Boston inches toward final 'zero waste' plan, eyes curbside organics pilot
- Boston is one step closer to having an official "zero waste" strategy after the city's consulting team shared their latest draft on Monday. Short-term (2019-2024) priorities now include the potential for residential curbside organics collection pilots, new commercial recycling requirements and greater support for reuse/repair operations.
- Advocates from the Zero Waste Boston coalition were adamant they couldn't support the plan until it addressed a longstanding "loophole" that exempts MRF workers from the city's living wage law. Officials were noncommittal, but said this could still be addressed in future bid documents for 2019 contracts.
- Members of the city's Zero Waste Advisory Committee (ZWAC) are now expected to share comments before the final plan is sent to Mayor Marty Walsh. Administration officials hinted that multiple announcements would be forthcoming in early 2019.
Boston, unlike other cities that have announced "zero waste" goals with little or no public input, has embarked on a painstaking process. The effort has included a set of state-funded meetings in 2016, a consulting RFP in 2017 and four ZWAC meetings since Feb. 2018. While many involved had hoped to have a final plan by now, the fact that recommendations can still be codified in upcoming residential contracts for collection, processing and disposal — as well as an update of the city's Climate Action Plan — is seen as promising.
Based on this latest report, the city's diversion rate for residential, commercial and institutional generators is approximately 25%. The proposed timeline would aim for an 80% citywide diversion rate by 2035 and 90% or better by 2050 — although some in the meeting suggested those targets should be attainable sooner.
The majority of the consulting team's 27 recommendations fall into the five-year category, meaning the city could begin to see notable progress in the near-term with enough funding and support. Items such as better enforcing state disposal bans, establishing more robust reporting metrics, exploring more cart-based collection, improving city procurement practices and expanding yard waste collection are all seen as reasonably attainable. Multiple attendees also requested a greater focus on material quality in any future education, in line with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's recent "Recycle Smart" campaign.
Requiring commercial haulers to provide minimum levels of service (without a franchise system) and launching curbside organics collection pilots would likely be more complex, although rewarding in terms of boosting recycling rates. A key factor in the latter proposal is cost and infrastructure, with many Zero Waste Boston advocates still opposed to the co-digestion model employed by neighboring Cambridge.
The long-term category (2025-2035) includes even more ambitious tasks: enacting a citywide residential organics program, switching to a billing model such as pay-as-you-throw, requiring all city events to go "zero waste," and exploring the possibility of city-owned transfer or recycling infrastructure. However, as other cities have shown, these types of programs are often essential to earning the "zero waste" mantle. The consulting team prepared case studies of communication strategies in other cities to help show what is possible.
These intriguing proposals aside, success can't be achieved in the eyes of Zero Waste Boston advocates until they see more direct language about the living wage issue beyond a commitment "to improve the safety, health, and jobs of workers." Their aim is to have future recycling contracts, currently held by Casella Waste Systems, specifically require contractors to pay workers the city's higher living wage rate. Until this is addressed, the enthusiasm of a group that has pushed for "zero waste" policies in Boston longer than the city itself will likely remain measured.
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