The Real Cost of Waste by Jared Blumenfeld

Today, a statewide ban goes into effect that makes it illegal to put household batteries, fluorescent lights, electronic devices, and mercury thermostats in the trash. The reason for this ban is simple: all these products contain toxic materials.

The fact is, most of us don’t realize that many of the products we throw away are hazardous to our health and the environment. And even when we do have an inkling that something really shouldn’t go in the trash, we wonder: where do I put dead batteries? What about a broken VCR or that annoying musical greeting card? Studies show that nearly 75% of old electronics are in storage, in part because people don’t know what to do with them.

Because these items can no longer go in the black garbage cart, cities must expand services and create new collection programs. San Francisco and other local governments around the state are facing the multi-million dollar question: who will pay the costs of handling discarded consumer products that are toxic, reactive, combustible, or corrosive?

Right now the answer’s you and me. Taxpayers and garbage ratepayers are footing the bill. San Francisco residents and businesses pay millions of dollars each year for toxics collection, and this cost will only go up as more and more materials that need special handling enter the waste stream.

By shouldering the costs of disposal, San Franciscans are essentially subsidizing the manufacture of waste. Manufacturers know that no matter what they produce—and no matter how toxic the ingredients—local governments will foot the bill for recycling or disposal. A manufacturer’s responsibility for its product currently ends at the point of sale. Herein lies the problem, and the solution.

When brand owners are responsible for ensuring their products are recycled responsibly, and when health and environmental costs are included in the product price, there is a strong incentive to design goods to be more durable, easy to recycle, and less toxic. This is the thinking behind a better approach to managing—and preventing—waste called “extended producer responsibility.”

Producer responsibility laws have been enacted in about 30 countries in regions as diverse as Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In 2004, California promoted both producer and retailer responsibility with the Cell Phone Recycling Act. Effective July 1, 2006, the law requires that cell phone retailers have in place a system for the acceptance and collection of used cell phones for reuse, recycling, or proper disposal.

What’s hazardous about cell phones? The batteries contain the toxic metal cadmium, while the phone circuitry contains a number of toxic heavy metals including lead, copper, antimony, chromium, and nickel. Once the cell phone is in a landfill or wherever else it ends up, the metals can contaminate groundwater. In California alone, more than 16 million cell phones end up in landfill each year. This new law has given a jumpstart to recycling and refurbishing businesses, often run by manufacturers and retailers. The recycling and disposal costs have shifted from local governments and citizens to the manufacturers, retailers, and ultimately the actual cell phone users themselves.

San Francisco is poised to be a leader in promoting producer responsibility. Our residents and businesses actively participate in recycling programs that help us achieve one of the highest recycling rates in the country. We can lead by example with innovative resource management programs, but our efforts should have an even greater reach. We need to work together across California to urge statewide producer responsibility policies. In line with our efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle, producer responsibility reduces waste as well as costs to rate payers and tax payers, while protecting public health and the environment. We simply need to wrap our heads around the not-so-radical notion that the people who create and use toxic products should pay for their disposal.

Jared Blumenfeld is director of San Francisco’s Environment Department. Until producer responsibility is a reality, visit the Department’s website at to find out how to get rid of your hazardous stuff.

Green Cure-All by Gavin Newsom and William K. Reilly

Clean technology — an emerging business sector that encompasses environmentally friendly and economically
sustainable energy, water, transportation, building and a host of other goods and services — is an idea whose time has come. Unassailable in its simplicity, unparalleled in its scope, clean technology is an elegant solution to many of the economic and environmental challenges we face in cities across the nation — and around the world.

Examples of clean technology include water-efficient equipment, alternative-fuel vehicles and recycled building materials. As a rule, clean technologies are competitive with, if not superior to, their conventional counterparts. And these renewable technologies offer additional benefits: They contribute to energy independence, promote environmental conservation and provide healthier workplaces and neighborhoods.

Record-setting oil prices, growing awareness of global warming, and finite supplies of fossil fuels and other natural resources make clean technology more relevant and more compelling every day. It’s no coincidence that clean technology has risen to the sixth-largest investment category in the United States and Canada (venture capital investments in clean technology rose to $520 million in 2004, according to clean technology research and publishing firm Clean Edge) — behind information technology, software, biotechnology, health care and telecommunication.

In San Francisco, we’ve embraced clean technology because it’s a natural next step in our proud tradition of environmental leadership. We’re home to one of the largest alternative-fuel municipal fleets in the nation, we boast one of the highest recycling rates for a major U.S. city (67 percent), and we recently became the first city in the nation to enact environmentally friendly purchasing legislation.

Voted the most sustainable city in the country, San Francisco naturally attracts innovative, environment-minded businesses. Add to this the Bay Area’s progressive political leaders, top-notch academic institutions and rich venture capital opportunities, and it’s clear we’re an ideal setting for incubating and developing new environmentally friendly technologies.

San Francisco is also blessed with natural capital that uniquely positions the city to lead in clean technology. Our strong tides, high winds, constant ocean waves and abundant sunshine provide a ready supply of renewable resources. The city’s tidal power potential alone is enormous, with more than 400 million gallons of water moving through the Golden Gate each day.

In order to harness San Francisco’s various strengths, we are announcing today the formation of a Clean Technology Advisory Council. Building on the overwhelming success of similar biotechnology efforts that attracted industry leaders, the council is charged with promoting the city’s clean technology vision and attracting clean-technology businesses to make their home here. Start-ups and other small businesses will be a particular focus of the council because their growth will bring in revenue and jobs. In addition to communicating the many benefits of doing business in San Francisco, the council will also be able to sweeten the deal with payroll tax credits for clean- technology companies based in the city.

San Francisco businesses, political leadership and city government joined to forge a clean technology vision for our future. We believe clean technology is more than a solution to the many challenges we face — we believe it serves as a model for a new way of thinking about business and for creating partnerships that result in healthier communities and stronger economies. We don’t think we’re overstating the case when we say that clean technology is setting us on a path toward a more peaceful world.

Gavin Newsom is mayor of San Francisco. William K. Reilly is founding partner of the investment group Aqua Partners International and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H. W. Bush.

cover image of Thea Hillman's book "Depending on the Light"

Thea Hillman’s smart and sophisticated sudden fiction erupts from a core of urban observations. Whether she’s writing about a tongue-in-cheek analysis of celebrity attraction or a travel tale of being stranded in Laramie, Wyoming, these 33 short stories and poems brim with radiance and gritty compassion, love and lust, anger and empathy.

Acclaim for Depending on the Light:

“Fabulous pieces… wonderfully observed and very potent.” —Ginu Kamani, Junglee Girl

“Thea Hillman looks way past the surface and into the intricate insides of love and sex, safety and identity, the pleasures and dangers of urban life. I’m so glad to be finally able to welcome her work on my bookshelf, taking its rightful place with other writers I love.” —Carol Queen, Real Live Nude Girl, PoMoSexuals, The Leather Daddy and the Femme

Published by Manic D Press
Cover by Rex Ray
Pub Date: March 2001, Trade paper, ISBN 0-916397-70-X 160 pp,
5-1/2 x 8-1/2 trade paperback
Fiction/Gay & Lesbian Studies

cover image of Thea Hillman's book "Intersex"

Lambda-Award winning Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word chronicles one person’s search for self in a world obsessed with normal. In first-person prose as intimate as a diary, Thea Hillman redefines memoir in a series of compelling stories that take a no-holds-barred look at sex, gender, family, and community. Whether she’s pondering quirky family tendencies (“Drag”) or reflecting on “queerness” (“Another”), Hillman’s brave and fierce vision for cultural and societal change shines through.

Acclaim for Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word:

“In Hillman’s world, the surer you become about who you are, the more vulnerable you get.” —The San Francisco Bay Guardian

“Thea Hillman elegantly distills her successful careers in performance and activism in this important and wonderfully disarming book. Poetic, political, and deeply personal.” — Beth Lisick, Everybody into the Pool

“There’s nothing else in print like this amazing and courageous book.” — Patrick Califia, Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism

Review, Utne Reader
Review, chroma
Review, Curve Magazine
Review, Jewcy

Published by Manic D Press, Inc. (September 1, 2008)
Paperback: 160 pages
# ISBN-10: 1933149248
# ISBN-13: 978-1933149240


While at Underground Advertising, I worked on the team that rebranded San Francisco’s Environment Department as SF Environment and developed a new look & feel for the agency. I wrote the new tagline for the Department: “Our Home. Our City. Our Planet.” Later, as Communications Manager at the Department, I worked with a cognitive linguist and a communications firm to design unique focus groups that informed the messaging behind all of San Francisco’s recycling and toxics reduction outreach. During my tenure at the Department, I managed the team that rolled out environmental social marketing campaigns that included grassroots organizing, door-to-door outreach, and tabling, as well as advertising campaigns, branded posters, signage, online customizable recycling signs, TV spots, a website redesign, and an open-source recycling database.

Earthjustice, formerly Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, was looking for a branding and advertising campaign to introduce the organization’s new name and get the word out about its legal work and victories. I wrote the tagline, mission statement, regional office brochures, as well as a series of TV and radio ads. More than a decade later, the tagline continues to play a leading role in the organization’s communication.

This ad campaign ran in Rolling Stone magazine and was developed to drive folks to a drug policy conference and dramatize yet another wasteful war waged by us, the American taxpayers. I worked with an art director to concept these ads, then wrote the copy which highlighted the connection between our overcrowded prisons and the misappropriated drug war dollars. I also wrote the organization’s tagline.

Once you know about the pesticides, colorants, and other chemicals in farmed salmon, you kind of lose your appetite. Which led us to a simple ad strategy for this campaign: just the facts (okay, maybe with a touch of sarcasm). I worked with an art director for the concept and wrote the copy for this ad that grabbed the attention of the targeted retailer, and informed consumers that farmed salmon isn’t the wonder food it’s made out to be.

These ads were placed on condom machines in a small town to encourage at-risk teens to get condoms in the one place where it was least likely someone would spot them while they made their purchase — the bathroom. We turned these concepts into condom key chains and developed a graffiti art event, a car wrap, and a spoken-word radio spot (Safer Sex Machine :60 radio spot) I wrote that was so popular the local radio station played it for weeks beyond the buy.