Goodbye 'Filthadelphia': Philly sets realistic benchmarks for reaching 'zero waste'

Philadelphia has released a new action plan for becoming a "zero waste" city by 2035 — and while the goal may be lofty, the steps to get there are more measured. Unlike other "zero waste" cities that have set benchmarks or targets they may not always hit, Philadelphia's Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet intentionally created a timeline that only looks one year into the future. Though that doesn't mean officials don't have plans for figuring out how to divert 90% of the city's residential and commercial waste — derived from a 2015 baseline — and rethink the city's waste infrastructure. Curbside organics pick-up, new data collection efforts and possibly even some form of organized commercial waste collection, are all on the table. First, the city just wants to see what can be done by maximizing all the resources it has in place and engaging the public in the process. Nic Esposito, director of zero waste and litter for the city, told Waste Dive that since the cabinet was formed by Mayor Jim Kenney in December 2016, their goal has been to create a framework that will sustain efforts for decades to come. This entailed looking at how 1.5 million tons of commercial and residential waste are created in the city each year, why the overall diversion rate for that material has plateaued around 40% and what can be done to start making progress while the feasibility of a larger change is analyzed. "People need to be connected back to the waste that they create. So it can't just all be on city government," said Esposito. "People need to kind of be thinking about what they're creating, what they're producing." The plan lays out five main target areas that will drive the city's work going forward: Zero waste, litter enforcement and cleaner public spaces, data, behavioral science, and communications and engagement. Zero waste The first step is getting a handle on what's happening with the city's waste now. Philadelphia's residential material is collected from 540,000 households by the Streets Department and about 20% of it was diverted in 2014. Recyclables are sorted at a facility operated by ReCommunity. The majority of residential refuse is sent to Covanta's Delaware Valley waste-to-energy (WTE) facility. For multi-unit and commercial buildings, the diversion rate in 2014 was 45%, with a portion of refuse going to Waste Management's SpecFUEL facility in the city. Overall, about 26% of city waste is sent to landfills. According to Esposito, the primary goal is to eventually eliminate any use of landfills and...

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