Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Zero Waste in Santa Monica?


Santa Monica decided last March to push forward the environmental goal of making the city zero waste. The issue went to the City Council last March and it was decided that the city would try to become 95% waste-free by 2013.

In 2009, the city found that that city diverted 74% of its waste from landfills, which is already higher than the Federal Waste Diversion requirement of 50% by 2015 according to the EPA website.

“Zero waste is a change of perspective,” a City Council Report on the issue from Director of Public Works Martin Pastucha said. “It requires rethinking what is traditionally regarded as trash and instead treating all materials as valued resources.”

Santa Monica College and High School teacher Benjamin Kay believes that the zero waste plan is doable on the City Council level, but sees a problem in enforcing it in the school district.

“I’m a realist, but I’m also an optimist on this plan,” Kay said. “This endeavor is going to likely work on the side of the city because we have a very progressive City Council. The city will get there, but our school district unfortunately will not.”

Kay thinks that the district is behind on sustainable progress. He notes that the SMMUSD Mission Statement does not even address a goal of sustainability. But he and his students are helping to establish that.

“I’m working with my students to encourage the Board of Education members to make the right decisions in terms of joining the city’s effort to go zero waste” Kay said. “I’m also hopeful that the superintendent will support the Board of Education and that they will hold people accountable to raise environmentally literate students since our environmental woes are so dire right now.”

The city’s incentives to go zero waste include discounted compost bins for residents as well as free trash, recycling and compost cleaning if a resident takes a survey on zero waste. Santa Monica’s Resource Recovery and Recycling Manager Kim Braun sees the zero waste plan as less of a project and more of a behavioral change, meaning that citizens must get involved.

“All of the materials we generate daily will no longer be tossed away as ‘trash,’” Braun said. “Rather, materials will be considered as an item for recycling, composting, reuse and even reduction. Citizens will be involved as [a] part of their daily routine as more and more zero waste programs, policies and goals are implemented.”

The goal, according to both Kay and Braun, is ambitious, but achievable. It is also a global goal due to the rapid pace at which landfills are filling up as well as the overarching problem of climate change.

“We need to become more proactive in discovering alternative forms of technology to process waste,” Braun said. “Implementing a zero waste goal provides our community with opportunities to explore these technologies such as anaerobic digestion, increasing materials that can be returned to manufacturers for recycling and reuse, increasing technologies to process materials into other products and implementing policies that are environmentally sound.”


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