Mandatory recycling is a complicated proposition, especially in a city like Missoula where the government neither owns the landfill nor the trash-hauling utility, said Chase Jones, Missoula’s energy conservation coordinator. But a recycling ordinance – combined with voluntary measures – is probably the only way Missoula will reach its “Zero by 50” goal. A Zero Waste Plan unveiled by city and nonprofit group leaders last July provided a blueprint – a lengthy to-do list – to achieve zero local waste generation by 2050.
Among the potential action items: a “pay as you throw” system of trash collection; the use of recycled materials in road construction; bans on the disposal of electronic waste, reusable materials and other goods in the landfill. Among the plan’s many stated goals is universal access to zero waste systems, services and programs – in other words, easy and convenient access to collection points for recycled goods. “In all the communities we looked at that are on their way to zero waste, the city has played a leadership role in changing the rules of the game, so wasting isn’t as easy as it once was,” said Jeremy Drake, of Missoula’s Home ReSource, when the Zero Waste Plan was introduced. “The entire community needs to be involved,” Drake said. “Leadership from different sectors needs to be involved.”
Fort Collins, Colorado, has been on the path toward zero waste for years – with strong leadership from city officials, area landfills and trash haulers, nonprofit groups and individual citizens. As far back as March of 2013, the city of Fort Collins implemented an ordinance banning the disposal of cardboard in bound-for-the-landfill trash. “No person shall place recyclable cardboard in refuse containers for collection,” the law reads. It applies equally to businesses and residences.
The penalty for violating the ban? Up to $2,650 or 180 days in jail. Compare that to Seattle’s fine for tossing food waste or recyclables: Any single-family trash container holding more than 10 percent recyclables or food waste by volume is assessed a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.
But Fort Collins has also employed many voluntary recycling campaigns and recycling-themed community events. A to Z lists of recyclables. Special collection events for “hard-to-recycle” items and for heavy plastic household items like laundry baskets and trash cans. A sale on discounted backyard composters. A recycling center where, for $5, residents can bring a car filled with recyclables and get help sorting the collection into appropriate bins. Officials in Austin, Texas, have taken a similar approach, using both a “Universal Recycling Ordinance” and a large number of voluntary and educational campaigns.