The future of waste is zilch.
What some may consider a pie-in-the-sky scenario is becoming closer to reality, as the Department of Environmental Protection develops a zero waste policy goal for the future.
With skyrocketing solid waste disposal costs and the toxic emissions from landfills and trash incinerators contributing to climate change, the concept of zero waste is being embraced as a realistic, common-sense solution to a number environmental and social ills.
While it may not be possible to completely eliminate all waste, Lynne Pledger, the solid waste director of Clean Water Action, outlined the steps for getting closer.
“Zero waste is like the North Star. You don’t have to get there, just use it as a guide,” Ms. Pledger said in a forum organized by the Falmouth Climate Action Team, the Falmouth Solid Waste Advisory Committee, and the Cape and Islands chapter of the Sierra Club.
Not only does waste represent inefficiency in society, it is a major contributor to climate change, emitting potent greenhouse gases (methane and CO2) and toxins from landfills and incinerators, Ms. Pledger said.
Throwing things away instead of reusing them also means more natural resources are consumed, destroying ecosystems and habitats in the process.
For example, the bauxite needed to produce aluminum cans has ravaged parts of Jamaica, Iceland, Guinea, Australia, and India— a process that also requires 20 times the amount of energy as recycling aluminum.
The 3 R’s
The mantra of the waste disposal hierarchy—reduce, reuse, recycle—rings true in achieving zero waste, said Ms. Pledger.
By reusing shopping bags to composting, people are already taking steps to reduce their household garbage.
But in order to get to zero waste municipalities and manufacturers will also have to step up their efforts.
The DEP’s Pathway to Zero Waste solid waste master plan for 2010-2020:
- sets a goal of reducing the state’s solid waste 30 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050
- proposes mandatory recycling and the establishment of “convenient” recycling programs in all communities in MA
- suggests establishing “pay as you throw” (PAYT) trash collection in half of Massachusetts towns and cities
- proposes a ban on organic waste produced by businesses and state institutions by 2014 (provided the infrastructure is established to handle it)
According to the DEP, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing:
- currently supports more than 2,000 businesses with an estimated 14,000 jobs in Massachusetts
- brings in annual revenues of $3.2 billion
- reducing disposal by 2 million tons per year by 2020 would result in annual avoided disposal costs of $120-$160
- would create 25 times more jobs than waste disposal
A Matter of Will
To cut the state’s garbage in half, commercial-scale composting facilities or anaerobic digesters will be needed in every region to handle food scraps from residences and businesses, Ms. Pledger said.
In the 125 municipalities nationwide that offer curbside composting along with recycling and trash disposal, she said trash collection has decreased to twice a month, offsetting costs.
A pay-as-you-throw program for curbside trash collection has also proven to reduce solid waste tonnage, Ms. Pledger added.
Setting a nationwide example, San Francisco instituted a mandatory recycling and composting program last year, a huge gain in achieving its goal of zero waste by 2020.
Boston and San Francisco are similar in size and demographics, Ms. Pledger pointed out, but currently San Francisco diverts 75 percent of its solid waste, while Boston diverts only 13 percent.
“The difference is political will,” she said.
Think globally, act locally
Taking steps toward zero waste represents an opportunity for Falmouth to increase “green tourism” while also saving money and protecting the environment, Ms. Pledger said.
Local boards of health have the authority to determine what can be handled at a transfer station, she said— meaning that the board could decide to ban recyclable goods and organic materials from the Upper Cape Regional Transfer Station.
Falmouth DPW Director Ray Jack has gone on the record in support of regionalizing solid waste services, another of the DEP’s solid waste guidelines. He has also expressed support for mandatory recycling program and a materials reclamation center on Cape Cod.
As the Cape’s contracts with the SEMASS waste-to-energy incinerator near expiration (2015 in Falmouth) and the Bourne landfill, well, fills, this forward-thinking step could reduce our solid waste disposal costs significantly—meanwhile creating a market for used (but still perfectly useful) construction and art materials.
A reclamation facility similar to Urban Ore in San Francisco would create a market for builders who want cheaper or more unique building materials, and could also be expanded to take in household goods, clothing, and other useful materials, similar to the Falmouth Waste Management Facility’s popular Swap Shop.
The EPR model
EPR is just one way of incorporating societal costs into consumer products.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.