Lofty Goals

In recent years, you may have read about this city or that county adopting a zero-waste goal. What exactly, you may have asked yourself, are these jurisdictions hoping to achieve?

In this month's cover story ("Counting to Zero"), Waste Age contributing writer Michael Fickes examines the zero-waste initiatives of Berkeley, Calif.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle and Austin, Texas. He discovered that while all of these communities are seeking dramatic — and, some might say, impractical — increases in their landfill diversion rates, the specific targets do vary quite a bit.

For example, Andy Schneider, recycling program manager with the Berkeley, Calif., Public Works Department, told Fickes that in his city, “zero waste” means “as close to zero as possible.” Meanwhile, in nearby San Francisco, the goal is a little more specific and a little more aggressive. The city is aiming for a 75 percent landfill diversion rate in 2010 and a 100 percent diversion rate in 2020. “Zero waste means that nothing goes to a landfill,” Mark Westlund, a spokesperson for the city's SF Environment department, told Fickes.

In an effort to move closer to its goals, San Francisco, which already boasts a remarkable 72 percent landfill diversion rate, passed a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance (for more information on this new law, see “It's Required,” p. 6).

Zero-waste plans would seem ripe for portrayal as starry-eyed, hippie-inspired, pie-in-the-sky thinking. But in an era of dwindling room for landfills and ever-growing concerns about resources and global warming, jurisdictions that make aggressive efforts to reduce the size of their waste streams should be applauded. Far from being hopelessly utopian, such communities are displaying some good sense.

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