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Collecting Information About Waste Prevention Policies and Practices in Your Community

This section of INFORM’s Community Waste Prevention Toolkit offers some key questions to consider when planning a local or statewide waste prevention initiative. You may know the answers to some of these questions already, from newspapers and other media reports on solid waste management issues affecting your town, city, county, region, or state. For additional information, try the following:

  • Conduct background research. If your community or state has a web site, look there for information on solid waste-related laws and regulations and contacts in relevant government offices. Some communities even post the minutes of meetings held by their environmental committees and legislature/council. If information is not available online, research your community’s current budget as well as applicable laws and regulations at the local library or clerk’s office. Encourage your local or state government to make important documents available on the Internet.
  • Meet with your allies. Meet with representatives of community groups and environmental organizations concerned about related issues, such as the siting of a new landfill or incinerator or the strengthening of state or local recycling programs.
  • Get multiple perspectives. Ask government representatives (such as local recycling coordinators or elected officials on the environmental committee of your legislature) and businesspeople from solid waste-related firms (including companies that offer waste-reducing products such as remanufactured toner cartridges, computers, etc.) for their opinions on your community’s waste prevention policies and programs.
  • Watch the key players in action. Familiarize yourself with the key decision-makers, community leaders, and issues of concern by attending meetings of the governing body that deals with solid waste-related issues in your community or state. Like New York City, some communities have solid waste/recycling advisory boards, which provide community input into government decisions in this area.
  • Take it to the top. Once you understand how decisions on solid waste issues are made, call your community’s solid waste management office, purchasing department, or other important decision-makers to ask any outstanding questions and begin discussions about how existing waste prevention programs can be improved. Try to be constructive, not adversarial. Do not assume that public officials will automatically be opposed to your suggestions. Some may appreciate your interest and ideas.

Eight Key Questions

1. Who is responsible for waste disposal, recycling, and waste prevention in your area?

  • Which political subdivision (e.g., the city, town, county, etc.) is responsible for solid waste prevention, recycling, and disposal policies and programs? What role does the state play in solid waste regulation, funding, etc?
  • Which specific agency or office is responsible for overseeing solid waste prevention, recycling, and disposal? Who heads it? To whom does this agency report on its operation? Are any other governing bodies involved in an oversight or funding capacity?
  • Who is the community (and state) waste prevention program manager? If there is no such position, who is the recycling coordinator? Is promoting waste prevention officially part of his or her job responsibility? Does the community have any additional staff devoted to waste prevention programs and policy development? What are their responsibilities?

2. What is the size of the waste challenge?

  • How much waste does the community/state generate each year, either by weight (tonnage) or volume (cubic yards)? Are waste generation rates increasing, as they are nationally? Where is this information published? How much waste did the community/state generate in the most recent year? What is the trend in generation over the last five years? Absolute waste and waste per capita? What is projected for the next five? Absolute and per capita?

3. What goals have been set for waste generation, disposal, recycling, and waste prevention?

  • Do specific goals for waste prevention exist, distinct from goals for recycling? How do the goals compare to other state or municipal goals? Have the recycling and waste prevention goals been met? How much waste prevention is projected over the next five years?

4. How does the community handle its waste?

  • Is it collected by the municipality or by private carters? Is waste generated by residents, institutions, and businesses handled differently? How much waste goes to landfill, to incineration, and to recycling? What are the landfill, incineration, and recycling trends over the last five year? What is projected for the next five years?

5. What waste prevention strategies are being used?

  • Does the community operate or fund any materials reuse programs, such as drop-off sites, a telephone hotline, or a web site facilitating donations and/or exchanges of furniture, appliances, office equipment, art supplies, and other items that can be reused?
  • Has the community or state banned the sale of certain items, such as fever thermometers and other mercury-containing products, in order to reduce the toxicity of the waste stream?
  • Has the community or state banned curbside collection or disposal of certain items such as tires, batteries, yard waste, appliances, and computer monitors in order to promote reuse and recycling?
  • Does the community operate or fund on-site composting, “leave-it-on-the-lawn,” or other waste prevention programs for grass, leaves, food scraps, and other types of organic materials? Does it help residents to set up their own backyard composting systems? Do any public offices or institutions compost their own waste?
  • Does the local government have a program to send surplus items to other public offices or institutions for reuse? Does it operate a surplus warehouse? How does the government agency in charge of the surplus program publicize the availability of reusable items to potential recipients? Is the warehouse easily accessible to government employees? Are available items listed on the Internet?
  • Do local schools and other public institutions with food service facilities use reusable dishes and/or cutlery? If not, do they have access to (and space for) dishwashing equipment? How much are they paying to buy and dispose of single-use items?
  • Are leftover paint, carpet, fixtures, and other items from construction projects diverted to other community projects?

6. How does the community educate the public about waste prevention and recycling?

  • Are there any ad campaigns devoted specifically to waste prevention? Are any written materials provided to residents, businesses, and public institutions? How are they disseminated?

7. What is the waste economic picture?

  • How much of the community’s budget is used to pay for solid waste collection, processing, and disposal (tipping fees)? What is the budget for waste prevention (beyond what is available to promote recycling)? Is the waste prevention budget commensurate with the portion of waste it is expected to address? What is the cost per ton of the community’s waste prevention, recycling, and disposal programs?
  • Does the community provide residents, businesses, and/or public institutions with economic incentives to reduce their generation of waste? For example, do residents, businesses, or public institutions pay for disposal based on the amount of waste they generate?

8. What laws and public policies promote waste prevention?

  • Has the local or state government adopted any goals or mandates for reducing the amount of waste generated (in addition to recycling goals and mandates)? What are the respective timeframes for reaching these goals or mandates? How does the community plan to measure whether waste reduction goals or mandates have been met?
  • Has the community or state passed any legislation promoting waste prevention, such as mandatory bottle deposits or requirements that product manufacturers collect electronics, batteries, carpeting, or other items for reuse or recycling (considered to be “extended producer responsibility” requirements).
  • Has the locality enacted any executive orders or laws directing government agencies to practice waste prevention and/or environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP)? Are public agencies encouraged to use products powered by alternatives to batteries or to use rechargeable batteries? Do public agencies use duplexing copiers and printers, remanufactured laser toner cartridges and other waste-reducing products? Who is in charge of the community’s EPP program?
  • Does the local government encourage vendors to practice waste prevention? For example, have government contracts been written to give preference to or require vendors to ship their products in bulk or reusable containers?
  • Does the local government or state provide incentives for businesses to practice waste prevention? For example, does it provide financial support to businesses that want to acquire dishwashing equipment? Is technical support available to facilitate waste prevention among businesses? Does the community reward or publicize companies that encourage waste prevention (for example, by taking back hangers and packaging material for reuse)?
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