Oakland garbage
Oakland is approaching zero waste!

The Californian city adopted the objective of zero waste sent to landfill or incinerator. And gives itself the means to achieve it.

The sun has not yet risen until a strange ballet begins. Each in turn, dozens of trucks dump tons and tons of food scraps, cut grass, branches. A month later, this organic waste will come out in the form of a rich compost as fine as sand. By 2025, the city plans to achieve zero non-recycled or composted waste, thus avoiding the use of landfills or incinerators, which are very polluting.

The waste recovery rate, that is to say recovered for recycling and composting, today reaches 80% in the city. To achieve this goal never achieved by such a large city in the world, Oakland is demonstrating political will and multiplying legislative initiatives.

The ban on the sale and distribution of small plastic water bottles in public spaces in the city was adopted unanimously by the city council. Instead, many water fountains will be installed and compostable cups can be distributed during events.

Plastic water bottles are expensive to produce and have a significant environmental cost. It takes a thousand years for them to degrade. This is a measure that mentions the risk to health, chemicals such as phthalates can infiltrate the water and disrupt hormones and thereby increase the risk of infertility, cancer and miscarriages. “If we can ban them in public space, let people understand that it is totally doable, then we can go further. In other words, consider a total ban.

Step by step, this is the method that Oakland has adopted since the vote on the zero waste objective. California had already set a 50% recycling objective by 2010. But they wanted to go further. They agreed on the ambitious goal of zero waste and then on a date that is both far enough away to give us the means to reach it, but also close enough to make everyone feel immediately concerned.

A study had shown that 90% of the waste ending up in landfills could be recycled, and that the most important part was food. We don’t see waste as a burden, but as a value, it can be used.

This is how the environment department started by targeting hotels and restaurants, very numerous and which generate a lot of organic waste. They started with a test hotel: the bins for recyclables and compostables cost a lot less, each month on the bill, than those non-recyclable waste. If you recycle and compost all of your garbage, then you will need fewer, or smaller, bins. And you will save money.

Each resident of Oakland is now used to sorting their waste in three bins: in black, the one intended for the landfill; in green that for the compost; and in blue the recyclables. Also companies like Oakland Dumpster Rental Bros provide bin rental services for the residents that wish to discard a large quantity of junk all at once.

The system is a complete success: in one year, on hotel saved $200,000 and the initiative was then quickly spread to all professionals. The system is also offered, on a voluntary basis, to residents who wish to do so.

Banned plastic bags

One of the barely visible parts of the waste, but nevertheless important, is all of the debris generated by the construction sector.

After two years of negotiations, in 2006 the city obliged all building professionals to recycle at least 65% of their debris such as concrete, metal or even wood, in approved centers. A six-month suspension was applied to offenders. At the same time, the city is committed to using only recycled materials for public works such as asphalt, sidewalks or gutters.

But all this is not enough. They went a step further with two decisions directly affecting the daily lives of residents. Plastic bags were first banned from supermarkets, with the obligation to use paper or compostable plastic bags – for a fee, to encourage customers to bring their own bag.

Then, recycling and composting were made compulsory for all Oakland residents. The same system was applied: each house and building receives a detailed invoice and can lighten it by using less and less the normal bin to prefer those dedicated to recycling and composting.

Checks are carried out regularly and warnings are followed by fines for offenders, ranging from $100 to $1,000 dollars. This was their most controversial measure. They have been accused of setting up an environmental police.

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