Zero Waste… or Darn Close!
The big picture, long-term goal to eliminate 90% of waste or more from landfills and incinerators is often called “Zero Waste.” This has many benefits because the way we manage our resources impacts the environment on so many levels. According to the Grassroots Recycling Network, Zero Waste programs:
- Redesign the current, one-way industrial system into a circular system modeled on nature’s successful strategies. This means addressing the root causes of waste, which includes moving away from non-renewable sources of energy and product manufacturing.
- Challenge badly designed business systems that use too many resources.
- Address, through job creation and civic participation, the waste of human resources and erosion of democracy.
- Help communities achieve a localized economy that operates efficiently, sustains good jobs, and provides a measure of self-sufficiency.
- Aim to eliminate, rather than just manage, society’s waste.
In Texas, the vast majority of materials that we discard end up in landfills, even though most of those materials could be recycled, composted, or avoided altogether.
Landfills are more than just an eyesore – like other industrial facilities, they can release hazardous air pollution that affects the health of nearby residents. Landfills also use thin liners that inevitably fail and leak toxic materials. According to the state environmental agency in Texas, more than half of the monitored landfills in Texas have reported leaks into groundwater monitors at least once in the past five years, including the McCommas Bluff landfill near the Trinity River in Dallas. Zero Waste means a future where incinerators and landfills are things of the past.
But reducing waste is about so much more than our landfills here in Texas. There are huge climate change implications are well: according to the U.S. EPA, nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in this country are related to materials and land management. Zero Waste means reducing our greenhouse gas emissions – in fact, this may be one of the most cost-efficient ways to cut our climate impact.
Changing our waste systems to continuously conserve resources is also powerful for the economy. According to the Tellus institute, recycling 75% of waste in the U.S. would create about 1.5 million jobs. In fact, for every 10,000 tons of garbage, only 1 job is created in a landfill compared to 10 to 200 times that many jobs in recycling and reuse. Recyclers as well as composting companies all over Texas are ready to hire and expand – all we need is the political will and public education necessary to grow this important component of a sustainable economy.
- Austin was the first city in Texas to adopt a Zero Waste Plan, and advocates are working with city officials to implement and enforce it. The next step will be expanding the city’s curbside composting program to cover all residents.
- Dallas passed its Zero Waste Plan in 2013. The Dallas Zero Waste Alliance helped accelerate a critical component of this plan in June 2018 – recycling for apartments and condos by 2020. We are now working to improve recycling access for all businesses, composting and diversion programs for food establishments, and changes to the residential bulk and brush collection program that would include composting organic matter.
- Houston is working on a long-range plan for many city services, including waste and recycling, and advocates are urging city officials to include a Zero Waste Plan in this process.
- San Antonio implemented a recycling program for all apartments and a curbside composting program for residents as part of its “path to Zero Waste” approach.
- Fort Worth passed a 20-year recycling plan in late 2017 with the support of local recycling advocates who worked to include plans for food composting and universal recycling for businesses.
- Our friends at Eco-Cycle in Boulder, CO have created a wonderful guide for implementing Zero Waste policies in your community.
- Texas TakeBack is a resource for recycling almost anything, and a project of TCE Fund.
- Do you have an environmental complaint about a landfill or other polluting facility? Visit these resources from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
- Waste and Climate Change resources from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN) develops webinars and other zero waste resources.
- Other amazing resources for the Zero Waste movement include Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance, Energy Justice Network and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
- Check out Story of Stuff for videos perfect for the classroom.