On December 15, 2011, the city council in Austin, Texas, voted unanimously to approve the Zero Waste by 2040 plan. And now the program is starting to take effect.
Starting with the comprehensive master plan (pdf), the executive summary:
Zero Waste is a design principle that goes beyond recycling to focus first on reducing wastes and reusing products and then recycling and composting the rest. Zero Waste works to redesign the system to mimic natural systems, recognizing that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and everything is a resource for something or someone else. Currently, Austin is estimated to lose over $40 million annually by sending materials that could be recycled or reused to area landfills.
Austin’s Zero Waste system will strive to recover that estimated loss and eliminate waste, or get darn close. This Plan defines success as reducing by 20% the per capita solid waste disposed to landfills by 2012, diverting 75% of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2020, and 90% by 2040.
Then, bringing the children into it with a program called Generation Zero. Offering educational programs at each grade level:
- Kindergarten – 2nd grade – classroom composting
- 3rd – 5th – learning about recycling
- Middle School – learn about landfills and visit a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)
- High School – history of trash in America
And, my favorite, offering discounts on the utility bill for reducing your trash. If you throw away more you pay more, allowing greener families to save up to $20/month:
- 24 gallon bin – $13.35
- 32 gallon bin – $14.60
- 64 gallon bin – $19.75
- 96 gallon bin – $33.50
This is exciting to watch Austin transform itself, starting from a very low recycling rate of 38% and moving all the way to zero waste.
From a high of 6.3 pounds of trash per day in 2005, Californians have lowered their output in 2011 to a record-low of 4.4 pounds/day. Good news for the state with the highest population, and yet compared to the national average – 4.4 pounds – that’s not much of a drop, more like stopping the excess.
But don’t count out Californians yet – the numbers show strong a downward trend that may leave the rest of the country behind. The state diversion rate (recycling, compost) is 65% – among the highest in the country – with plans for 75% by 2020. In comparison, the country is only at 34% – meaning some states must have horribly low rates.
There is also a strong downward trend among Californians and their trash. The drop was 30% – 1.9 pounds – in the last 5 years, while the rest of the country dropped 0.24 pounds in that same time. And the government is hoping to continue this decline – as the economy bounces back – by signing into law AB 341.
Which among many new rules, forces businesses to start recycling – the only sore spot in this story. At work Californians produce 11.3 pounds of trash – much more than at home. This is largely due to workplace practices that don’t promote recycling and state laws that let office buildings avoid recycling. This new law should remedy that.
For 25 years volunteers have gathered together for Coastal Cleanup Day. The annual event takes place this year on the morning of September 15, 2012.
To volunteer in California visit the California Coastal Commission. For anywhere else visit International Coastal Cleanup.
You can also take a pledge to keep our waters trash free, and follow the event on Facebook and Twitter.
We are getting better, but one can never rest on their laurels:
Garbage drops as CA’s recycling goal grows
Californians have slashed the amount of stuff they throw away each day, pushing per capita disposal rates down to a record low last year even though the economy picked up steam.
It’s a good showing — but residents aren’t doing nearly as well as they might have thought, and state officials are asking for help to dramatically boost waste reduction and recycling by 2020. That likely will result in a suite of new rules, programs and fees designed to improve reuse of materials and minimize the need for more landfills.
California set a goal of a 50% reduction in 1989. In the last decade, most of the state has achieved that and surpassed it (the current statewide rate is 65%). Now, the government has upped the ante, asking for 75% by 2020.
When thinking about the sustainability of REI’s operations, the complexity of the task quickly becomes apparent. Where does a person start?
Our annual stewardship report details one such area: our efforts to reduce REI’s waste-to-landfill.
We conducted a retail waste audit to better understand the details. To paint a picture, imagine this: Our teams literally went “dumpster diving” to get a real behind-the-scenes look at our trash.
We confirmed what our retail employees had long assumed—plastic garment bags (also called polybags) were a major issue.
A long-time retail industry standard—or, “the way it was always done”—has been to protect clothing in plastic bags during transport to stores. For example, a seemingly inexpensive bag that held a $100 sweater was removed and discarded when it reached our shelves for customers.
That’s where we parted ways with our standard practice.
While we started to reduce the number of bags for REI-brand products, that was only a small part of the challenge. Considering other brand products make up about 80% of what the co-op sells, we needed partners to make a big difference.
One great brand we work with is prAna, the California-based climbing and yoga apparel company. It turns out that people at prAna had been asking themselves the same question.
Read the full story – Pursuing Sustainability at REI: Eliminating What Shoppers Don’t See Delivers a Big Win