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City considers Zero Waste proposals

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

On February 27, the Gainesville City Commission, sitting as the General Policy Committee, considered some proposals that could be part of a Zero Waste ordinance. (Alachua County is considering similar policies)

The presentation started out, “To meet Gainesville’s city-wide goal of Zero Waste by 2040 and to take action on Gainesville’s declared climate emergency we must act now.”

The City’s new Sustainability Manager, Mike Heimbach, said that 41% of all municipal solid waste in Alachua County is residential and that the residential recycling laws have not been updated in 26 years. He proposed mandatory residential recycling, which has been effective in Seattle. He also proposed moving from recycling bins to roll carts. 

He said that single-family curbside composting would reduce methane emissions and return nutrients from food to the earth. 20% of single-family waste in Alachua County is organic in nature, and 70% of that 20% is food scraps. Heimbach said, “We already have a pre-existing solid waste collection. We don’t even have to add another truck. You could use the same truck for that, that’s what most municipalities do. You would put your leaves and other stuff in the cart and also put your food waste and stuff in there.” The program would start with a one-year pilot program and then roll out over 3 years.

He also proposed increasing the recycling requirements on apartment complexes. The law currently only requires the availability of recycling, and some complexes have a single recycling location while having trash dumpsters throughout the community. The new law would use the “at least as convenient” standard, which requires recycling bins wherever there is a trash dumpster. Another proposal was to standardize recycling bin colors across the city.

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Heimbach said all businesses should be required to “recycle all recyclable materials.” Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle have improved recycling rates with these policies. Businesses would also be required to provide recycling bins wherever there are trash bins. 

Food-related businesses could be required to first try to donate, then compost any leftover food to reduce the food waste sent to landfills. Austin, Seattle, and the State of California have similar programs.

Construction and demolition projects could be required to divert 75% of their waste by recycling, selling, reusing, or donating usable materials.

The City’s waste collection contract expires on October 1, 2021, and they are considering moving to an exclusive franchise to standardize waste collection, reduce wear and tear on the roads, and reduce the number of garbage trucks on the road. Currently, commercial entities like businesses and apartment complexes contract for trash removal, and six haulers currently operate in the area. 

In an update on the plastic straw ban, Heimbach said the City initially sent a postcard to beverage providers, then followed up with a personal visit to each business. He said compliance has been good, but they’re going to send a second postcard, addressing some concerns of businesses. Some businesses have purchased biopolymer plastic straws, but these are not permitted under the ordinance. The postcard will also address providing plastic straws to people with disabilities. He said they will provide information to businesses about different paper straw options and that they’re paying attention to emerging technology in straws and may propose changes to the ordinance in the future that would provide more options to the business community. He said they will also be stepping up enforcement soon.

The Commission decided to form a subcommittee, starting in May and ending in November, to explore Zero Waste policies, gather community feedback, and bring back a draft Zero Waste ordinance.