Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Zero Waste Is Possible for Key West

If you listened to Eric Lombardi of Eco Cycle at this evening’s public workshop for Key West commissioners – you learned that it’s possible to recycle up to 90% of the waste, I mean resources, which we now throw out. And if the commissioners were listening to the citizens who filled the chambers they learned that the public wants recycling.

“Waste is a social issue first,” Lombardi said. “A market issue second.”

Lombardi outlined the “leap” that many cities took 10 to 15 years when they embarked upon a long-range ‘zero waste’ management plan. It’s working for cities such as Boulder, Seattle and San Francisco and Nantucket Island.

Key West doesn’t have to leap, he said. The groundwork has been laid; the technology is in place and the process is understood.

Right now, Key West sends its waste north to a mainland incinerator. It is doubtful whether much of any of it is recycled. I’ve seen recycling bins emptied into standard ‘crushing maws’ of an ordinary garbage truck on Catherine Street where I live, squashed into smithereens that seem to small to be separated. When I asked the sanitation worker how they could be separated like that, he said it wasn’t.

Our current system while perhaps preferable to the Key West Alps on Stock Island, still allows most of our waste to pollute the air and contribute Green House Gases (GHG) to the environment.

Lombardi outlined a workable, ten year plan that starts with creating the facilities to manage our own waste. Facilities should be government owned, he said, but privately contracted. Owning the infrastructure insures the facilities are always available even if we need to change the contractor.

Why do it, why go Zero Waste? he asked.

“The public wants it,” he said, rousing an ovation from the audience. And it:

  • Reduces GHGs;
  • Recovers resources that are now wasted: timber, water, coltan and diamonds
  • Protects our environment so important to our quality of life and the tourism industry
  • Provides local jobs

Lombardi’s organization, Eco Cycle, is a Boulder Colorado based non profit corporation that pays a $2.5 million local payroll.

Zero waste management is a big business, and a growing business, he said. It provides 3.1 million jobs in the US today and is a billion dollar industry. A lot of people are going to get wealthy out of waste, Lombardi predicted.

Public comment was strongly in favor of implementing such a plan and the commission was urged to follow through. Other steps in the process of cleaning up our city were discussed.

Resident Chris Stone pointed out that some 25 years ago that local government had made a commitment to ban all non-recyclable containers in the next fifteen years, but it never happened.

“Why don’t we have a mandatory deposit on bottles?” Stone asked. “We really need the help of all the businesses.” She said she was “depressed that businesses are not recycling.”

Litter on the beach and around town was discussed. One citizen (the author of this post) reminded the commission that in the 1930s, at the height of the depression, a visionary named Julius Stone was sent to Key West by Florida’s governor to help the devastated economy. Stone was the first who imagined that Key West as a tourist town and he set about developing Key West’s first tourist attraction, the Aquarium. But the first thing Stone did was put people to work picking up the litter and cleaning up the town and renovating homes to rent to tourist.

Seventy some years later, we have a thriving tourism base, and a majority of the homes have been renovated again, but we still have a major litter problem.

The Commissioners said all the right things, and seemed genuinely intent on taking steps to take steps to better manage Key West’s waste.

Commission Johnston found it “refreshing” that so many citizens – it was a full house – showed up. She said she believes “we can get it done.”

Commissioner Jimmy Weekley said, “I think we can accomplish this goal.”

Let’s hope so. No, let's hold them to it.

If you want to get involved, please talk to your commissioners and consider joining GLEE or Last Stand Oh, and do recycle. It really does start at home.

Lombardi’s workshop was sponsored by Last Stand, Green Living and Energy Education (GLEE) and the Banyan Resort. For more information call 305-923-1994.