Every year, the United States produces around 250 million tons of municipal solid waste—a number that has tripled since the year 1960 (EPA). In light of increasing knowledge about the negative environmental, economic and public health impacts of our overflowing landfills, many cities are beginning to set ambitious goals to reduce their total waste generation and increase the percentage diverted from landfill. Cities from New York to San Francisco and Minneapolis to Austin have committed to going “Zero Waste” (often defined as diverting at least 95% of non-hazardous waste from landfill, without the use of incineration).

In 2014, Boston included a Zero Waste goal as part of its Climate Action Plan Update; this year, the planning process to achieve that goal began. Boston has officially launched its Zero Waste Advisory Committee (ZWAC), which will consider a variety of actions and strategies for Boston to become a Zero Waste city by 2050. The ZWAC includes Residential and Institutional, Commercial, & Industrial (ICI) Subcommittees to address waste reduction and diversion from both sectors.

As a member of the ICI Subcommittee, A Better City wants to keep you informed about the process and provide opportunities to get involved. At our recent Sustainable Buildings Initiative meeting, participants heard from the City about plans already in place, such as the plastic bag ordinance (taking effect in December) and use of the ZW International Alliance’s definition of “zero waste.” We learned about some challenges in the recycling market, both at a local level (such as the recent closure of the Ardagh glass facility) and an international level (with China’s new restrictions on recycling imports). Finally, we discussed some of Boston’s options for reducing waste-to-landfill in the commercial sector. Participants emphasized the need for mandatory ordinances; raised the need for a complete list of Boston-area waste haulers and what they accept; suggested an environmental grade or certification system for custodial services; and discussed moving beyond environmental messaging.

We look forward to working with the City and our members to move Boston towards a Zero Waste future.


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