Recycling, waste streams, plastic bags, and bottle bills
I was listening to the local NPR affiliate today and one of the stories was about how Montgomery County Maryland's Division of Solid Waste Services acknowledges best practice waste recycling by County businesses each year (2013 award recipients).
(The State of Maryland has laws which require counties to reduce their waste stream. MoCo is a national leader in reducing yard waste and promoting composting, although the county doesn't do composting pick up.)
Awhile back I read an interview with the CEO of Waste Management, the country's largest garbage collection company, and he made the point that over time, they will begin to "mine" the waste stream to capture the value of items that are trashed, to get to the point of zero waste.
Already, many landfills are capturing methane for electricity generation and/or biofuel generation.
Bag taxes/charges as a way to encourage environmentally sound practices. While DC isn't generally a leader in innovative government initiatives, there are three exceptions, and one concerns waste--the passage a couple years ago of a bill requiring a charge of 5 cents for each plastic bag given to a customer for food sales. This has resulted in a serious reduction in the use of plastic bags and a reduction in litter as well.
While there was a lot of incredible handwringing at the introduction of the new law, over time it's become not a big deal and people mostly plan ahead and bring bags. Even the Wall Street Journal backed down on their earlier expressions of calamity ("Washington DC Bag Tax Frustrates Many Store Owners").
The practice has since spread around the country, and is a rare example of DC being a municipal leader.
Later Montgomery County passed an even tougher bill, extending the provisions to every type of store, not just food and restaurant sales. (I think that was a good change, and something that I wish DC would have done at the outset as well.) And the response in the local media, like the Gazette ("County should limit bag tax to groceries, restaurants"), is still pretty shrill. Same by the local Republicans.
Back to the Future: could bag taxes be a way to bring back bottle and can deposits?
While there is no question that there is reduced plastic bag litter in DC as a result of the bag tax, at the same time, I don't believe there has been any significant reduction in bottle and can litter. (See the past blog entry, "Every Litter Bit Hurts.")
Right: many people in DC believe that tossing trash in the street gutter (here, on the 6400 block of 3rd Street NW, adjacent to the Coolidge Recreation Center) is "proper disposal." I've even seen people toss bottles/cans into storm drains.
I make this statement based on the fact that I pick up litter on a regular basis in my neighborhood and when I bike ride (especially in terms of taking bottles and broken glass off the street) around the city. Plus I evaluate the use of public trash cans between my house and the Takoma Metro Station (as I drop in the litter that I pick up), including at the Coolidge Park and Recreation Center--lots of discarded bottles and cans, even if "properly disposed of by being tossed in a trash can" rather than being recycled. The DC Department of Parks and Recreation doesn't provide recycling containers outside, in the parks.
I am from Michigan, which has the highest deposit price for bottles and cans, 10 cents, and has therefore, the highest rate of redemption rate of bottles and cans in the U.S., and also less litter. DC would be a lot better with less litter. I am always amazed at how dirty so many of our streets are.
I wonder if the spread of bag "taxes" can be used to bring back campaigning for bottle and can deposits? About 10 states do so now. Past attempts, including in DC, have failed in the face of vociferous opposition and big money spending against it by beverage companies.
Although it is important to expand the requirements to cover more types of bottles and cans. For example, California's law covers most all bottles and cans, while Michigan's was originally limited to soda and beer.
Repositioning municipal solid waste functions
It's probably better as a separate entry, but municipal solid waste operations ought to reposition how they operate. The "Every Litter Bit Hurts" entry discusses how the City of Johannesburg did this with their "Pikitup" solid waste collection outfit (which is another illustration of the "action planning" approach I tout, in large part to extend the life of their landfills.
Baltimore has a good social marketing program (see the webpage from the agency, Planit, that produced the campaign) with regard to litter, and they use some of their garbage trucks as rolling billboards--I wonder why more cities don't do this?
It extends my interpretation of best practice transformational planning, which I had previously discussed in this entry, "Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore) way," into an integrated framework that I am now calling "Action Planning."
Action planning takes the ideas of advocacy planning and marries to it the concept of action research to transform planning more towards being concerned about implementation and making things happen.
In a slide in the presentation (below) entitled "Action Planning as systems integration" I argue that Action Planning is a framework with five inter-connected components:
1. Design Method rather than Rational Planning
2. Social Marketing
3. Integrated Program Delivery System
4. Packaged through Branding & Identity Systems
5. Civic Engagement & Democracy at the foundation = citizen at the center
Another way to think about municipal solid waste programming is in terms of what is called the "product-service system" or platforms
The United Nations Environmental Program has pushed this concept with regard to sustainability and waste reduction. See for example the report, Product-Service Systems and Sustainability.
The concept of platforms and the product-service system is the foundation for "collaborative sharing" systems like car sharing.