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SWAC pushing for interim actions to reach zero waste goals

Monday, December 1, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Members of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission – after several long meetings – have hammered out an initial recommendation to the City Council to begin implementation on a Zero Waste plan. The recommendation approved last week contains a list of priorities that city can begin implementing immediately, along with some longer term guidelines.

 

The recommendations come as the city is set to begin development of a master plan for the Solid Waste Services Department. The master plan may integrate many of the long-term elements of the Zero Waste plan, which will guide the city’s waste handling for the next few decades. The entire plan is projected to be in place by 2040.

 

“This is the very first step towards a very long-term goal,” said SWAC Chair Gerard Acuna. “It is just the beginning. We see this as a dynamic document that we will be reviewing and revising over a very long time.”

 

The SWAC’s recommendations are based on a report by consultant Gary Liss and Associates, completed in October, which analyzed the waste cycle in the Austin area and made recommendations for implementing a Zero Waste program. Zero Waste is defined as the recycling of all materials back into nature or the marketplace in a manner that protects human health and the environment.

 

SWAC members approved the recommendations in the Liss report with a few changes and suggestions. Among them are:

 

  • The formation of a Zero Waste Management District to monitor the various aspects of the plan;
  • The development of a timetable for implementation of Zero Waste priorities;
  • The development of a hierarchy of highest and best use practices for Zero Waste policies;
  • The use of more public-private partnerships with the city retaining its regulatory authority; and
  • A realization that economics may sometimes dictate the use of some materials for conversion to energy, though recycling should be the first preference.  

In addition to those changes, the commission recommended that the Council instruct the city manager to begin implementing several items now. Those priorities include:

 

  • Consider and implement proactive education and enforcement methods for the Commercial and Multi­family Recycling Ordinance. Rewrite the ordinance to include all commercial enterprises and multi­family residences and include them in the stakeholder process;
  • Gradually phase in the ordinance over three years to include all multi-family residences, commercial properties, and institutions;
  • Reach out to institutions, industrial facilities, and manufacturers, to encourage them to adopt and implement zero waste goals;
  • Promote composting to remove organic material and compostables from landfills, which is necessary to reduce methane and carbon emissions; and
  • Lead by example. Evaluate departmental waste streams for baseline data and future monitoring within one year of passing the Zero Waste Plan. Over a three-year time frame, develop and implement, where appropriate and feasible, waste diversion programs with input from city departments.

Other suggested priorities include:

 

  • Until the master plan can provide recommendations on the Pay-As-You-Throw rate structure, build on the progress made in the FY2009 budget and make the Pay-As-You-Throw rates incentivize waste diversion and fully fund zero waste initiatives and SWS operational requirements;
  • Develop ordinances and/or rules that encourage sustainable practices, including recycling and other zero waste practices, at events that require the use of public facilities and rights of way, starting with large events;
  • Develop an education program for the Zero Waste Strategic Plan, identifying the various resources available to the community;
  • Allocate staff time and resources to work with local government officials across Texas to launch a Texas Product Stewardship Council;
  • Evaluate and develop a public and private partnership for neighborhood reuse center (possibly a pilot program);
  • Play an active role in lobbying the Texas Legislature to improve the Texas Computer TakeBack Law and expand producer take back to other products such as TVs, fluorescent lighting, pharmaceuticals, non­rechargeable batteries, etc.; and
  • Recognizing the legislative limits of flow control over landfills, begin a dialogue with regional partners to evaluate ways to influence flow control and enhance Zero Waste in the CAPCOG region.

SWS staff will brief Council members on the Zero Waste plan, including the SWAC priorities and goals, at the Dec. 11 Council meeting with action likely on Dec. 18.

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