Zero waste is a goal worth aspiring to

ellisburruss240wZero waste? C’mon, get real. That’s impossible. There’s always going to be trash. Sheeesh, what planet are you from?

Zero waste is a goal. Ending poverty, hunger and war are also goals. Just because we’re not going to achieve them in the near future doesn’t mean we should abandon them. If you start on a trip without a goal, you waste (ha!) your time and effort going in random directions.

Actually, I don’t particularly care for the term “zero waste,” but it seems to have caught on fairly widely. Maryland has a draft zero-waste plan, and it has been proposed to the Frederick County Solid Waste Advisory Steering Committee that Frederick County adopt a zero-waste policy.

Frederick County is nowhere near zero in its waste production. Despite successful efforts in residential and business recycling, composting of yard waste and other diversion efforts, we are still producing thousands of tons of waste every year. Most of its goes to a landfill in Pennsylvania, and it costs us a pretty penny to dispose of it there. In 2014, it cost us $8,347,136 to ship and dump 137,000 tons of trash.

Zero waste can point us in a better direction. Here is the long-term goal, according to Wikipedia: “Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.” Does this Wikipedia definition add anything? The short-term goal below seems sufficient.

The short-term goal for Frederick County is to drastically reduce that 137,000 tons we send to a landfill.

Here are some realistic ideas:

  • Organics: Frederick County should establish a large composting facility that will divert food, other organics and wet paper from landfills. These materials make up over 30 percent of the overall waste stream. Such a facility could be a private business, a public-private partnership or a county-owned operation. The initial goal of the composting program would be to process food waste from large institutions such as schools, food stores, hospitals and restaurants.
  • Recycling: Improve our recycling program. All county facilities and operations must participate in recycling. Schools are particularly important. Custodial staffs will need training and monitoring to see that this program is properly implemented. Apartment buildings, businesses and medical facilities should be included in a county-wide recycling program. Each municipality should be encouraged to increase its recycling rate in various ways. Some possible approaches:
    • Organize a “Biggest Loser” contest for the municipality that reduces its MSW collection by the largest amount each year.
    • Encourage municipalities to institute save-as-you-recycle (aka pay-as-you-throw) programs. An incentive is already in place: Municipalities currently pay a $69-per-ton tipping fee for waste, but pay no tipping fee for recyclables collected. The savings could be passed on to taxpayers.
    • Resource recovery facility: the co-location of reuse, recycling, compost processing, manufacturing and retail business in a central facility. A resource recovery park can include thrift stores; repair centers for bikes, computers and appliances; a paint-blending location; construction and demolition materials; and secondary manufacturing such as manufacturing dog beds from discarded mattresses. Such a facility could be a private business, a public-private partnership, or a county-owned operation.
    • Refunds on beverage containers: Endorse the Maryland Redeemable Beverage Container Refund and Litter Reduction Act, which will be considered by the Maryland Legislature this session. Four billion beverage containers are purchased in the state of Maryland each year. Only one quarter of these containers are currently recycled. That leaves 3 billion containers that end up in waterways, parks, along the roadside and ultimately in landfills and incinerators. This bill will encourage increased recycling of these 3 billion containers, with the benefit of reducing litter. With passage of this bill, a 5-cent refund would be available for all glass, aluminum and plastic beverage containers. The Maryland Environmental Service would run the program, which would be entirely self-financed through unredeemed deposits. The 10 states that already have programs like this recycle between 60 percent and 90 percent of their bottles.

These points will be a big step towards zero waste. That’s not so hard, is it?

This blog entry was originally published here.

Ellis Burruss is an appointed member of Frederick County’s Solid Waste Steering Committee and a board member for Friends of Frederick County. He is a resident of Brunswick, where he owns a printing business and serves on the City Council. (The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the Solid Waste Steering Committee.)