Thursday, May 30, 2013

Four Steps to Less Wasteful Communities

by Fran Korten

The individual actions we take to reduce waste are important. But to stem the avalanche of stuff, we also need system-wide solutions.

Seattle is one of a growing number of cities with a long-term goal of zero waste. Over the last decade, the city has cut the material it sends to the landfill by 34 percent, even though the population has grown. Richard cited four important solutions Seattle is using:

  • Product bans and fees. Plastic bags used at checkout counters and Styrofoam food containers are two items that Seattle and other cities have banned. When Ireland put a hefty fee on plastic bags, their use went down by 94 percent.
  • Takeback programs. Also known as “extended producer responsibility,” these programs require companies to take responsibility for worn-out products. That gives product designers incentive to make it easier to reclaim components. The European Union mandates producer responsibility for cars. In the United States, Seattle and other cities, along with some states, are demanding producer responsibility for a growing list of products, including electronics, paint, batteries, carpets, and fluorescent lights.
  • Promoting composting. Seattle and other cities now require that to-go food containers be compostable. Some, including Seattle, make composting food and yard waste easy by providing curbside pickup.
  • Demolition permits. Many cities encourage contractors to recycle demolition waste. But contractors often resist, partly because once they get their permit to build, their line of credit kicks in and they are under tremendous financial pressure to build quickly. Recycling slows them down. So Seattle gives the demolition permit well before the construction permit. The percentage of the city’s demolition waste that is recycled has risen to 66 percent.
  • The individual actions we take to reduce waste are important. But to stem the avalanche of stuff that invades our lives and destroys our Earth, we also need system-wide solutions. Fortunately there are lots of them and many can be enacted in our own towns and cities. This holiday season, when stuff is on our minds, is a great time to make a New Year’s resolution to help our communities get on the road to zero waste.