Part 2: In which our intrepid reporter continues his trash odyssey and witnesses the beautiful ugliness of recycling. [Read Part 1 and Part 3.]
Step 3: Stream of Consciousness
Near the end of a day's route, some trash collectors—often former military men who call their trucks "boats" or "planes"—will radio in that they're "on final approach." Their first stop is Recycle Central, a gray warehouse in the Bayview neighborhood that looks like a weapons depot. Loud, dirty, and mechanically byzantine, Recycle Central is a factory where disassembly lines split an old product—garbage—into multiple streams of raw materials. In other words, it's where other people start to sort all the castaways that we can't be bothered to sort ourselves.
At around 11 a.m., Pike drove onto Recycle Central's soccer-field-sized "tipping floor." He opened the Big Pig's recyclables hatch and floored the truck, leaving behind an eight-foot-wide log of rejecta. I tiptoed across it and found my unmistakable square-shaped egg crate. "Your egg crate is about to get buried," Reed said as a front-end loader smashed into the log and heaved part of it onto a 15-foot-high pile of recyclables.
The loader's driver, Isidro Vallejo, nimbly scooped out a soiled comforter and carried it across the floor to a dumpster. I asked what he liked about the job. "I think it's a great thing for the kids," he said, leaning out of his cab. "It's amazing how much 'recycle' we get over here. It's incredible. I think it's beautiful." Especially after Christmas when the pile becomes a sparkling mountain of gift wrap: "Oh man, it gets pretty nice."
Part 1: In which our intrepid reporter sets off on a trash odyssey and learns that he's been throwing out his garbage all wrong. [Read Part 2 and Part 3.]
Step 1: The Big Sort
In the best of ways, San Francisco is king of the trash heap. While the average American annually discards more than 1,100 pounds of garbage, the typical resident of the city by the bay trashes 882 pounds, thanks to a Herculean recycling program that recovers nearly half of everything that gets tossed. No major American city recycles more. I wanted to know why. It certainly wasn't because of me.
To find out whether my city's phenomenal recycling success was actually real, I asked San Francisco's waste contractor, Sunset Scavenger, if I could track one week's worth of my own trash in real time. It agreed, and so began my odyssey into a world of waste.
In addition to curbside pickup, Sunset Scavenger offers 11 other recycling services, everything from free "bulky item" pickup to a 16-year-old construction debris program that accounts for roughly 30 percent of everything the company recycles. These programs are supplemented by other independent recycling services that trade in everything from glass bottles to used asphalt. Factoring them all in, San Francisco calculates that 72 percent of its waste is diverted from the landfill. To reflect this focus on waste diversion, Sunset Scavenger's parent company recently changed its name from Norcal Waste Systems to Recology.
"Don't Mess With Texas," perhaps the most famous state slogan in history, began as an anti-littering campaign. Having grown up in the Lone Star State, I remember a TV ad showing two fighter jets swooping over a highway, presumably about to strafe some guy who tossed a can out of his pickup. Well, turns out San Francisco is about to do Texas one better. Today, the city's Board of Supervisors made it illegal not only to throw that can out the window, but also in the trash; a new law will require you to recycle it. I can't wait for the bus ads featuring a gun-packing hippie: Don't mess with San Francisco.
Of course, San Francisco's strong recycling norms aren't unique along the Left Coast, which, as we noted in our recent Waste Issue, takes those curvy green arrows much more seriously than folks in New York. Recycling is already mandatory in San Diego and Seattle, where trash collectors shame offending homeowners by posting notes on their trash bins and leaving them unemptied on the curb. Still, San Francisco might up the ante. SF Weeklynotes that its proposed fines for not recycling--$100 to $500--are ten times higher than Seattle's.
San Francisco is already the least trashy city in America. In May, it announced that it recycles 72 percent of its waste. And most homeowners and more than a fifth of apartment dwellers compost (under the new law, everyone will). Fascinated by how the city where I live achieves such high numbers, I recently began following my garbage. I've tracked it from the can at my apartment building to its eventual reincarnation, learning a lot along the way about the obstacles to going "zero waste," as the city hopes to by 2020. Check back tomorrow for the first installment of this colorful--and stinky--trash saga, which will appear on this site throughout the week.
Former Virginia Senator George Allen, whose 2006 "Macaca" speech turned into the most famous online gotcha video of all time, has resurfaced after a long political quiesence--and, of all places, online. In a new Web video for the American Energy Freedom Center, which he now leads, he replaces a brown-skinned menace with hints of a green one: Climate legislation. The video appears to be the first installment of what Allen describes as monthly "kitchen table talks" in which he'll "tell people the truthful story about America's energy potential."
The American Energy Freedom Center draws upon an oily pedigree. It is a partner group of the Houston-based Institute for Energy Research, which is funded in part by Exxon-Mobil and is headed by Robert Bradley Jr., who worked as a public policy director at Enron and a speechwriter for CEO Ken Lay.
So why have these guys turned to Allen? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, before Allen lost his Senate seat in 2006, he was Congress' number 3 recepient of campaign cash from the energy sector . Over his career he raised $1 million from energy companies, including $19,400 from Exxon Mobil. He also brings strong connections to other lawmakers as a former presidential hopeful, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which plays a key role in crafting energy legislation. Moreover, as of 2006 Allen had personally invested somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in energy companies.
In short, he doesn't seem like the kind of guy I'd trust to sit in my kitchen and tell me how America should "promote the clean, creative, and thoughtful utilization of American energy." But here's his pitch, complete with a nifty lapel pin:
Given that credit default swaps caused the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, you'd think that the folks responsible for them, people who are now surviving on the taxpayer dime, might be laughed out of Washington if they were to suggest that they be the ones to decide how to regulate them. Sadly, it's the opposite.
On Monday, the Times' Gretchen Morgenson published a little-noticed but excellent piece about the CDS Dealers Consortium, a group created in November by the nine biggest participants in the derivatives market to lobby against stricter regulation of derivatives. The move came a month after five of them had received bailout money. The group's head lobbyist, Edward J. Rosen, who was paid $450,000 by the banks for four months, wrote a secret policy memo that he shared with the Treasury Department and leaders on Capitol Hill. A few months later Tim Geithner released a suspiciously similar regulatory plan.
It gets much worse: in February Rosen testified before Congress on derivaratives without disclosing his ties to the CDS Dealers Consortium. From 2007 to 2008, five banks in the consortium spent a combined $47.7 million on campaign donatations and lobbying.
Geithner's bank-friendly plan to regulate derivatives would force them to be traded on a privately-managed clearinghouse, rather than on an open exchange, similar to the stock market, where many experts believe that they'd be less subject to manipulation. Morgenson reports:
Critics in both the financial world and Congress say relying on clearinghouses would be problematic. They also say Mr. Geithner's plan contains a major loophole, because little disclosure would be required for more complicated derivatives, like the type of customized, credit-default swaps that helped bring down A.I.G. A.I.G. sold insurance related to mortgage securities, essentially making a big bet that those mortgages would not default. . .
But increased transparency of derivatives trades would cut into banks' profits — hence the banks' opposition. Customers who trade derivatives would pay less if they knew what the prevailing market prices were.
The Times piece is long, but reading it goes a long way towards understanding what is often a huge gulf between the Obama Administration's rhetoric and its tepid approach to bank regulation.