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Consumption-Based Metrics: The Next Challenge for Zero-Waste Cities

February 27, 2017

Consumption-Based Metrics: The Next Challenge for Zero-Waste Cities

February 27, 2017
by Maxine Perella

Cities are major contributors to – and battlegrounds of – climate change. According to a report from the UN Habitat, cities pump out roughly 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions whilst just occupying just 2 percent of the Earth’s land. Effective waste management and more intelligent use of material resources can not only play a significant role in reducing such emissions, but help urban environments prosper through improved public health impacts and citizen enterprise.

The US’ zero-waste city movement has been steadily growing in recent years – according to Kate Bailey, director of Eco-Cycle Solutions, there are at least 50 US cities with an established zero waste plan or goal. However, measuring their progress can be tricky; the definition of ‘zero waste’ is open to interpretation (for some, it simply means landfill diversion) and the variance in performance indicators makes standardization difficult.

“Comparing diversion rates and program metrics between cities is a big challenge for our industry,” Bailey says. “Our most tried and true metric has always been the recycling rate, but there is growing clamour about its fundamental flaws.”

These flaws include the fact that recycling often doesn’t factor in waste reduction or reuse efforts. “It implies that our ultimate goal is 100 percent recycling, which does not translate to the most efficient use of resources. For example, we know that reducing the obscene amount of food wasted is far better than composting all our leftovers,” Bailey maintains.

Eco-Cycle Solutions is advocating for a new metric to standardize measurement and comparison across the industry – pounds disposed per person per year. “This number is what we ultimately want to drive down to zero,” Bailey says. “By measuring pounds per person disposed, we can capture the ultimate goal of a circular economy by measuring how well we keep materials in productive use, and more easily measure our programs by using data from disposal facilities, rather than tracking down data at countless recycling or reuse facilities, or estimating generation rates.”

Read more at Sustainable Brands.

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