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Zero Waste Strategic Plan to be revealed tonight

Wednesday, October 8, 2008 by Mark Richardson

A Zero Waste policy is one of the cornerstones of the “Green New World” that many see as Austin’s future. Austin’s Zero Waste Strategic Plan will debut tonight at the Solid Waste Advisory Commission (SWAC), where the initial concept was generated.


The plan contains a series of goals for the city to meet in order to reach – or as the slogan says, “get darn close” to — Zero Waste by 2040. California-based consultant Gary Liss and Associates developed the plan following a series of public and private meetings between January and May of this year.   


The drive for a Zero Waste program came out of a subcommittee of the SWAC in 2006 that was looking at ways to improve the way the city handled recycled materials.  After that, the Council approved a resolution from the SWAC to hire a consultant to work with the city to develop such a program.


The plan defines Zero Waste as a design principle that goes beyond recycling to focus first on reducing wastes and reusing products and then recycling and composting the rest. A key to the program, the plan says, is to recognize that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure and everything is a resource for something or someone else.”


Right now, the plan says it is estimated that Austin loses more than $40 million each year by sending materials that could be recycled or reused to area landfills. Austin’s Zero Waste system would seek to recover that estimated loss and eliminate waste, or “get darn close.” Success is defined as achieving a 20 percent per capita reduction in solid waste sent to landfills by 2012, 75 percent   by 2020, and 90 percent by 2040.


The consultants considered Austin‘s current and planned public and private solid waste infrastructure, as well as the city’s Climate Protection Program. It notes that Zero Waste initiatives could reduce greenhouse gases by nearly 500,000 million tons carbon equivalent, or MTCE, making Zero Waste one of the most significant contributors to reducing climate change that the city can influence at the local level.


Essential components of Austin’s Zero Waste Plan include:


  • Expanding and improving local and regional reuse, recycling, and composting programs;
  • Adopting new rules and incentives to reward those who embrace the goal of Zero Waste;
  • Developing green districts and resource recovery parks for Zero Waste infrastructure;
  • Advocating for producer and retailer responsibility for product and packaging wastes, and bans on problem materials;
  • Educate and advocate for a Zero Waste agenda as part of climate change and sustainability policies and programs; and
  • Involve the community through collaboration and partnerships to achieve Zero Waste.

The plan encourages a regional component, noting that Austin’s Zero Waste initiative supports the waste reduction goals of the Capital Area Council of Government’s Solid Waste Regional Solid Waste Management Plan and the recommendations of the Market Analysis of Recoverable Materials prepared for CAPCOG.


The plan concludes that while Austin has already taken the first critical step by committing to Zero Waste, the year 2040 is 32 years away. It said the plan is intended to serve as the first step on a long path towards a Zero Waste future, saying dedication, collaboration, and continual re-evaluation of the plan will be essential to its success.


City staff will talk about the plan at the SWAC meeting tonight at 6:30pm in Room 500 at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.  The full plan is available on the city’s website.

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