ON THE RECORD/City’s conservation efforts push the limit
In addition to one of the sunniest, California also is known as one of the nation’s most environmentally friendly states. A model of successful green programs, on March 22, Berkeley, Calif., established a zero waste goal for 2020 and is aiming at diverting 75 percent of its garbage from landfills by 2010. In 1976, the city adopted the goal of a 50 percent diversion rate, which it achieved by 1984 and led to the state mandating all counties to do the same by 2000. Berkeley Mayor and former state legislator Tom Bates recently talked with American City & County about what it will take to reduce the amount of landfilled waste in the city.
Q: What are a few of the things that you plan to do to reach your goal?
A: We know that food waste is something we can start collecting. We have a lot of construction debris that can be recycled, which will make a big difference in our landfill. We also are looking at ways of reducing some of the packaging that we are constantly bombarded with as consumers.
Q: Is the goal economically feasible, and has money been allocated as part of a plan?
A: We are actually in the process right now of adopting a plan. We know that the recovery business is a growing business in Berkeley. Already we have identified 65 local companies who are involved in the business of extracting materials and recycling them. So we see that as an economic upside to the business of recycling.
Q: Are there going to be markets for all of the commodities that the waste stream will be producing?
A: It’s a constant fight. We have to work toward trying to achieve the markets for the products that are coming online. Products also have to be designed in a different way. I remember that the Germans had passed a law that any product that was introduced, the company had to receive it at the end of its life. I don’t know that we’ve come to that place in this country, but I think it’s going to take some radical laws to make people responsible for the things they introduce into the environment. In Berkeley we are very proud of the fact that we have established a law that says you can’t use Styrofoam. McDonald’s Corp. was very upset, but all of its products that were made with Styrofoam were eliminated throughout the entire worldwide organization.
Q: How large of a role do you think technology will play?
A: New technology is going to be vital. The question is trying to get [products] price sensitive so that you aren’t paying more for products that are healthy for the environment and are recyclable. But with technology, we can find those products. We know in the economy the fastest growing businesses in our area are those that are dealing with the green economy, that are doing recycling, photovoltaic cells and energy efficiencies.
Q: What are the main obstacles that you foresee?
A: There is a larger global economy that impacts us. We see companies that are putting products out that are not lending themselves to be recyclable. So there’s a whole education, reform, consumer movement, plus legislation at the state or local level that says these products are not acceptable. We need to be smart about putting incentives in place to make people do the right thing. In Berkeley, we have an educated community. We have more Sierra Club members as far as percentage than anywhere in the world. We sell more electric hybrid vehicles here than anywhere in North America. People want to do the right thing. And I think that ethic is going to spread.