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D.C. Council takes step towards goal of zero waste

The D.C. Council is moving forward on two bills to cut waste. Imagine a city in which 80 percent of all waste never ends up in landfills or incinerators. That’s the zero-waste goal the bills seek to achieve.

Garbage, trash and consumption
Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images

The D.C. Council took the first step today by unanimously voting to approve a waste bill – the Waste Management Modernization Act of 2014 – and an omnibus sustainability bill – the Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Act of 2013.

The waste bill establishes a working-group process to develop a zero waste plan. The 80 percent waste-diversion-rate sets a minimum goal of that plan. Waste diversion occurs when garbage is reduced through reuse, recycling, composting and/or conversion into biofuels. Diversion keeps waste out of landfills and incinerators.

“This is the first time the zero waste goal has been set forth in a city bill,” Chris Weiss, the Executive Director of the DC Environmental Network, said over the telephone. “[The bill] take[s] a number of steps to move in that direction,” Weiss said.

Instead of identifying waste as either recyclables or trash, people and businesses eventually will be asked to separate waste into three categories: recyclables, compostables and trash. This further degree of separation becomes effective after the Mayor implements a compost collection program.

The waste bill also will establish a city-wide electronics recycling program by regulating businesses that manufacture and/or sell electronic equipment in the District. It sets a goal of collecting 80 percent of covered electronic equipment by January 1, 2022.

The reforms outlined in the waste bill aim to ensure that the District will meet its goal of zero waste by 2032, as expressed in the Sustainable DC Plan.

The omnibus sustainability bill also approved by the Council today amends several laws that the city enacted to implement its Sustainable D.C. agenda. Included within the omnibus bill are two waste-related provisions.

The omnibus bill prohibits the sale, use or provision of expanded polystyrene containers for food service.

The omnibus bill also requires disposable food service containers provided by food service businesses to be compostable or recyclable.

The Council’s Committee of Transportation and Environment held hearings on both bills earlier this year.

The Committee’s Chairperson, Mary Cheh, said on her website, “[T]his legislation will place the District in line with other jurisdictions, such as New York, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco.”

“Currently, the District waste diversion rate is about 23%, which is 10 percent below the national average and substantially lower than other jurisdictions, including San Francisco, which has an 80 percent diversion rate, and Montgomery County, which achieves about 60 percent waste diversion,” Cheh’s website said.

The bill is a small step towards achieving zero waste, Weiss said. “It is a nice legacy for Mayor Gray.”

A second vote is needed for approval of the bill, and the Council has scheduled that vote for July 14, 2014.

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