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Disposability: is it still a 'dirty' word?

Disposability: Is It Still A |Dirty' Word?

As the "disposability" issue takes a new turn, the nonwoven disposables industry itself continues in its goal to move proactively rather than simply react to outside pressures.

In recent months the environmental focus has shifted to companies working on real-life solutions rather than fighting against knee-jerk reactions to environmental attacks. Companies in the nonwovens industry, led by Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical, Du Pont and several others, have begun cooperative ventures and consumer education efforts to gain a foothold in the market of tomorrow with their environmental efforts of today.

A Shift Towards Responsibility

While legislation against disposable products and packaging continues to be proposed on both a national and local level, an apparent shift towards more responsible actions on the part of government is also occurring. Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are cracking down on misleading or false environmental advertising and several bills are proposed to change the way products are promoted and marketed in the future

Landfill and composting legislation also continue to fill the environmental docket on Capitol Hill with proposed legislation in both the House and Senate.

But the work going on in industry and in government may not be the only answer for the future of Planet Earth. Sometimes it is a matter of stepping back and reassessing the steps individuals are taking - and the impact on all aspects of their lives - to make sure they fit the correct footprints for that particular scenario.

Such was the information put forth at the recent INDA Disposability Conference, held in late September in Washington, D.C. Speakers from industry, federal government, independent organizations and even an administrator from a hospital that had recently switched to reusable diapers were among the program's presenters. They covered the marketing and technical angles of the problem, offering potential solutions or suggestions in a variety of areas. A tour of the Ogden Martin Systems waste-to-energy incinerator in Fairfax, VA, the largest facility of its kind in the country, was also included. Overall, the conference was a service to the industry, providing it with an update of what has been happening legislatively and within the industry.

The Industry's Role

The conference seems to have shifted gears slightly since its inception two year ago. Peter Isaac, of Clopay, Cincinnati, OH, one of the conference organizers since the first Disposability Conference in September, 1989, pointed this out at the most recent gathering.

"We had originally considered having the conference as a way to educate the outside public as well as the industry," he said. "For the first conference, there was strong recruiting of outsiders. Since then we have seen a shift towards using the conference more as a means of internal communication within the industry about what is going on nationwide."

The nonwovens industry and INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, are opening the lines of communications and taking that one step further. INDA recently formed an environmental advisory board top report to the INDA board of directors on environmental issues. Headed by Clopay's Leo Cancio, the advisory board has already amended the INDA mission statement on disposability and waste management. Plans call for new committees to be formed in addition to the disposability conference committee and the government relations committee; these will focus on individual product groups for diapers, hygiene products, wipes and packaging.

Keynote speaker Peter Britton, director of community environmental development at Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, NJ, also provided an example of what individual companies are doing to aid in the education and environmental awareness of employees and the community in his talk about J&J's environmental responsibility program. Mr. Britton defined three specific commitments - to its credo, to its health care mission and to quality - in the company's program, the goal of which is to ensure that each facility operates at the same high level of preparedness.

"The focus of this approach is to foster employee and community trust in the environmentally responsible nature of our products," said Mr. Britton, "and to communicate environmental information in an effective manner to our employees and the members of the community in which we operate."

Update From The |Compost Man'

In the legislative arena, Rep. George Hochbrueckner, of New York, who referred to himself as the "compost man," talked about various legislation regarding recycling and composting. He said that the compost portion of the 1990 Farm Bill relating to agriculture has already passed; this will detail how the Farm Bill should be conducted for the next five years.

"Composting is currently |in vogue,'" said Rep. Hochbrueckner. "Times change and emphasis changes. Composting is being promoted by the EPA and Congress; there is a large movement in that direction now. Along with this will come funding," he said. "It is the wave of the future, more and more bills and efforts will be made in that area."

Labeling composting the "sleeping giant," Rep. Hochbrueckner said that 30-60% of the waste stream is compostable (if it can't be recycled) and reported that there was currently a bill to promote recycling and composting in schools. "Education at a younger level is important," he said. "Individuals are more willing and open at that age."

A new ruling has already taken affect in the area of landfills, according to Alan Geswein, of the EPA. The new standard, which was due out last month, will require that certain criteria, such as landfill site, design, operation, covering and post-closure activity, live up to regulations within the next two years. Monitored on the state level, the standards are self-implementing; the owner can comply without the interaction of the state or the EPA. The standard only affects new and existing landfills that receive household waste - it does not apply to industrial and construction waste - and that will be open as of October, 1993. Those that will close in the upcoming two-year window must only follow closure regulations.

Among the requirements in the new ruling are:

* Location restrictions - new or lateral expansion of landfills is restricted in or near airports, flood plains, seismic impact zones, wetlands, fault areas or unstable areas.

* Design criteria - the liner design of new units must have flexible membranes at least 30 mils thick with at least two feet of compacted soil. Existing units are not required to retrofit the liner or leachate collection system.

* Final cover - must be 18 inches of an infiltration layer where no water can get through and a minimum of six inches of an erosion layer.

* Post closure - care must be conducted for 30 years after closing (although this can be lengthened or shortened within the approved state).

Reality Is Tricky

Lynn Scarlett, of the Reason Foundation, as non-profit public policy think tank based in Los Angeles, CA, in a paper called "Air, Water, Earth & People: Making Product Choices," described the tradeoffs sometimes involved in choosing the best product for an individual, taking into consideration more than simply the lack of space in landfills.

"The EPA hierarchy is different than an integrated solid waste management system," said Ms. Scarlett. "It is not taking into consideration all the variables such as economics and current misconceptions about solid waste."

Among these misconceptions, Ms. Scarlett said, is that we are running out of resources. "Humans make resources," she explained. "We are treating solid waste as an externality here, saying that it imparts harm to a third party. Manufacturers are not polluting simply by making products."

Ms. Scarlett believes strongly that we are not running out of landfills, that disposables or plastics are not inherently bad and that recycling is not always good.

Because recent recycling programs have been initiated without regard to recycling program costs - that is, whether or not such programs result in savings for solid waste management systems - some recycling efforts may consume more overall resources (environmental and financial) than if waste were simply landfilled or incinerated, Ms. Scarlett said. "The economics of recycling depend upon local factors, including demographics, availability and cost of landfilling and incineration, distance from markets for recyclables and so on."

She continued: "One economist found that to meet a 40% recycling goal nationwide would increase overall waste management costs by nearly 24% on the West Coast and by a more modest 5% on the East Coast. He suggests that optimal disposal methods based on economic considerations would yield recycling rates of some 8% on the East Coast and only 4% on the West Coast."

Likewise, the "throwaway syndrome" is another misconception in this country, Ms. Scarlett said. Figures indicating that U.S. per capita waste generation is higher than that of other industrialized nations are deceptive. "For example," she pointed out, "according to the Office of Technology Assessment, in the U.S. postconsumer materials that are recycled are generally included in the definition of municipal solid waste. In contrast, Japan and many European countries define MSW as including only those materials sent to waste treatment or disposal facilities. Using comparable measurement standards, U.S. households produce about 3.2 pounds of waste per day compared to Japan's three pounds per day."

"Reality is tricky," said Ms. Scarlett. "There are tradeoffs involved with every decision. We have a preoccupation with landfills, a "dumpster green" attitude where we think that putting something in a landfill or dumpster is not a "green" thing to do."

She urged taking a look at the bigger picture. "Even life cycle analysis is still a generalization," she said. "This is only one of many values. Health, safety and convenience all need to be considered in the overall assessment of a product."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:landfill regulations and the nonwoven fabrics industry
Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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