Before a standing-room only crowd, the Boston Zero Waste Task Force, a multi-stakeholder group made up of labor and business leaders, community and neighborhood groups, Zero Waste and recycling experts, and environmental and social justice advocates, held a briefing at City Hall last week to release a set of recommendations for Mayor Walsh and the City of Boston to create quality jobs and grow Boston’s green economy while putting the city on a path towards Zero Waste.
“These recommendations give Mayor Walsh a great opportunity to score big on his economic and environmental goals – support local business, create quality jobs and make Boston a green innovation center,” said Tim Hall, worker/owner of the zero waste cooperative, CERO, and a Task force member.
Task Force members urged Mayor Walsh and other city leaders to build on Boston’s Climate Action plan by adopting a Zero Waste Master Plan that engages all Boston residents in planning to adopt policies that maximize reduce, reuse, recycle while supporting local economic development opportunities for recycling and zero waste businesses. The City’s Environment Department was in attendance to discuss the recommendations and plans for future collaboration.
“I am here to give my public support for the concepts from the Boston Zero Waste Task Force,” said Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, who hosted the briefing. “This report shows we have a long way to go, and I am committed to working with you in partnership with the city council and the Mayor on this.”
The city’s waste diversion rate has been subpar for many years compared to cities with leading programs; residential recycling rates have failed to surpass 20%. Factoring in the better performing commercial sector yields an approximate 30% rate, compared to a national average of 34%. Several comparably sized cities have seen dramatic results using policy innovations, such as Austin (>40%), Seattle (60%), and San Francisco (>80%).
The benefits of reduced disposal, and increased recycling and organic waste processing are well-established. For every ton recycled instead of disposed, the city would save $56. With 240,000 tons of residential waste currently disposed annually, the City has an opportunity also to create a new revenue stream through the sharing of proceeds from sales of recyclables. A major recent study showed that increasing the national recycling rate to 75% from a current average of 34% would create 1.5 million new well-paying, local, long-term jobs.
“Being environmentally responsible is not separate from economic development”, said Phil Reason, of Boston Worker’s Alliance, a member of the Zero Waste Task Force. “It’s fancy language that translates into protecting your community’s health, and good jobs to sustain Boston Strong!”
While recycling jobs are considered “green” jobs, for many, the work environment is far from green. Many recycling workers face significant hazards on the job and earn low wages. “For too long recycling workers who live in our neighborhoods have endured in minimum wage, temporary, very hazardous jobs – on our city’s dime,” said Mirna Montano, a worker center coordinator at the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), a worker safety advocacy group and Task Force member. “We wouldn’t accept these low job standards for direct city employees and we shouldn’t accept it for those whose jobs are paid for through city contracts.”
Last May, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) adopted a new Solid Waste Master Plan, called “Pathway Towards Zero Waste” that sets goals of reducing waste statewide by 80% by the year 2050, and lays out a markedly new approach to waste policy by adopting zero waste and focusing on eliminating food scraps from the waste stream and increasing waste ban enforcement. Groups at the Tuesday event argued that Boston should follow the lead of state policy-makers.
As Bess Beller-Levesque, Community Organizer for Toxics Action Center and co-coordinator of the Boston Recycling Coalition stated, “Boston’s new mayor has a huge opportunity here—to make our city a leader, not only in education, technology and medicine, but in a thriving, green economy—one that protects both our climate and public health. We want to work in partnership with Mayor Walsh and the City to develop a Zero Waste plan that gets our city on a path towards Zero Waste, reduces costs of disposal, curbs global warming emissions and creates good local jobs.”
The Boston Zero Waste Task Force was convened in June 2013 by member groups of the Boston Recycling Coalition, as a means to recommend Zero Waste policies for the City of Boston informed by a full range of stakeholders. Until now, the voices of key stakeholders in the city’s waste, recycling and composting system – and consequently their interests – have been absent from policymaking. As Alex Papali, Coordinator of the Boston Recycling Coalition, and member of the Zero Waste Task Force said, “Smart environmental policies make sure that all stakeholders’ needs are met. That’s the best way to get full participation in sustainability programs, and that’s what we’re pushing for in a Zero Waste Master Plan for Boston.”
The Task Force recommendations are aimed at four goals:
1 Develop policies to move Boston’s overall diversion recycling rate to 50% by 2020, 75% by 2030, and Zero Waste by 2040.
2. Establish a city-wide Zero Waste planning process that prioritizes meaningful community engagement and emphasizes the creation of good, green jobs to achieve the above goal.
3. Create programs for diverting food and yard waste, and provide incentives and assistance to promote inclusion of small, local businesses.
4. Guarantee workers living wages and safe work conditions in the city’s waste and recycling contracts.
“I want to thank the taskforce for the tremendous amount of effort they have put into this issue,” said Brian Swett, Chief of Energy and Environment for the City of Boston. “Increasing recycling is a priority of the Mayor and I look forward to reviewing the recommendations and moving Boston forward on this issue.”