Boston Releases Plan to Move City to Zero Waste
Draft recommendations follow 10 years of community activism, ensure wins for public health and environment
Boston, MA—Today, the City of Boston announced a set of recommendations that will bring the city into the zero waste economy, moving away from a polluting waste system and creating good jobs for local residents.
The release of the City’s draft recommendations, which will shape the future of Boston’s waste system, is the culmination of nearly a decade of work by local environmental, worker and community groups. Together, these groups formed the coalition Zero Waste Boston and advocated for adoption of policies that improve public health and minimize climate impacts while creating good, green jobs and business ownership opportunities for Boston residents.
"Ten years ago, we were working with communities saddled with leaking landfills in towns across the Commonwealth while seeing major problems with the way we manage our waste and deep income inequality here in Boston. Working together for a zero waste future can address both of those problems and more," said Sylvia Broude, Executive Director of Toxics Action Center. "The City’s plan is an opportunity to transition to zero waste, but also to address economic inequity by growing local business and paying workers fairly. We’ll be continuing our work with the City to carry this out."
"Following a 10-year zero waste campaign, we are excited to see Boston taking initial steps towards a sustainable, fair and circular economy," said Alex Papali of Clean Water Action. "There are however important measures these recommendations leave out, including moving towards eventual source separation to meet tight contamination standards in recycling markets. A strong zero waste program, properly implemented, will provide an economic engine well worth our initial investment, and help insulate vulnerable communities from both increasing economic pressures and climate disruption."
The recommendations, developed in a year-long planning process led by City Hall with input from community leaders in Zero Waste Boston and other stakeholders, include expanding composting, keeping materials that can be reused out of landfills, and recycling as much as possible. The plan will make these programs accessible to all communities, and includes education and community outreach to ensure that Boston residents know what programs are available to them and how to participate.
“We have a garbage problem, and the only solution is to drastically reduce solid waste and the negative health and environmental effects that go along with it,” said Kirstie Pecci, Director of the Zero Waste Project at Conservation Law Foundation. “By committing to proven efforts like curbside composting and textile recycling, and building on the plastic bag ban, Boston is clearly up to the challenge. These efforts will create new green jobs and save taxpayers a lot of money in the process.”
Members of the coalition are cautiously optimistic that the transition to zero waste will not only meet environmental and public health goals, but force the City to address the fact that workers in the waste industry are currently excluded from living wage ordinances in Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge. Although the living wage loophole was not specifically mentioned in the plan released by the City, the most recent request for bids from the City of Boston requires contractors to comply with the City’s living wage ordinance.
“Every worker involved in processing this City’s waste should be respected, safe, and able to support a family on his or her wages. Workers in the waste stream are a backbone of our environmental goals and we cannot have a City where they are the invisible poor. Boston’s planning is a good start; now we need to make sure it’s a plan for environmental equity, with every worker our neighbor,” said Richard Juang, Staff Attorney for Alternatives for Community & Environment.
“In keeping with the recommendations of the Zero Waste Plan, the City committed that their next recycling contractor would pay their workers a Living Wage like all the other workers who work for sizable vendors for the City of Boston,” said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, Executive Director at the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. “Unfortunately, Casella, is only willing to meet them part of the way. Because the City of Boston represents only 20% of the tonnage of recycling they process in Charlestown, they are only willing to close 20% of the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage. While workers will see an increase in their paychecks starting July 1, many will still not be paid Living Wage. We will keep advocating until our shared vision is realized.”
Zero Waste Boston, formerly known as the Boston Recycling Coalition, brings together key local and national environmental, worker and community groups in an alliance aimed at rapid and responsible expansion of Boston’s Zero Waste sector. Steering Committee members include Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), CERO Cooperative, Clean Water Action, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, Toxics Action Center and Youth On Board/Boston Student Advisory Council.