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A Zero Waste Community in Action

June 9, 2015

Today’s Guest Blog is by Christin Walth with Toward Zero Waste Communities, an all-volunteer organization.

Zero waste is defined as:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

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.

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) has a Recognition Program for Zero Waste Communities. One such community is in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Toward Zero Waste Communities

toward-zero-waste-communities-logoToward Zero Waste Communities started out as Toward Zero Waste Newburyport, a project dreamed up by local zero waste advocates to reduce the city’s tipping fees and decrease environmental impact through residential waste reduction.

Toward Zero Waste Newburyport received a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Sustainable Materials Recovery Program (SMRP) grant to implement several waste diversion streams and ask volunteer households to record their trash weights before and after new diversion streams were available. There were 141 households in the pilot.

Insights from the pilot included:

1. A need to increase curbside recycling awareness and compliance

  • A large percentage of residents are woefully unaware of what should and should not go in curbside recycling.
  • Many find it difficult to remember and do not have the interest to research. A hotline or dedicated email would be useful as the yearly recycling guide is often misplaced or it is considered too cumbersome to find the correct information on city websites.

2. Many household outcasts CAN be reused or recycled (*not curbside*) through additional education and programs (“Better outcomes for your outcasts” program)

  • Charitable donations
  • Freecycle
  • Curb Alert and other swap/sell Facebook pages, Craigslist
  • Terracycle brigades
  • Mattress and carpet recycling
  • Old keys, expired credit cards and gift cards, hotel key cards, etc
  • Bulky plastics
  • Broken ceramics
  • Film plastics
  • Textiles
  • Dog food bags
  • Styrofoam recycling programs
  • Reuse clearing houses such as Boston Building Resources, Habitat’s ReStore, or Resource Marketplace

3. Organics constitute the largest WEIGHT in a typical week’s residential trash. An organics diversion program (backyard or curbside or ideally, combination) could divert as much as 80% of a household’s waste. The averages in our pilot were between 50-80% (The EPA estimates only ~20%.) Additional incentive to explore residential organics diversion is the possibility that it could become mandatory through state action as an extension of the current commercial organics ban. Several cities have implemented and mandated organics diversion.

4. The single best motivator for encouraging #1-#3 and showing a real and dramatic difference in residential household waste is to implement a Pay As You Throw program

  • Immediate results (~44% decrease in 90 days)
  • No cost or budget necessary to implement
  • With the right partner, a turnkey program is implemented smoothly and community education plans are provided months in advance with full partner support
  • Waste collection, hauling and disposal costs are brought to light – the drain on community budgets is recognized and not buried in the budget or thought of as “free”
  • Waste collection, hauling and disposal costs are treated as the utility they are – households can manage their consumption of waste disposal and the associated expense as they wish and not subsidize others.

By Christin Walth

Toward Zero Waste Communities (Newburyport) is seeking to opportunities to present best practices for helping communities work toward zero waste for the purpose of decreasing demand for statewide incineration capacity. Our purpose is to take the four points above and share with communities to help them: Maximize recycling; Identify, develop and promote additional diversion streams; Customize resource materials; Develop education materials and plans; and, Introduce Pay As You Throw and provide real estimates of effects on the community and municipal budget.


NERC welcomes Guest Blog submissions. To inquire about submitting articles contact Athena Lee Bradley, Projects Manager. Disclaimer: Guest blogs represent the opinion of the writers and may not reflect the policy or position of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc.

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