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Consultant begins work on Austin’s zero waste plan

Monday, January 14, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Austin is well positioned to pursue a goal of Zero Waste, but there is much work yet to be done. That is the analysis of consultant Gary Liss of Gary Liss and Associates, hired by the city to help develop a plan to cut the city’s waste stream by as much as 90 percent.

 

Liss, a California-based consultant, did an initial tour of Austin’s recycling facilities this week and at last night’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission meeting, pronounced the city one of the best he has seen in terms of Zero Waste potential.

 

Austin already has many of the types of businesses and infrastructure needed for Zero Waste,” he said. “You have an excellent recycling program underway, and a variety of businesses that will help with the program.”

 

Liss is in town to begin a five to six-month process of developing Austin’s plan. He plans to hold public meeting to gather input during February, March and April, before submitting a draft of the plan in May. 

 

The definition of Zero Waste is not simply to recycle more, according to Liss. It’s a combination of  reduce, reuse and recycle.

 

“We want to mimic nature,” he said. “Everything in nature is eventually a resource for something else. We have to look at our waste stream as a resource in order to stop the flow of waste into our landfills. We have to look at reusing materials first.”

 

Liss said that it is virtually impossible to limit all materials going into the landfill, so he said maybe it is more accurate to say “Zero Waste, or darn close!”

Most Zero Waste programs he has worked with have set an ultimate goal of a 90 percent reduction in material to the landfill.

 

He said any plan Austin adopts will need to:

  • Improve recycling and composting;
  • Develop new rules and incentives for handling waste;
  • Preserve land for green industries;
  • Make manufacturers responsible for their products; and
  • Educate and advocate to the public for Zero Waste.

Austin’s plan for a single-stream recycling system is a major step in that direction, according to Richard Anthony, a Liss associate. However, he said ultimately, Austin needs to shift from waste management to resource management.

 

“A resolution is not enough,” Anthony said. “You have to adopt goals and a plan to implement them. You have to develop a local or even a regional framework to develop the businesses that will make Zero Waste happen.”

 

Dates for the public input meetings in February, March and April have not been determined.

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