter if some domestic recycled product manufacturers close or if some consistently recycled products return to using virgin materials?
  6. Is there any reason to maintain older production facilities? Is it always best to favor those that are new, most efficient, and state-of-the-art?
  7. Is loss of recycled product manufacturing possibly a problem for other states to worry about but not California? If so, is it a good idea for our recycling system to focus on different goals than those in other areas?

3. Globalization: Are We At Its Mercy Or Can We Guide the Change?

  1. How much of the potential for domestic recycled product manufacturers to close has to do with the quantity and quality of recovered materials, and how much is inevitable due to globalization and overseas competition anyway?
  2. Is there anything we can do within the recycling system to reduce the chance of losing domestic manufacturers, given that many are also caught up in globalization pressures?
  3. If there is something we COULD do, does it mean it's something we think we SHOULD do? Or should we let globalization run its course however that will play out?
  4. Is there a difference in how globalization is affecting large businesses vs. small businesses? Is there any different benefit in promoting small recycled business opportunities in our local communities or are they as vulnerable to globalization pressures as large businesses?
  5. Do local businesses help insulate us or balance the impacts from globalization? If so, how far should we go to support them?
  6. If we are striving for Zero Waste, environmental sustainability, nonexploitation and worker safety, how can we evaluate and substantiate that when manufacturing is overseas? How can we promote environmental sustainability if the products are beyond our control?
  7. Is there a way to spread environmental improvements worldwide through our purchasing requirements? How could we do that?
  8. Some say that WTO, NAFTA and CAFTA all carry the potential to consider environmental purchasing requirements as restraint of trade - is that a concern?
  9. Some say that globalization foments a race to the bottom. Can we have globalization that improves environmental sustainability worldwide? Is there a way that California's recycling system can encourage that?


1. Is "Diversion" Enough? Are the Goals of Diversion and Recycling Compatible?

  1. What does "diversion" really mean? Not just what does it mean legally in California, but what do people mean when they cite it as a value?
  2. What do people think happens to the materials that are diverted? Is that really what happens to all of them? How much of them?
  3. Has there been a change in what happens to diverted materials now from what happened to them when AB 939 was passed? In other words, was there a different understanding and expectation then than there is now?
  4. If our focus is on diversion, are we recycling? When does recycling happen? At what point can we say that we succeeded in recycling a material? Is that the same point as when we say that material was diverted? If there is a difference, does it matter?
  5. Diversion seems to have primarily stimulated collection. Is that the best place to leverage increases in recycling?
  6. Is there a difference in the recycling system if the focus is on "recycled products" rather than on "diversion"? If so, what is that difference, and why?
  7. What are the environmental goals of diversion? Are these actually met by diversion? Are there any better ways to meet them?
  8. Does diversion include any focus on what happens to materials after they are diverted?
  9. Does it matter whether recyclable materials are diverted to another landfill, as long as they are not a local one? If it does matter, should those materials landfilled distantly be credited to the community's recycling rate?
  10. Does it matter whether recyclable materials are made into products that will be recycled many times, or ones that won't be recycled again?
  11. Does diversion encourage or discourage source reduction, or have no effect on it? Does that matter?
  12. What is most important for recycling - quantity, quality, keeping things out of landfills, minimizing environmental impacts, reducing resource demand, reusing materials, other? Does diversion optimally promote this value?

2. Can Processing Technology and Equipment Design Solve Manufacturers' Problems?

  1. Some say that if there is a problem with processed material quality, it can be solved by technology. Can technology provide the whole solution?
  2. If so, do we already have that technology? If yes, why do some still have problems?
  3. If no, when will we have that technology? What will it take?
  4. Recycling is a just-in-time system. It cannot wait for improvements in the future, it has to have workable solutions at each moment. How can recycling continually improve as a system if the technology is ahead or behind in one sector or another? How can manufacturers concerned about quality wait for future improvements, if they are not available now? Or is there a different solution?
  5. Some say that even with good technology, there will be a significant labor requirement. Will we still need a lot of people to run good recycling systems?
  6. Does a processor using advanced technology require a different type of labor pool than others? Do workers need to be more educated and/or technologically astute? Does that present benefits or challenges to our communities, labor pools, and the reliability of our recycling programs?
  7. Some say that good processing really cannot be done without significant hand-labor. Is this true?
  8. When collection and processing technology is designed, is it discussed and tested with the manufacturers who will use the materials produced from it? How much? Why or why not?
  9. If Asia has an advantage with inexpensive labor and can buy any of the technology available to us, how can we compete with them? Do we HAVE to compete with them? Is there any benefit or advantage or value to not competing with Asia? Is there any place for two different recycling systems?
  10. Does the expense of technology improve or limit its flexibility as recycling markets and approaches change?
  11. Expensive technology often sets up pressure for directed material flows and significant debt obligations. Does this limit or enhance communities' program stability? Does it encourage or discourage business development and creativity?

3. Are Market Forces Enough To Develop the System and Solve Problems?
(Or are there needs for legislation, regulations, financial incentives, tax credits, or other implementation assistance?)

  1. Some say recycling works best when it is left to free market forces. Is that true? What are the benefits of leaving recycling's development solely to market forces? Are there drawbacks?
  2. How do problems get solved with market forces? Do the solutions take into account all who might be affected by the problems? Do the solutions take into account non-monetary costs and values? Should they?
  3. Do market forces express any values? What are they? Are they compatible with what we want for California's recycling system?
  4. Some companies say that they face unfair competition from overseas because other countries' governments heavily subsidize the industries they compete against. If this is true, is it still meaningful and reasonable to leave development of the recycling system to direction by market forces?
  5. Currently, California's recycling system is shaped by some regulations at government levels. Are those helpful? If they did not exist, would the system operate better or worse? Would it develop in a better way or worse?
  6. Are there government regulations at any level that do not currently exist and would be helpful?
  7. Are there financial incentives, tax credits, or subsidies that would make sense to introduce? What would be their goal? What values would we want them to encourage?
  8. When are regulations, incentives, credits and subsidies helpful and when are they harmful? What would be a reasonable balance between these and the free market, if there is any reasonable balance?
  9. Does it make sense to create incentives for local manufacturing?
  10. Who should be responsible for paying for the recycling system? Taxpayers? Collection companies? Brokers? Manufacturers? Product purchasers? If the cost is shared, what's an equitable balance?

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