Log Lunch, Jan 13, 2023: “Corporate Greenwashing and Solid Waste,” Kirstie Pecci, founder and director, Just-Zero.

Just-Zero has four main goals: changing how solid waste is processed, ending
landfilling, keeping compost clean, and reducing single-use items. Solid-waste
disposal often uses dangerous methods and there is a lack of investment in real
solutions. One false solution is incineration, often disguised by nice-sounding terms
such as “waste-to-energy”, “advanced recycling”, and “chemical recycling”, but any
form of burning requires energy and spews greenhouse gases. Landfills also are
sources of greenhouse and toxic gases and they can leach chemicals into the ground
as well. Sometimes leachate is sent to wastewater treatment plants, but those
facilities are not designed remove toxic chemicals. Keeping compost clean means
keeping out yard waste and sewage, as well as packaging; even if labeled as
“compostable”, packaging rarely is safe for the soil, especially if waterproofed with
plastic or PFAS coatings that contaminate the soil. One of the easiest ways to reduce
plastic waste is to avoid it altogether with more reusable wares. Responsibility
programs like PAYT (pay as you throw) and EPR (extended producer
responsibility), bottle bills, bag bans, and “Skip the Stuff” (disposable utensils,
straws, catsup packets, etc) address this problem.

Pecci’s main message at Log Lunch was to look out for industry deceptions and
“greenwashing”. For example, some nonprofits are funded by fossil fuel or plastics
companies, so it’s important to follow the money. Sometimes industries use “green”
PR to make it seem like they are climate-friendly, but looking at the big picture often
reveals that these green programs are minuscule relative to the group’s stated goals
and total budget. It’s also important to pay attention to definitions, accounting, and
context. When industries make percentage-based claims, consider the denominator
and think about whether the absolute amounts are acceptable. Do emissions reports
for a product include emissions from the product’s feedstock or later usage? Where
are plants located and are the emissions regulated? It’s no coincidence that many
are located in lower income neighborhoods with more black and brown people.
Pecci applies a broader definition when she considers the recyclability of a material:
is there a market for the recycled material? Does that material have value? Does the
product avoid use of virgin material? Those are the characteristics that will facilitate
a functional circular economy and reduce the accumulation of waste.

Log Lunch is a CES program hosted every Friday at noon. During Log Lunch, a vegetarian meal prepared by Williams students is served, followed by a talk on an environmental topic. Speakers are drawn from both the student body and faculty of Williams, as well as from local, national, and international organizations. Learn more here.