Ask City Leaders to Develop No-Waste Policies

According to a brief on solid waste published by the World Bank in 2018, in 2016 alone, cities around the world generated over two billion tons of solid waste. All of this waste has to go somewhere, and in most cases, it ends up in municipal solid waste landfills, which according to the EPA, are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the US. Aside from methane production, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, some of the wastes in landfills can leach toxic chemicals as they break down, while many others, such as plastic will take thousands of years or longer to decompose. 

For these reasons, a crucial step cities can take to prevent further environmental degradation and curb climate change is to enact zero waste policies. San Francisco has been one of the leading cities in the US in the movement towards zero waste commitments, since the city first committed to zero waste by 2020 in 2002. Although the city has not met their zero waste goal, reaching about a 60% diversion rate of waste sent to landfills in 2012, and which has now declined to 51% in 2019 largely due to population increases, the city still has an impressive set of policies aimed at waste reduction that Duluth could replicate. For example, in 2001 San Francisco began providing city residents with curbside composting bins in addition to recycling bins, and in 2009, made composting and recycling mandatory. Other policies, such as the Food Service Waste Reduction Ordinance of 2007, which required restaurants to use compostable or recyclable take-out containers and ordinances that banned plastic bags and other hard to recycle plastics, have allowed San Francisco to significantly reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfills.  

According to the Bag It Duluth campaign, an effort of Duluth citizens, organizations and businesses committed to reducing plastic use in the city, Duluthians use on average $550,000 to $2,000,000 worth of single-use plastic grocery bags annually. These plastic bags and other plastic waste such as styrofoam and plastic straws are dangerous to the environment, especially to Lake Superior and the Great Lakes, which accumulate over 20 million pounds of plastics annually. Bag It Duluth proposes a fee on single-use plastic and paper bags, as well as a ban on Polystyrene foam food and beverage containers throughout the city. Policies like these can move Duluth towards a zero waste future. 

While the City of Duluth was set to enact a fee on plastic bags to reduce plastic bag use in March of 2020, the Duluth City Council voted to postpone the fee until 2021, due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses. 

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