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Sonoma County Gazette
Zero waste

Addressing Climate Change
Through ZERO Waste

May 30, 2018


By Caitlyn Thomasson and Tish Levee

The 2nd annual Sonoma County Zero Waste Symposium in May galvanized this gathering of leaders committed to reducing waste. It offered an opportunity for those active in managing post-fire resources to share the importance of perpetual emergency preparedness and collaboration as future issues arise with climate change. We can apply what was learned from the fires as a model for community resiliency and sustainability going forward.

All presentations from the event are at:

Landfill is the last place for these resources -Zero Waste—nothing going to the landfill or incinerator. Garbage contains valuable, recoverable, and recyclable materials as potential resources. Valuable waste incorrectly disposed of creates greenhouse gas emissions harmfully impacting the climate. Each person in Sonoma County creates approximately 4.9 pounds of waste daily, up from 3.2 pounds in 2012. Fortunately, a recently created Zero Waste Task Force is helping address the increasing waste issue.

The “Age of Plastic” -Keynoter Captain Charles Moore stated that we’re living in the “Age of Plastic;” we must come to terms with plastic pollution for both human health and environmental reasons. Making it very clear plastic pollution has become a human health issue, he noted the rapid increase of micro-plastics ingested by animals in the aquatic food chain, ending up on our dinner plates. Plastics break down into smaller and more numerous particles as they weather from the effects of ultraviolet rays, wind, and wave action, resulting in micro-plastics. The toxins these plastic particles carry end up in our food, disrupting our bodies’ endocrine systems. 

China’s National Sword -Sara Bixby, Deputy Executive Director at Solid Waste Association of North America, said that since China announced their “National Sword Policy” last July, which increases inspections of recyclable imports and limits imports of contaminated recyclable materials, more material is stockpiling at recycling centers, solid waste facilities, and is disposed in landfills. Recent updates to China’s policy have made the problem worse.

The plastic pollution crisis calls for action at the speed and scale necessary to ensure that future generations live in a toxin-free world. Chris Grabill from Sonoma County Conservation Action, managed the debris after the fires; it’s now a model for perpetual preparedness. By taking what was learned from the fires, we can cope with future issues of plastic pollution and climate change.

Overall waste reduction through reuse and recycling is key.

Many speakers stressed that education and outreach to ensure proper separation, cleaning, and best practices for reduction in waste overall is critical, with slogans such as: “use less,” “when in doubt, throw it out,” “recycle often, recycle right,” “buy recycled,” “REDUCE.”

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins emphasized that single-use plastic containers are relics of the past, pointing out that the City of Santa Rosa has great purchasing power and can use it to create less waste in the environment.

Other speakers spoke about food waste, noting America wastes 40% of all food produced and emphasizing reclaiming food for the hungry and composting organic material. Sunny Galbraith and Guy Tillotson, shared their work with schools in addressing this issue. Sunny, a teacher at Orchard View School, shared, with some of her students, their implementation of a composting program keeping lunch-food scraps out of landfill. Guy, the waste diversion technician at SRJC, shared how he’s engaging college students, moving to a Zero Waste campus.

While throwaway plastics have increased dramatically over the last 20 years, systems to contain, control, reuse, and recycle them haven’t kept pace. Not enough plastic in the US is being recycled. We need to move towards a management model that considers the entire life-cycle of materials.

We need to shift our consciousness to get to Zero Waste, changing our thinking about waste—realizing it’s not waste; it has VALUE. Looking at discards as a resource can preserve resources, allow better use of land than landfills, and create Green Jobs, where waste workers and recycler become first responders in getting to Zero Waste.

It’s not a question of the environment vs. the economy. Taking care of the environment is good for the economy.

Tish Levee and Caitlyn Thomasson are recent graduates of the Center for Climate Protection’s Climate Action Fellowship. Caitlyn, a student, is the president of the EcoLeaders Club at SRJC. Tish writes the Gazette’s column, “For the Planet.”


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