Sebastopol is first to embrace countywide zero-waste campaign

Sebastopol new goal of zero waste by 2030 and its support for a ban on polystyrene is part of a coming countywide campaign.|

Sebastopol has become the first local city to sign on to a campaign that would commit residents and businesses to reducing the community’s waste stream to zero by the year 2030 - part of a countywide bid to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment while preserving the region’s limited landfill capacity.

The ordinance approved by the City Council calls for individuals to cut their own garbage production by at least ?10 percent a year. It also sets the stage for future policy decisions governing single-use products, composting and recycling, officials said.

“Zero waste is our future, along with electric cars and electric bicycles,” veteran City Councilwoman Sarah Glade Gurney said Wednesday.

The city’s resolution was part of a package of measures approved unanimously Tuesday night as a lead-off to a countywide zero-waste campaign championed by the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency.

The City Council also expressed support for an ordinance that would ban polystyrene food service containers and require food vendors to use biodegradable or recyclable food wares - another campaign being promoted by the county waste agency.

Going forward, the plan is to distribute both ordinances to the other eight cities and the county for approval in each jurisdiction, likely early next year, to create a uniform move toward zero waste, according to Thora Collard, an analyst with the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the county on the waste agency, said there will need to be “extensive outreach to our community about how to make it as easy as possible for people to move toward this goal.”

She pointed to the county’s adoption four years ago of a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags - a new concept about which many people had pressing questions.

Now, “it’s become pretty standard for just about everyone to reach for their reusable bags before they go shopping for anything,” Gorin said.

The Sebastopol council was eager to take action after community members packed a study session on the topic last month.

Sebastopol activist and organizer Sunny Galbraith said the session demonstrated broad public support for measures that are “both obtainable and ambitious.”

“Everyone can improve,” said Galbraith, a school teacher who represents the city on a waste management agency task force. “It’s accessible. We can’t all buy an electric car or put solar on our home.”

The meeting, said Mayor Patrick Slayter, was “one of those lightbulb moments, where, ‘Well, why aren’t we doing these things?’ At least it was for me.”

The actions taken Tuesday night were largely aspirational and intended to broadcast the city’s intention to support zero-waste measures as it engages with consumers, business interests and the food industry.

“We’ve got to change the culture,” Councilwoman Una Glass said.

Communities throughout California have been mandated since 1989 to reduce the amount of garbage they send to the landfill. Local governments are to have diverted 75 percent of their waste by 2020.

But the waste stream typically rises and falls with the strength of the economy and overall consumption, said Henry Mikus, Sebastopol’s engineering manager and board chairman of the county’s Waste Management Agency.

Since 2012, waste disposal per person in Sonoma County has increased by 35 percent, according to agency figures. It’s now 4.6 pounds per person per day.

Much of that waste is unnecessary, particularly where organic materials like food scraps and yard waste are concerned. Composted, they can be put to beneficial use, restoring nutrients to the soil. Buried in landfills, they are a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Food waste is particularly “low-hanging fruit” that with little effort can be turned to compost or diverted to the hungry, Mikus said.

The polystyrene ban, though still evolving, is aimed primarily at eliminating products made of blown polystyrene like Styrofoam, which does not biodegrade. San Francisco prohibited such foam products two years ago in a move hailed as the most extensive ban of its kind.

The current proposal would grant one-year exemptions for food providers or other vendors who can demonstrate an undue hardship. Otherwise the rule would ban use of ?Styrofoam-type materials that are not encased in other more durable materials, such as life preservers, construction supplies, hard-sided coolers and other products.

It also includes a provision calling for the voluntary elimination of polystyrene foam packing.

Gurney told council members Tuesday night that it was imperative to ensure that the city put its own “house in order” before imposing new standards on the public, and that it work hard to educate and inform the public about what’s afoot.

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