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  • Writer's pictureBobbi Harris

Smarter Waste Recycling

Back in the early 1970’s the U.S. had major trash problems – highway litter bugs, trash strikes crippling cities, and overflowing landfills.  We were drowning in litter! So on Earth Day, 1971, the Ad Council partnered with Keep America Beautiful to launch a powerful visual image from actor Iron Eyes Cody that dramatized how litter and other forms of pollution were hurting the environment, and how every individual has the responsibility to help protect it.

Then the 1980’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle campaigns launched the green movement in an effort to better our planet. There are now receptacles for recycling glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper in office buildings, schools, and shopping centers.  Most cities have curbside pick-up service for all recyclables. The “Reduce Reuse Recycle” hierarchy continues developing to minimize waste, conserve natural resources and extract the most out of already produced goods.

Today, technology companies and scientists around the world are working to use trash to create energy. Perhaps to some it sounds a bit like Doc Brown in Back to the Future IIwith his “Mr. Fusion” device to power the DeLorean, but that’s not the only story for waste in today’s Smart City.

The waste sector is being highlighted as a catalyst for smart solutions – alongside water, energy and transportation – and reflects the widely held view that waste is the fourth utility. While waste and recycling services operate across both rural and urban environments, it is often highly urbanized cities which offer the biggest challenges in collection and recycling, and therefore, greater opportunities in the adoption of smart waste solutions.

But don’t we already recycle? Yes, even before the marketing campaigns and the cool recycling bins people have recycled, but the practice is not consistent for every city. In San Francisco, people recycle nearly 80% of their total waste. In Houston, only 14% of the inhabitants separate their garbage.  A study conducted by the U.S. EPA estimates that an additional 75% of U.S. municipal solid waste can actually be recycled.

A Smarter Way: Better management of residential solid waste—combined with increased recycling—is a proven way to combat these challenging issues. In an effort to move from doing nothing, to doing something, more than 7000 U.S. communities have put in place pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) programs where residents pay for their trash based on the amount they throw away. Some cities have seen dramatic decreases in solid waste tonnage—often nearly 50%. This allows them to save significantly on solid waste disposal—freeing up valuable funds for other, more productive, purposes—while at the same time bringing profound environmental and sustainability benefits. Smart Cities can offer alternatives to passive, spotty recycling efforts and utilize new technologies and services available and perhaps we can eventually see net zero waste for a truly sustainable future.  Iron Eyes Cody would be proud.

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