The Birth of a Zero Waste City
In August 2009, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) proposed a partnership with the city government. The following month, the Zero Waste Alaminos project was born. GAIA provided one staff member for the project team, zero waste trainings, and support to village leaders as they drafted their own waste management plans. GAIA also provided financial support for printing educational materials, buying shredders for organics and plastics, awarding mini-grants for villages to build eco-sheds and purchase vehicles, and more. For its part, the city provided two full-time employees, transportation for the team, logistical support for all activities and trainings, technical assistance, and support in strategic planning for the villages.
After two years, ten villages had achieved full compliance with the 2000 waste management law. Five were very close. Many others were well on their way. The zero waste team had launched rapid-fire initiatives to create these results, including: conducting a comprehensive survey to assess the existing waste management practices throughout Alamitos, traveling to all 39 villages where they interviewed village chiefs, and holding workshops for village representatives and city officials to begin conversations about waste separation and collection, composting, relevant law, and the components of the Zero Waste Alamitos project.
After the workshops, the team held 14 months of technical consultations and assemblies in the villages themselves. They resulted in a complete waste management plan, including a calendar of activities, investment plans for infrastructure, a budget with funding, and clarity about who was responsible for what. The plans were presented in assemblies for residents to comment on and approve before being implemented as the blueprint for each village’s waste management program. Once the villages had formulated their own waste management programs, they took ownership of the project.
The project team held separate sessions to consult with a range of stakeholders – from city workers to junk store representatives to health and tourism officials – to expand participation in implementing the law. As a result, resorts and inns established composting facilities and improved waste separation, tourists were informed about the strict no-littering and waste separation policies, hospitals and clinics started to separate their waste, and schools and universities improved their recycling and composting practices.
Toward Zero Waste: Results
The project grew by leaps and bounds over two years. While in 2009 almost no villages had begun implementation of the law, in 2011, 25 had local ordinances on waste management that specifically banned open burning and dumping and mandated household waste separation and composting. Ten villages passed every facet of the final evaluation with flying colors, while nine of those that did not pass were at least halfway to achieving their waste management goals.
A follow-up survey showed a high percentage of residents were separating out their waste (88% of those surveyed) and composting (53%). Fifteen villages are now consistently implementing pure composting. Worm composting has also increased, and the city has provided villages and schools with worms and organic fertilizer. Seventeen villages have started comprehensive collection systems. Thirty-two villages have built eco-sheds which provide temporary storage for residual, hazardous, and small amounts of recyclable waste, which are then collected by the city and brought to the city recycling facility.
Open dumping and burning decreased significantly: In 2009, almost every field had a pile burning; by 2011 there were almost none.
The survey also showed city government fully committed to the zero waste vision. The city has begun providing employees who were highly respected by village leaders to serve full-time as members of the project. In 2010, the city council passed into law the first zero waste city ordinance in the country, a local version of the national waste management law that includes a stronger provision against incineration and specifies how Alaminos will implement collection and conduct public education, among other things. This historic legislation upholds garbage separation, sets a target for waste diversion, and prohibits incineration.
Recently, Alaminos announced a “No-segregation, no-collection” policy. Residents will receive a warning if their waste is not separated. After a couple of warnings, their garbage will no longer be picked up. The city has already seen a noticeable reduction in the volume of overall waste. The city has considered – but not yet passed – a ban on plastic bags.
Much more needs to done to implement waste management programs in the villages – two years is not long enough to reverse decades of old habits. Still, the dramatic changes underway show what is possible when communities and local government unite their commitment and their energies.
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