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Our View: Looking for ideas for zero waste plan

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Think of all the things you throw away, day after day, time and again.

All of them end up somewhere. Some are taken to sorting operations where they are separated, sold and reused.

Others are buried underground and left to decompose (or not) in landfills like the one Waste Management plans to expand south of Cortland.

All but the most strident recyclers and reusers contribute their fair share to landfills. Sometimes, we throw things in the trash because we don’t know they can be recycled. Sometimes, there are no options for recycling. And sometimes, well, people just do what they want, whether it’s the right thing or not.

But the debate around waste disposal kindled by the landfill expansion plan has created a positive side effect: The DeKalb County Board has created a 13-member Zero Waste Task Force, which will meet for the first time at 1:15 p.m. today at the DeKalb County Community Outreach Building, 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb.

Task force members are taking aim at an important goal: Reducing the amount of trash DeKalb County residents contribute to landfills.

Reducing the number to absolute zero is probably impossible, but we can do better. In 2012, more than 60 percent of municipal waste from DeKalb County – more than 108,000 tons – went to landfills.

There are things that people and businesses can do to reduce the amount of waste they generate. But as with all voluntary things, it’s a matter of how far people are willing to go.

Changing the amount we throw away doesn’t merely require a change in practices but a change in attitudes. Many local homes have large, wheeled bins both for trash and recycling. But the trash bin is usually larger, reflecting the prevailing assumption that people have more trash than recyclables.

As disposing of trash is generally a voluntary act, the success of any new initiative will depend on how far people are willing to go, both in their homes and in public places.

Are we willing and able to add compost bins for food waste to the trash and recycling in public places and private homes? Will businesses agree to use recycled building materials and to recycle construction debris? Can restaurants commit to using compostable serving ware rather than the standard plastic?

Perhaps the reality of having a larger landfill in our county will make people more aware of the need to eliminate waste and eager to reduce the amount they contribute.

Other governments at the local and county level have adopted “zero waste” policies that cover their dealings with contractors and offer more opportunities and incentives for citizens to recycle.

We hope this task force comes up with solid ideas that can change the way we think about and dispose of our trash in DeKalb County. Changes inevitably lead to grumbling in some quarters, but they often fade over time as people come to accept new norms.

The less of our waste that ends up in a landfill, the better.

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