Your Stories

This page is reserved for the personal stories of the many enthusiasts for Zero Waste that I have met around the world thanks to the World Wide Web.

If you would like to submit a story about the work you have been doing in your own profession or about your efforts to apply zero waste thinking to your favorite project, please write me a few paragraphs and send it to my email address at EMAIL

Thanks
Paul Palmer(scroll down for stories)

JOHN ZIMMER AND MIKE COPSEY – ECOHUB REPAIR.

In Oxford Wisconsin, John and Mike are running a thriving business repairing fairly complex assemblies like cameras and smartphones, as well as simpler things they can get their hands on like irons, mixers, motors and anything else they can figure out.

Here is their story in their own words:

 WeHaveABusinessin the small town of Oxford Wisconsin by the name of “The Eco hub”. We only sell refurbished products. By selling refurbished products, we are extending their lives despite their being originally designed for a short life. At the same time, since re-manufactured/refurbished products are not put back to be sold at full retail, the lower price saves the consumer some money in the process.

We also recycle what we sell. Products like computers, microwaves, batteries, cell phones and electronics gadgets are collected and recycled for their materials. This is not as good as reusing and refurbishing but at the end of a product life designed for early obsolescence, it is the best we can do. We have a new secure e-Commerce Website at Go To Ecohub Website where you can buy eco friendly products and get the best price on big name electronics, small appliances and gas powered equipment. Be sure to read the blog also as there are several articles about the subjects of reuse, recycling, conserving and reclaiming.

A hidden advantage of refurbished products is that their biggest problem, if there was one, has already been fixed before you have a chance to buy it; Think automobile safety recalls here, but they never happen until after the car has been purchased! This repair/re-manufacturing and hands-on close scrutiny makes refurbished products more reliable than the ones that were just stamped out on the assembly line at the fastest rate possible.

There are even more advantages like not using the additional resources that would have to been used to make another product in the place of the one that just entered the dump. There are financial and resource advantages at an industry level; they do not have to extract/refine and deliver extra raw materials or pay workers to make and ship another entirely new product. This is the main and largest benefit of reuse.

The Eco Hub serves as a fine example of what a business can do to help keep our planet healthy. We are proud to be running it.

Mike Copsey

John Zimmer

Teri is an entrepreneur in San Diego California. She stays in touch with all things zero waste.

“I have watched an enormous amount of waste over the years – as a thirty year airline employee, you can imagine the waste I have seen. It was disconcerting to say the least. As a resident of San Diego, I have watched the slow development of recycling and reuse and the burgeoning landfill of San Diego finally become an issue of discussion for the city. There had to be something better and we as a community needed to look for alternatives that would awaken the populace to our wasteful society.

So, a little over a year ago, I began a small business selling reusable shopping bags. In 2006 it was a fledgling affair with interest coming from just a few. But things changed in March of 2007. With San Francisco passing legislation to eliminate plastic bags from their city, suddenly the whole country woke up.

I now field calls nationwide and things are growing fast. It is exciting to say the least. We now need to head for a more mindful approach of Zero Waste as an answer that can help solve this horrible cultural dilemma we live in. I am optimistic that we are heading in the right direction. This will not be an easy journey but it is necessary for our planet. We are all in this together.”

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James and Vanessa farm a few thousand acres in northern South Africa. James has been trying to redesign conventional farming to be less wasteful, more organic and to make better use of natural methods. He has been successful in convincing his peers to make many changes away from chemical farming and its built-in waste.

Dear Paul

“Your article in Rachel’s (the Death of Recycling) made excellent points. I am a commercial organic farmer in South Africa and once I had read a little way into your paper I was becoming increasingly excited, so that by the end I was excitedly telling my wife, Vanessa, ‘ZERO WASTE FARMING!’ The concept is what all industries (including all forms of agriculture) of our civilisation need in order to cope with the crises facing humanity, now being recognised internationally.

I have had similar misgivings concerning certified organic farming and products produced by this system as I have with those outputs of the recycling trade. The basic thinking supporting organics (not to mention conventional agriculture) is obsolete, largely because there is still almost total reliance on concepts which were designed for farming with abundant resources or at most, slightly reduced resources. Biodynamic agricultural philosophy partly meets this need; however the ideas are almost 90 years old and difficult to apply. A ZW philosophy should be introduced at all levels of agriculture, agricultural education and research and without doubt this will yield as remarkable and huge returns as the ‘redesigning for reuse’ that you describe in your article.

For example, I use micro organisms (http://www.royagcol.ac.uk/research/conferences/higa.htm) at all levels of production including soil, seed and fertiliser inoculation at planting; foliar application to combat pest and disease (competitive exclusion) and at harvest. The harvester treats the ‘waste’ straw with microbes which aid and accelerate the break-down of the bulk while preserving nutrients. Finally the tractors are treated with microbes: in the radiator which prevents muck build-up and detoxifies the coolant and in washing, where the microbes break-up the oil and grease which would otherwise head into traps and disposal in waste systems.

We still face enormous obstacles on the road to ZW farming, but with your proposals applied we will reach the objective much quicker.

The ZW concept is both the answer and the challenge: how to spread the concept as fast as possible?

Thank you for your read, it was inspiring and continues to inspire.”

Wr

Kirklington
South Africa

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Nirmala lives in South Africa. She is a sociologist, self taught in science and technology, She believes that creation of socially responsible science and technology is the best way to challenge the current paradigm.
Dear Paul,

“I am so grateful to have come across your article via my networks.

I am an ardent supporter of Zero Waste and belong to the ZERI global network (www.zeri.org)

Living in Cape Town, South Africa, working on zero emission and zero waste issues is like waging a lonesome war. Despite the fact that there are a few folks out there, my feeling is that we have to tackle the mind-set problem. Along with all the re-designing from the beginning, and moving towards a zero waste society, we have to look at the whole systems thinking and how humanity has become slaves to a way of life rooted in the deep disconnect eager for instant quick results, hence the success of super markets and global production giants. Not to mention the hype on the media about ‘good-living’ and consumerism (filled with dis-ease at not being able to consume more as an indicator of bad living).

… What is needed is a paradigm overhaul, a total design revolution. I find the environmental management, sustainable development etc just green washing, green policing; even the zero wasters here do not understand the radical need to close the loop through total redesign operating an open system at all levels, including the deeper energy/spiritual aspects that we do not comprehend at the moment due to obsessive left brain intervention. …

I would love to be part of the group you are conceiving and share, learn where ever I can.

Warm Regards”

www.zerisa.org

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Natalie Timms of Sebastopol California has been working to reduce waste for many years, mostly in the recycling business. She noticed that there are many vinyl squares around that are going into dumps for no good reason. So she decided to make attractive protective mats for pet dishes out of them. See her products at Pet Mats. Next, we need to redesign the vinyl for perpetual reuse.

THE STORY OF PAUL PALMER AND CHEMICAL REUSE

I am the primary author and maintainer of this website. I came to that position because of my temperament (a saver of strings and rubber bands from an early age) and a lover of science since my father encouraged me as a teenager, and a scientist (PhD in Physical Chemistry from Yale ). Then in 1981 I arrived in the Bay Area from a stint in a textile business in Turkey and somehow answered an ad by a con man who was looking for a chemist to help him in one of his cons. He had learned that chemical using companies sometimes had extra chemicals that were new and valuable but they had no further use for the chemicals so they would freely give them away to someone who could use them. To him this counted as a con, though to most people it seemed like a valuable service. He quickly found a printing shop in Berkeley that had 100 lbs. of unused Rhodamine B dye which I soon found another user for who paid us $500 for the free chemical. My career was launched.

At first I just worked on the telephone but soon I started to accumulate real drums of solvents and other chemicals at my residence on 5th St. in Berkeley. I discovered that Silicon Valley was mixing two solvents together, xylene and butyl acetate, and called it “Developer/Rinse”. There were thousands of gallons of this available every month and once I discovered that these were just components in an expensive lacquer thinner, I took every drop I could find, repackaged it into pints, quarts and even 55 gallon drums, and sold it all over the Bay Area as Zerol, our lacquer thinner. We soon moved into a large warehouse in Oakland and invented all kinds of chemical reusing operations. It occurred to me that the larger significance of our work was to eliminate waste so I came up with the name Zero Waste Systems. A friend told me that was a bad name, but I liked it anyway and it became the first public use of the term Zero Waste anywhere in the world. We collected laboratory chemicals from everywhere, especially Lawrence Berkeley Labs and Lawrence Livermore Labs, Dow Chemical and many other places and we sorted them out and sold them for half price. We had the largest inventory of lab chemicals for sale in California.

Thinking back, many years later, it breaks my heart that in the absence of the good offices of Zero Waste Systems in reselling laboratory chemicals, mainstream methods of packing these chemicals in drums with vermiculite absorbent and burying them underground has once again become the normal method of disposing of them. These so-called “legal”, “responsible” and “official” methods are stupid, wasteful, destructive of the planet, harmful to human health and totally unnecessary but garbage reigns supreme in this country.

We moved into a second, larger facility, installed some distillation machinery and tankage, built an analytical laboratory and hired about twenty employees as chemists, salesmen and drivers. Zero Waste Systems was a very successful business.

Not one penny of support from any government agency was ever received. The EPA gave us plane tickets to Washington DC to learn what were doing. They hired Arthur D. Little to write reports about our work. The California Health Department created a slide show about our company. The California Pollution Control Financing Authority had hundreds of millions of dollars to give out for pollution treatment but we were doing upfront pollution avoidance and so they could not spare a dime for this better, more efficient way to eliminate pollution. As always, the government and industry insist that you must first create pollution. Then they will pay you to clean it up.

Ultimately the business was destroyed by a fraud perpetrated by a former employee and it came to an end about 1981 in an explosive lawsuit. For a time, the recyclers of the Bay Area celebrated our unique achievement in working with chemicals, an industry group that they thought was unreusable. All they knew how to address chemicals with was “Dispose of Properly”. In this field, “properly” is merely a euphemism for stupidly.

I then turned to doing similar work, with a partner from Los Angeles, but exclusively on the telephone, without any yard for storage. I would find a chemical using company with a problem, arising from a contract cancellation, a mistake in mixing chemicals or a byproduct/waste and I would solve the problem, usually taking the chemicals on a brokerage basis and selling them elsewhere. My crowning achievement was solving a Superfund mess in Baldwin Park California when I shipped multiple railcars of an entire mixture of wood, steel, copper, plastic, mercury, silver and desert soil to a smelter in Flin Flon Manitoba who used every last scrap of the mixture for part of its operations. For this I got no recognition whatever from the authorities though I saved them several millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

During this time, I was living on a ranch in Sebastopol, married to Linda and raising three boys, Jake, Jesse and Joshua.

In the new millenium, I decided to put down my acquired knowledge in a book, that I called Getting To Zero Waste. In this book, I pointed out that while chemicals had certain particular properties, in their role as reusable entities, they shared characteristics with all the other products of industry when it came to finding ways to reuse them. The key insight was that by the time that products and usage modalities are designed for quick deterioration and discard, it is too late to even contemplate intelligent or effective reuse. The only way to achieve effective reuse is to intervene right at the beginning in the design phase and to design products for a long and reusable life. I realized that recycling had become merely the handmaiden of the garbage industry and was used primarily to make garbage creation acceptable. I realized that the peculiar way in which recycling was done, focusing exclusively on materials, not on the highly constructed function of products, was essentially insignificant.

Later on, I expanded these ideas at greater length in my website that you are now reading, I developed a number of special designs for certain products, especially for fence post proppers.

I now live in Vacaville where I tend an orchard of mixed fruit trees and still search for a business partner(s) to start a new Zero Waste Systems, this time to create a line of better designed Zero Waste products that can be reused forever. Call me at 707-235-6155  or email at paulp@sonic.net if this entrances you.

Paul Palmer

The official website of the only non profit dealing with Zero Waste that adheres to a consistent philosophy based on stated principles.