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Striving for a Zero-Waste Future

A number of U.S. cities have set ambitious zero-waste goals, but reaching targets has been challenging. Turning waste into a viable commodity is one strategy to get materials out of the waste stream.
April 23, 2019, 9am PDT | Camille Fink
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Waste Stream

James A. Anderson takes a closer look at cities working to meet zero-waste targets, particularly efforts to commodify waste materials. Cities including San Francisco, Austin, and New York are struggling to reach their goals because of budget limitations, rising costs, and decreasing disposal options.

One approach has been economic development that seeks to remove trash from the waste stream. Austin’s 2011 zero-waste plan lays out strategies for diverting 90 percent of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2040. The city also has focused on commercial waste, which makes up a significant proportion of Austin's overall trash output. The [Re]Verse Pitch Competition is one attempt to engage entrepreneurs in waste disposal efforts, says Anderson:

The competition’s challenge is to devise a business plan that makes something marketable out of heaps of trash that nearby companies and nonprofits are eager to donate to the cause. In past years, starter donations have included expired canned goods from a food pantry, damaged pressboard furniture, distillery dregs, and even a mound of used mesh delivery bags.

The city has also put resources into the Austin Materials Marketplace, an online platform to link businesses and organizations with waste materials they can use and that otherwise would likely end up in landfills.

"Creating bonafide demand for plastic, paper, glass, food waste and other materials removed completely out of Austin’s garbage would not only give those programs a financial boost, it would transform zero-waste programs from budgetary burdens to possible economic boons," notes Anderson.

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Published on Monday, April 15, 2019 in Next City
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