Baltimore’s Right to Clean Air and Zero Waste

The Baltimore City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Monday, April 6th to adopt Baltimore’s Fair Development Plan for zero waste. Residents are now calling for supporter to sign on to encourage Baltimore’s Mayor Young to defend the city’s right to clean air and zero waste by breaking Baltimore’s contract with BRESCO, a trash incineration company. BRESCO is the city’s largest polluter, accounting for 55 million dollars in damages each year.
Baltimore City Council Resolution
Baltimore’s Right to Clean Air Petition 

Backyard Talk

The Next Wave of Recycling: Food Waste

Recycling glass, plastics, metals and paper has become a part of every day life for most Americans. Recycling rates (including reuse, remanufacture, composting) have reached 32% nationwide, which is more than double what it was 10 years ago. Many municipalities have successfully added curbside collection of yard waste and are now posed to take the next step in this evolution – the collection of food waste scraps for composting.

Americans generated 33 million tons of food waste in 2010 of which only 3% was recycled. The remainder went to landfills or was burned. It’s the next major component of the waste stream to take on in the efforts to reach zero waste. Currently about 170 communities in 18 states offer curbside collection of residential food waste which represents a 50% increase since 2009. In 2005, there were only 20 food waste collection programs in the US. Most of the existing programs are on the west coast with California offering 53 programs and Washington offering 52. California pioneered organic recycling when it passed a law in 1989 to divert half its waste from landfills by 2000. The city of San Francisco took this mission even further when it set a goal of diverting 75% of its trash by 2010 and now has set a goal of achieving zero waste by 2020. One strategy employed by the city has been to charge residents and businesses based on how much trash they generate (known as pay as you go). By doing this, individuals and businesses have an incentive to find ways to reduce the amount of trash they generate, which in turn, has helped to boost recycling rates.

The primary limiting factor to starting a food scrap collection program has been and remains a place to take the waste.  There are not enough facilities that can process food waste into compost.  The city of Portland, Oregon which began weekly collection of food waste and yard waste in October of 2011 recently decided to send its commercial food waste to a facility in Washington more than 200 miles away. The city had no choice as the county that had been accepting this waste voted to no longer allow the facility to accept commercial food scraps because of numerous complaints about odors from nearby residents.

Changes are coming however as the big guys like Waste Management, the largest waste hauler and disposal company in the country gear up to get into the composting business.  In addition, companies have incorporated simple steps to make it easy for people to participate. Many companies provide buckets lined with a plastic bag for people to place their food scraps and organic waste. The bucket is placed at the curb along with a trash barrel and a recycling bin. Many communities are starting slowly with pilot programs, but others are already reaping the benefits. In the first year of its food waste collection program, for example, the city of Portland, Oregon reduced the amount of residential waste it generated from 94,100 tons to 58,300 tons, a 38 percent drop. Keep your eyes out for a food waste collection program coming to your community.  It’s only a matter of time.

Backyard Talk

Making Sense of Zero Waste

When most people think of zero waste, they think of a near impossible and impractical goal.

They think that zero waste means not generating any waste or that all the waste that is generated has to be recovered, reused or recycled. Zero waste is much more than these narrow views envision. A new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, On the Road to Zero Waste: Successes and  Lessons from Around the World, provides a realistic view of what zero waste is by providing examples of how it is being applied and offers great hope of what it can be.

The report makes clear that zero waste is both a goal and a plan of action. The goal is to ensure resource recovery and protect scarce natural resources by ending waste disposal practices that use incinerators, dumps and landfills. The plan incorporates waste reduction, composting, recycling and reuse, changes in consumption habits and industrial redesign. The report also points out that zero waste is a “revolution” between waste and people. “It is a new way of thinking that aims to safeguard the health, and improve the lives of everyone who produces, handles, works with, or is affected by waste – in other words all of us.”

Nine success stories from across the globe are profiled in the report. Each of the communities profiled used different zero waste practices that were unique to its culture, economy and political realities, yet each led successfully to the same goal. Each shared several key ingredients – intensive prevention and source separation policies and flexible and decentralized, low-tech waste treatment systems. Each was more cost-effective and generated more employment than systems built around big incinerators and landfills.

The introduction to the report describes a common philosophy behind a comprehensive zero waste plan driven by four core strategies: 1) Setting a new direction away from waste disposal; 2) Supporting comprehensive reuse, recycling and organics treatment programs; 3) Engaging Communities; and 4) Designing for the future.

The new direction moves society away from waste disposal by setting goals and target dates to reduce waste going to landfills, abolishing waste incineration, establishing or raising landfill fees, shifting subsidies away from waste disposal and into discard recovery, and banning disposable products, among other interventions.

Zero waste systems separate waste at its source to ensure high recovery quality and efficiency.  Separate organics collection is critical to ensure a stream of clean, high quality material which in turn enables the creation of useful products (compost and biogas) from the largest fraction of municipal waste. It also improves the recycling rates because materials remain free of contamination.

A critical element of zero waste is involving the local community in determining the direction of the waste management program. The public needs to be involved in the very design of the plan for it to succeed. Residents must actively participate by consuming sustainably, minimizing waste, separating discards, and composting at home.

Once zero waste practices are in place, it becomes easier to identify materials or products that cannot be reused, composted or recycled. This creates opportunities to address industrial design mistakes or inefficiencies so that companies will produce cleaner and more sustainable products. If it cannot be reused, composted or recycled, it should not be produced in the first place.

Zero waste strategies can help societies produce and consume goods while respecting ecological limits and the rights of communities to self determination. It can also help ensure that all discarded materials are safely and sustainably returned to nature or manufacturing.

For a copy of the report, see <>.