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The future of garbage in Palo Alto, CA

What’s in your trash receptacles? Palo Alto is in the process of crafting a new Recycling and Composting ordinance to restrict recyclables and compostables from the garbage.

On January 27, 2010, the City of Palo Alto conducted its first public meeting regarding the proposed Recycling and Composting Ordinance.

With current waste management technologies, nearly 43% of our garbage is actually recyclable. Future waste technologies will likely expand the scope of recycling, enabling us to reduce our garage further. In 2004, the City of Palo Alto launched the Zero Waste program (i.e. no waste to landfills). Taking a whole-system approach to managing the flow of resources through society, the program aims to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills by 90% or more. Palo Alto has been recycling for over 38 years and has achieved 62 percent diversion of waste from landfills.

In 2007, Palo Alto conducted an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions and found that the emissions from community waste stream are significant.


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In the next few years, the community needs to reduce waste by an additional 37 percent to achieve the reduction goals of 'zero waste' by 2021. City officials believe that by maximizing the use of Palo Alto’s current recycling and composting programs, considerable reduction will be accomplished.

One of the issues of waste involves public education: today, recyclables, compostable materials and trash get mixed. By simply placing items in the appropriate containers, the city promotes its goal of Zero Waste and hopes to achieve 15% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. These objectives are in line with The State of California goals.

Palo Alto’s Zero Waste programs will include outreach and education to the community about the new requirements and help create new systems, processes and behaviors to keep recyclables and compostables out of the garbage. The ordinance will apply to the whole community and address several models, such as residents, retail, offices, manufacturing, shopping centers, city facilities hospitals, hotels, schools, non-profits, and special events.

Palo Alto is inviting the community to attend several public meetings to help develop the specifics of the new ordinance. The meetings have been separated into residential and commercial, so it can specifically address the differing waste services and needs of private people and commercial sectors.

Clay Reigel represented Zero Waste and discussed the various aspects of waste. "We are not only talking about recycling and composting, but also about fostering sustainable and green companies, manufacturers’ responsibility, raw materials processing, making recycling and re-using resources available, consumer educational programs, retail programs, and community awareness," " he said.

Today’s Palo Alto sends to the landfill the following:

  • Paper 14%
  • Compostables 29%
  • Problem materials 25%
  • Other recyclables 29%
  • Potentially recyclables 3%

The city estimated that today 72% of the above elements could be composted or recycled.

Palo Alto aims to put the new ordinance in place in July 2010, when GreenWaste, Palo Alto’s new contractor, will take over waste management. The public meetings’ purpose is to brainstorm and come up with various ideas to help city officials craft a comprehensive and agreeable ordinance.

Several questions were addressed at the meeting: How can we save money by recycling? How can we engage janitors and property mangers in recycling and composting suggestions? How can businesses reduce the time it normally takes to start and run a recycling program at their facilities, and how to make sure employees and residents maintain awareness levels? How might we motivate businesses to comply with the ordinance? What would be the penalty options? How to make recycling more convenient?

As the green economy is evolving, one of the growing sectors is waste management, which offers potential occupational opportunities that cover a wide range of careers, such as solid waste; wastewater management, treatment, and reduction; Processing/managing recyclable materials.

To learn more and to participate in the dialog, residents can attend the following meetings at the Art Center Auditorium; 1313 Newell Rd., Palo Alto: February 3, 7–8:30 pm and February 6, 10-11:30 am

For more information visit the Zero Waste program; Or call 650-496-5910; Or send an email to [email protected]