Paper or Plastic? Wrong Question

May 19, 2012

Following the October study session, council told staff to focus initially on two waste-related ordinances, disposable bags and styrofoam takeout containers. In typical fashion, the presumptive tool is a hammer (municipal fees or an outright ban). What if the problem is not a nail? Is the cost of enforcement – heck, the cost of analyzing the cost of enforcement – worth the ultimate benefit?

The private sector and ordinary citizens have already begun responding to this challenge. Seeking a competitive advantage, many restaurants have shifted to compostable to-go containers. Many stores have voluntarily given cash discounts to those who bring their own grocery bags. If we can eliminate 85% of these things for little or no cost, can we move on? Education works, habits evolve, and — with a little patience — it may prove to be enough.

We can’t seem to resist getting in people’s faces, even over relatively small matters. Mixed waste (trash contaminated by organics, like food scraps) is the real enemy. 20% of the waste stream, it can only be buried or burned. My client approached the City more than a year ago, offering to partner in an educational campaign addressing the proper use of food waste disposers, plus curb-side and back yard composting, to help residents significantly reduce mixed waste. Disposers work. We use them now. Our treatment plant converts waste stream organics into biofuel and fertilizer.

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