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.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Waste diversion is better to start from incrementally

The Washington Post reports, "Composting and curbside pickup in Washington's five-year plan," that DC plans to institute curbside yard waste and composting pick up by 2022.

But DC is way behind.  In "A way for DC to begin adding yard waste collection as a separate element of waste collection and reduction programming" and "More on zero waste practice and DC," I discuss a wide variety of initiatives DC could undertake to divert a significant amount of waste from the waste stream, and few seem to be being pursued.

From "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.
While a goal for a program to launch in five years seemingly isn't particularly ambitious, it's pretty ambitious compared to where the city is at today with solid waste practice:

- people toss into trash a lot of waste that can be diverted from the waste stream
- especially recyclables (cans, bottles, cardboard, paper)
- but also other reusable items (furniture, construction materials, etc.)
- the city isn't diverting yard waste at present, even though the outer city generates a considerable amount of such waste
- there is no real program to promote on-site composting in the outer city, where many households have lots of a large enough size to do so
- diverting recyclables from trash receptacles in the public space is hit or miss, with a lot of recyclables tossed into the trash
- most multiunit buildings do little in the way of recycling and diversion
- most food service establishments could do a lot better job of recycling and capturing food waste for composting
- the city hasn't created new building regulations that could systematically support diversion ("Reformulating building regulations to systematically support sustainability")
- a lot of the trash dumped by individuals at the Fort Totten Waste Transfer Station is divertible, if they were required to sort what they dump

In short, DC is very much behind better practice, let alone best practice, although from a Gerschenkronian perspective (summary of Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective) there can be advantages in being so far behind. 

Theoretically, it allows you to jump ahead of being behind, to the best of best practice.  But I don't see that happening.

DC's solid waste planning process is constrained.  One problem is that "DC's" solid waste diversion planning is constrained because DPW is primarily concerned with the trash it picks up, mostly from households, not commercial and multiunit residential buildings.  This shapes how it plans.

And serious "reeducation" is required for current programs, let alone new programs.  From the Post article:
Brenda Platt, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — a District-based national nonprofit that has pushed for composting programs — said the success of a wide-scale composting program depends on education. She urged the city to establish more programs in schools to teach children the importance of composting, while ensuring residents understand how it helps the environment and how to get involved.
Yes, education is an issue. But it's an issue now, with solid waste practice more generally, let alone for the adoption of significantly new practice.

Interim measures to adopt now.  Important interim measures can be adopted now to get the city to a better place concerning actual diversion of waste, working towards 2022 as more a midpoint on better practice, rather than the start of it.

1.  Institute yard waste diversion in the outer city "now" (something I suggested maybe 10 years ago, but is standard practice in states such as Maryland). I would start by testing it in one ward, like Ward 4, and then rolling it out to other wards as the program is implemented, tested, and refined.

2.  Promote on-site composting in the outer city "now."

Montgomery County promotes yard waste diversion on site as well as through regular pick up. We developed our personal on site composting program based on materials and website based information provided by Montgomery County. Last time I checked, similar information was not available on the website.

While the new drop-off program is a good thing (something that was initiated in Manhattan decades ago by the Lower East Side Ecology Center), plenty of households could do this on-site, reducing the demand for government-provided services.

For example, my household has been doing on-site composting since 2009 and over time as I've become even more hardcore, in a typical week we generate less than 2 gallons of "trash" but a full bin of recycling.

3.  Institute city-wide "education" programs to discourage people from tossing recyclables into the trash stream.

This is a major program, partly because when people are given large trash cans, they are less inclined to sort  ("Why don’t Austinites recycle more? The answer might be simple," Austin American-Statesman)

4.  Institute city-wide "education" programs to discourage people from tossing into recycling stuff that isn't recyclable, from dog feces to light bulbs to all kinds of weird s***. 

I did read the city's Solid Waste Study which was released a few months back with the intent to write about it, but it wasn't particularly scintillating.  We can do a lot better, especially on this dimension.

5.  Then add composting pick up pilots, working to add curbside composting to one "center city" ward "now" -- meaning before 2022, to test the viability in the urban core, as well as curbside composting to one "outer city" ward "now", to test the viability there too, all the while massively promoting on-site composting.

6. Create best practice recycling and diversion programs for multiunit residential properties.

Because DPW doesn't pick up from these properties, and in fact generates revenue from such properties as tipping fees, there isn't much going on in terms of solid waste diversion with apartment, condominium, and cooperative properties, especially older properties controlled by regional rather than national firms.

7.  To accomplish this, DC should start out by identifying one multi-property firm to work worth to develop best practice across various types of properties.  As such a program is created and refined, other properties can be added to the program.

Mayfair on the Green condominiums.

Toronto has some significant best practice examples that DC can learn from ("Toronto Green Multiunit Building Challenge"). Toronto's multiunit buildings recycle and compost 27% of their waste, while single family residents divert 65%.

The example of the Mayfair on the Green complex in Scarborough demonstrates that significant improvement is possible ("Best practice multiunit residential zero waste project in Scarborough").

The complex now diverts 85% of their waste, stream, after instituting changes to collection practices accompanied by a heavy and ongoing education and participation campaign.

8.  Require the sortation of divertible "trash" dropped off by individuals at the trash transfer stations.  Nothing prevents DPW from doing this now, as I have testified/written about for some time.

Instituting new programs in 2022, without improving current practice, and testing in the interim isn't likely to significantly improve outcomes.  Unless somehow the city believes that by adding curbside composting all of a sudden those households that are laggard will start not just composting but modifying their currently less sustainable behaviors as it relates to the waste stream, adding new programs will only have some benefit.

Households committed to sustainable practice are primed to do the right thing. 

But the vast majority of households aren't committed to sustainable behavior and therefore have to be educated, incentivized, and or "punished" in order to adopt new sustainable waste diversion practices.

Set real metrics for measurement of success, improvement, and progress for 2018-2022, including:

1. Increasing recycling
2. Reducing the number of recyclable/divertible items tossed in the regular waste stream
3. Bringing yard waste diversion online in the Outer City
4. Reducing the amount of unrecyclable items tossed into recycling bins
5. Participation in urban composting programs (drop off at farmers markets, on-site, curbside)
6. Development of recycling and diversion best practice for multiunit residential buildings

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At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

many thanks for yet another great piece on your website .

In our community citizens are given free containers for recycling ( any material except foodstuffs ) but have to buy official garbage bags -- the only ones that the rubbish collectors will accept for pickup . These bags are somewhat expensive -- $12.00 for 5 bags . But the city is trying to encourage folk to sort out recycling material instead of trashing everything

Is it possible for jobs to be created at rubbish collection points , as sorters of recyclable material ? This job wont appeal to folk who have been to college , but for uneducated people , or folk with some disability but who are still able to preform basic tasks , something like this can give them a job that will help the community .....

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Sorry I didn't comment on this before. I do think there is an opportunity to create jobs for sorting/yard waste diversion, etc. In fact, these would be considered "green collar" jobs.

It's also possible to create structured work situations where such jobs could be part of a workforce access and development program.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Independent Budget Office of NYC analyzes where NYC is on achieving the recommendations of their Solid Waste Management Plan, 10 years into a 20 year plan.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Separately, DC has been written up for adding items to the recycling stream.

This piece is about how millennials lag in recycling, in part out of belief stuff doesn't really get recycled.


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