Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Solid waste management update

Maryland just released the draft of the state's Zero Waste Plan, with aggressive goals for significant diversion and reduction within the waste stream by 2040.  The plan has 56 action steps.   Steps include banning unrecyclable materials, 90% diversion of food waste, and significant take up of recycling in multiunit buildings.

In an editorial, the Carroll County Times recommends that counties begin adopting the action steps that make sense for them ("Plan to reduce waste").

Note that I have recommended that center cities develop differentiated waste management policies for the urban vs. sub-urban sections.  For example, we live in a less dense part of the city with a relatively big lot and treess compared to rowhouse neighborhoods, so we generate a lot of "yard waste."  See "A way for DC to begin adding yard waste collection as a separate element of waste collection and reduction programming" and "Urban/community composting,"

This photo is from the Birmingham (UK) Mail, but I have many similar photos from around my neighborhood.  By contrast, our household composts this kind of yard waste on site.

But rather than "throw it in the trash," we compost on site, including food wastes. Excluding recycling, we generate about 10 gallons of "trash" or less every 10 days to two weeks.

But households in our neighborhood are given 96-gallon trash cans.

Good Magazine had an interesting article about waste reduction efforts in Taiwan ("Yes, Richer Countries Produce More Waste. But Do They Have To?"), which are amongst the best in the developed world.  Residents have to buy specifically colored bags and rather than put "trash" in cans for later pickup, trucks come to neighborhoods each night to various pre-arranged pick up points and residents bring their trash to the truck.

Note that the book Green Metropolis about the environmental impacts of cities points out that New York City uses less energy and generates less trash per capita than any other community in the US.

Birmingham, UK has major budget issues because they city has to pay a £1 billion legal judgement concerning a history of unequal pay for women (another big difference from the US...).

Now that the city has to reduce costs and sell assets to pay the judgement, they have big problems with waste removal because unions have been striking and working to rule, because they don't want the system to be privatized, which if it occurred, would reduce costs.

Photo: Birmingham Mail.

One of the fees the city imposed last year was a £35 annual fee for "green waste" ("Birmingham garden tax price slashed for 2015," Birmingham Mail) which is now collected separately and composted.

But like my recommendations for DC, the city could develop differentiated policies and many households could compost on-site for free.

DC.  The DC Environmental Network reports ("DC Council Takes a Step Towards Zero Waste!") on DC's efforts in this area.  DC was an early adopter">Why a Bag Tax Works Better Than a Reusable Bag Bonus," Wall Street Journal).  Now the city has banned certain unrecyclable materials, like styrofoam, and has mandated the development of a zero waste master plan, not unlike the Maryland effort.

And DC Department of Parks and Recreation is implementing a community compost program at community gardens, where trained "members" in the program can compost their food and yard wastes.

The thing is because the State of Maryland has certain mandates on counties for waste reduction, and a waste reduction authority that works with multiple jurisdictions, they are ahead of DC right now. For example, Montgomery County's information materials and support for composting is years ahead of DC.

Although the DC Water and Sewer Authority has recently put into place energy generation and waste reduction processes that have made a tremendous difference for that organization ("D.C. Water adopts Norway's Cambi system for turning sewage into energy and fertilizer," Washington Post), and proves that DC can be innovative in this area.

National standards needed.  Still, with regard to packaging and unrecyclable materials and package notices, it would be better to legislate at the national level certain standards concerning packaging, such as banning styrofoam peanuts (plastic bags with air or paper are  equally good packaging materials) and requiring food manufacturers to label whether or not paper-based packages are compostable (and to work to develop 100% compostable packaging).

Europe does this more than the US.  Because manufacturers are tasked with the responsibility for recycling items at the end of their useful life, products are designed for recycling at the outset.

Brighton & Hove UK "One Planet" Master Plan. I was reading up on Brighton, England because it is the only local government run by the Green Party, which is proving problematic for a variety of reasons, including internecine factions concerned with ideological purity ("Have the Greens blown it in Brighton?," but cf. "The Green party surge – and why it's coming from Bristol," Guardian).

One Planet Living principles.

But one of the plans they produced is definitely based on out of the box thinking. Typically, per capita consumption of resources in developed nations is 2.5 times greater than global carrying capacity.

The One Planet Living plan commits the city to working towards a consumption level where per capita consumption is equal to world carrying capacity, requiring significant reductions in the use of a wide variety of natural resources and finished goods.

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At 9:42 AM, Blogger Christopher1974 said...

Japan requires you take trash to pick-up locations as well. Their streets are not designed to handle commercial trucks like that. Plus it's just more efficient. When I was a kid Illinois, and the state first introduced recycling, you had to buy a sticker for each trash bag. Recycling was free but you were charged by the bag for trash. It was like $1.25 per bag in the 1980s.

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, I've suggeted moving alley trash pickup to a central location. the alleys would be cleaner and mroe liveable. I've seen it is Barcelona.

Does DC have a place to drop off recyclables?

The design element of trash can is pretty cool. More can be done.

Forcing apartment buildings to install grease traps before it gets to the sewer would also be interesting.

I'd also force stories to allow you to use your own containers at salad bars etc. Although in WF's case there were overcharging in any case.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

good point about grease traps. The Post wrote about that issue. (I think about it all the time, given that we have the plumber coming tomorrow. NOt about that.)

2. DC doesn't really have drop off centers, other than at the transfer stations.

I often pick up recyclables while I am riding, especially if the bottles are glass, and I deposit them in residential recyclable containers or in the ones in various BIDs.

BUT, NYC has an extensive program (I've been meaning to write about it) of drop offs, using farmers markets as key collection points. (The Lower East Side Ecology Center has been composting by putting bins at farmers markets for more than 10 years.)'

For example, they gather clothes, including clothes beyond repair (textile recycling firms still want them for rag production) and electronics.

There's a lot more DC could do to "leverage the potential power" of various civic assets and projects as a network or platform.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh, Fairfax sued Krispy Kreme over waste oil getting into their sewer system from one of their big production plants.

2. Christopher, thanks for that point about Japan. I didn't know. also though, cf the point I write about from time to time about how they have kids, not custodians, clean schools.

At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No. DC is not a green city by a long shot - no places for the carless to recycle. There are sometimes neighborhood events where you can bring your items to a central nearby location, but 1) they are few and far between; 2) they won't take large items like TVs and stereos; and 3) they basically won't take everything like Ft Totten does.

Just start bringing your tupperware to restaurants if you are doing take out. Don't wait for permission. Obviously it might not work for places where you have to weigh food.

Whole Foods used to have a special provision made for customers who wanted to recycle their yogurt containers (5 and 6), but they no longer do. They mix it in with 1 and 2, and I'm not sure how faithful they are on follow through. With recycling, it pays to be as skeptical as possible. Whole Foods also no longer recycles water filters.

So we in DC are way behind on the real efforts at recycling (as opposed to what we SAY we are and can do). I'm likewise skeptical about the seriousness of composting. As an environmentalist, I am very much in favor of it, and I do it myself. As a lifelong District resident in transient NW, I am sure there's a lot more words than action and intelligent planning, not to mention seriousness, behind it.

-Green Space

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'm pretty sure the "Take 5" system in still in place at WF. Although, for istance, students at the west end one don't seem to use it.

ANd yes, I was talking about the containers there at the salad bar which need to be weighed.

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No. The Take 5 containers at the P Street WF have been removed. They say to mix them in with 1 and 2.

Green Space

At 3:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

GS -- while I think it's good to have a community composting program at community gardens for obvious reasons, as I keep writing, the city needs to have differentiated policies for the inner and outer cities.

A lot more waste could be composted in place if the city promoted it heavily.

LIKE MOCO has. They have been going hard core on composting yard waste for years and have made significant progress. But they've been doing it for more than 10 years.

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely yard waste should be composted. But in DC, you're talking about a majority of people who generate no yard waste. And anyway, people who live in houses in the District - their leaves are picked up and composted somewhere in NE. Is it apt to compare DC to Mont Co. where most people live in houses and have yards (so conceivably they should be composting kitchen waste at home; or they could be)? Or maybe there's something I misunderstood. Sorry, if that is the case.

Yes, I think we should compost in the city. But no we shouldn't just sign a paper and declare, "It shall be done." Our track record of recycling (talking DC proper here) is ABYSMAL. On that basis alone, we need to be skeptical and put the possibility of composting to the maximum test. But if all parties agree to be responsible about it, it's the right thing to do. (Big if)

-Green Space


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