Philadelphia 'zero waste' hearing shines light on organics, illegal dumping
- During a recent Philadelphia City Council hearing about the city's new "zero waste" goal, elected officials were interested in hearing about more immediate quality of life results in addition to long-term strategic ideas. One council member expressed concern that the city's population could decrease by 2035 unless more could be done to curb illegal dumping in the meantime, as reported by PlanPhilly.
- According to Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams, the city spends $1.4 million to clean up illegal dumping each year and will be pursuing new ways to prosecute offenders. He also emphasized the need for an organics management plan, with a potential incentive for backyard composting, noting that an estimated 13% of the city's waste could be diverted through composting food scraps and another 12% through composting yard waste.
- Nic Esposito, director of the new Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, noted that the city had teamed up with a wide range of local partners to reduce waste at the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft by diverting recyclables, food and construction materials. He also voiced support for a new bill requiring construction projects that cost more than $10,000 to develop a detailed waste management plan to avoid dumping in vacant lots.
Since Mayor John Kenney announced the formation of a cabinet to develop plans for reaching "zero waste" by 2035 last December, the city has embarked on a wide-ranging evaluation of its current system. Philadelphia currently diverts a little more than 20% of its residential material for recycling and often sees high contamination rates in the material that is collected. So far, the new cabinet has announced a litter index survey using mapping software and started to make other moves, though their full plan isn't due until July 1.
Balancing the need to see short-term progress with a sustainable long-term plan has proven difficult for many cities trying to reach their own "zero waste" goals. Focusing on organic waste is a logical next step considering its large presence in the waste stream and the fact that Philadelphia has already made progress by requiring new residential buildings to include in-sink disposal units. Whether the city chooses to further encourage installation of these units or test out curbside collection, and where it plans to send the material for processing, will all depend on how the costs compare.
While more cities now share "zero waste" goals, even the ones that report some of the highest diversion rates have still struggled to hit the mark. As recognized by officials in Philadelphia this will require ongoing education to get buy-in from residents before there may be clear results to show. Other cities with high diversion goals have tried to gain support through making electronics disposal easier, creating new local jobs, rewarding residents for backyard composting and encouraging innovative ideas through competition.
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