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EARTHWATCH

Turning Trash to Cash Via an Industrial Park : If the project works, it can make Ventura County look good. It's about keeping jobs and raw materials at home.

October 06, 1994|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This week, neighbors of a planned Ventura Environmental Business Park on Victoria Avenue in east Ventura have been trooping over the 20-acre site to talk trash. The developer, Gold Coast Recycling Inc., has been taking pains to explain, via a series of breakfasts, brunches and tea-time gatherings, that an industrial park around a solid-waste sorting facility is not contrary to good environmental practice or good business practice.

Proceedings will begin Oct. 13 at the County Government Center to determine whether Gold Coast gets the required permits for its project to sort 1,500 tons of trash daily and to erect manufacturing and business facilities needed to turn the reusables into salable products. Whether the plan passes muster with the county or not, the overall business idea warrants serious consideration.

In this respect, Earthwatch joins the chorus of huzzahs from county, state and local elected officials, as well as business people. If the thing works, it can make Ventura County look good--a pioneering place--good for business and good at business.

"It's a new concept, only being considered by a handful of places, (but) it makes a lot of sense," said Victoria Hand, manager of the recycling division of the Ventura County Solid Waste Management Department.

What's the deal here? Simply put, it's about keeping raw materials and jobs at home rather than exporting them to other states or countries.

Remember the Earthwatch report about Chinese junks heading for our county to carry away all our garbage? That particular scheme faltered, but if you were thinking the premise was far-fetched, you were right for only a little while. Timber and ore supplies are dwindling, and prices for virgin sources are soaring. The Wall Street Journal was down on the idea of recyclables for years but recently discovered--and headlined--that "Cities Couldn't Give Away Their Trash; Now They Get Top Dollar from Recyclers."

Many U.S. communities are seeing factories going up to handle desirable raw materials. The newsprint industry alone has lately plunked down hundreds of millions of dollars to build de-inking facilities for recycled papers. Purchasing agents for these plants now must range far and wide. So when you recycle this newspaper it's probably going to Oregon.

Maybe that's OK for our national economy--better than having the raw materials and jobs slip to the other side of the Pacific Rim. But a better idea, the environmental business park idea, is to keep these resources right in the community where they originated.

The Gold Coast plans appear responsive to local conditions. For instance, they include a de-inking plant to produce office supplies from old office paper. Yes, newspaper will be processed at the East Ventura facility, but it will be turned into specialty building materials.

Who's going to buy products made from scrap? I recently went to Portland to see what the "Buy Recycled Business Alliance" was doing. Not many folks from the Birkenstock crowd were there. Lots of suits--Fortune 500 types--swarmed around looking at consumer products, industrial commodities and even high-fashion goods. It was just like any other ritzy trade show, except that everything on display was, so to speak, on its second time around.

AT&T, McDonalds, American Airlines, Bell Atlantic, Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson are already heavy buyers. McDonalds alone spent $900 million in the last four years on recycled products and packaging for its restaurants.

Curbside pickup of recyclables nationally has spread from 1,000 communities five years ago to 7,000 today, just as virgin materials are getting scarcer and recycling technology is getting cheaper.

"These conditions are not going to go away," said National Recycling Coalition President Mark Lichtenstein.

This is reminiscent of the old days when a mine or timberland opened. Mills--and jobs--sprouted like mushrooms. Today's mines and forests are no longer in the wilderness but in the city. Which, in a neat twist of fate, is where you'll find the folks needing jobs.

Details

* VENTURA: Information about the planned Ventura Environmental Business Park: Nan Drake at 642-9236.

* NATIONAL: Information on the Buy Recycled Business Alliance or the National Recycling Coalition: (202) 625-6406.

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