As part of a Zero Waste initiative, Cambridge officials are asking residents to be more conscious of how they dispose of unwanted items. Zero Waste refers to the city’s attempts to substantially decrease the amount of discarded material it sends to landfills every year. “Zero Waste importantly does not mean zero trash, but it does try to bring us to a more sustainable waste diversion and recycling and reduction practice,” said Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, who co-chairs the Health and Environmental Committee alongside Councillor Quinton Zondervan.

The Zero Waste program comes as landfill capacity is shrinking in Massachusetts. More and more sites are closing down — by the end of 2018, seven out of 20 state landfills will be inactive, according to government predictions. “In 2008, the average household produced 22.8 pounds of trash per week. The goal by 2050 is to reduce that to four pounds per household per week,” Devereux said. “That’s going to take a combination of strategies, including getting organic food waste out of the trash.”

In the first six months since Cambridge began practicing city-wide organic waste collection — a method similar to composting — 1.6 million pounds of organic waste was diverted from landfills, according to Devereux. The program was entirely voluntary and only included households or buildings comprising 12 units at maximum. Devereux said the initiative’s early success proves that expanding the program would “certainly have a significant impact.”

As part of another ongoing city effort to promote environmentally responsible waste disposal, Cambridge officials are teaching Cantabrigians how to recycle. The city now hosts a “Get Rid Of It Right” webpage that allows viewers to look up items they want to throw away by typing into a search bar.The website then provides information on how to correctly dispose of the item.

Some Zero Waste initiatives will aim to reduce waste production itself. Devereux suggested that the Department of Public Works could in future standardize the size of trash cans it provides to locals. If the trash cans are slightly smaller, it may encourage people to decrease their weekly trash output, Devereux said.

Waste reduction practices promoted by the city parallel Harvard’s own sustainability initiatives. According to Devereux, waste produced by Harvard and its affiliates is regulated by state laws including the Commercial Food Waste Ban of 2014. That ban is meant to decrease the amount of food waste in landfills by “at least 35 percent” by 2020.

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