Up or Down? What’s Going on With San Diego’s Garbage?
Tonight on ABC Channel 10 News, reporter Michael Chen looks at waste disposal rates throughout our region. As Michael Chen reports, recently released new data support findings from Equinox Center’s 2011 San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard showing a distinct downward trend in average per capita waste disposal in San Diego County:
From 2008-2009, San Diego County residents reduced waste by approximately 1 pound per person per day, though the region’s average waste disposal is still above California’s. (Wondering how your community fared compared to others?) The slowing of the economy had a significant impact on the reduction of both personal and commercial waste. (Less consumption means less packaging and other trash, while less construction means less demolition and material waste.)
Reducing our overall waste disposal in the region is good news on all fronts. Landfills eventually fill up, and new ones are neither easy nor cheap to build. What’s more, the “NIMBY” (“Not in My Backyard”) challenge is more or less a given for any proposed new landfill, regardless of location, as are environmental and political concerns.
We also don’t need a recession to cut back our region’s waste production. There is still vast opportunity to keep our region’s waste levels down even as the economy recovers. The obvious low-hanging fruit on that front is recycling and composting.
Just Don’t Drink the Compost Tea*
First, we can divert organic waste from going to landfills. As a homeowner, you can achieve this on your own through composting. Some municipalities are incentivizing and facilitating recycling and composting through innovative policies and public-private partnerships. For example, the City of Oceanside provides local businesses free waste audits to help them determine the most economically feasible and environmentally responsible recycling options. Through a partnership with Agri Service, Inc., Oceanside has a landmark facility where green waste like yard trimmings is converted into compost—which is in turn made available for free to residents. Similar public-private partnerships can be adopted in other cities in the County.
Cradle to Cradle Product Design
We can also reduce the amount of trash created in the first place. San Diego County can join dozens of others in the state and throughout the country in adopting resolutions or ordinances to support Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also known as “product stewardship.”
EPR is a strategy to create a more direct economic link between a product's creation and its eventual disposal. EPR efforts encourage companies who make products to take responsibility for them from beginning to end (“cradle to grave”) and to develop more efficient, environmentally-friendly products and packaging from the beginning. Companies are also encouraged to to take back products for recycling at the end of their life-cycle.
Did we mention this saves taxpayer dollars? Managing waste, especially hazardous or toxic waste, is costly for local governments. California's local governments and taxpayers spend upwards of $500 million annually to manage products banned from landfills as well as those headed to a landfill to be buried forever.
Forward-thinking companies are already adopting “cradle to cradle” approaches in product and packaging development. Many companies, like San Diego’s own Cricket Wireless find they actually save money by reducing product packaging—less packaging means less weight and lower shipping costs.
One Person’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Finally, San Diego’s clean-tech cluster includes numerous companies literally making a business out of turning waste into valuable products like energy. Supporting policies that advance our region’s competitiveness as a clean economy help to drive these efforts forward.
*”Compost tea,” if you’re wondering, is a nutrient-rich liquid solution made by steeping compost in water. It’s great for your plants but not advisable to consume!