Group urges Boston to boost recycling, reduce waste

Report suggests steps to save money, create jobs

Environmental advocates released a set of recommendations Tuesday that they said will create jobs, improve Boston’s abysmal recycling rate, and generate millions of dollars in revenue.

The zero waste master plan was presented at City Hall by a coalition of groups that want to move Boston’s green economy into all neighborhoods and divert 90 percent of the city’s waste from landfills by 2040.

Getting to what is called “zero waste” would require a “systemic redesign of the flow of materials from our homes,” Alex Papali, coordinator of Boston Recycling Coalition, told a standing-room-only crowd. “All of the waste that is produced would be cycled back into new products. It’ll take concerted policy efforts from the city as well as engaging the community.”


The only way to reach such an ambitious recycling goal is to increase ways for organic waste, which includes food scraps, paper, and pizza boxes, to be reused, the plan says. Organic rubbish makes up more than half of the nation’s waste stream and up to a quarter of the city’s, according to urban planning experts. Once buried, organic refuse produces methane — a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide — as it decays.

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In addition to the environmental benefits of reclaiming waste, recycling creates more jobs than throwing trash away, the plan said. According to the city, each ton of trash diverted from the garbage heap will save the city about $56. Bostonians discard 240,000 tons of waste each year.

“Zero waste creates jobs and supports local businesses,” said Tim Hall, worker/owner with CERO, a cooperative recycling and composting business. “It’s an entrance way for people who don’t have the high technology and high education.”

Boston, the report says, is a national leader on health care, the information economy, education, and energy-efficiency — but not recycling and waste management.

The city’s residential recycling rate has stalled at about 20 percent — or lower — for years, putting Boston far behind the national average and other cities of comparable size. It’s about 80 percent in San Francisco, 60 percent in Seattle, and more than 40 percent in Austin, Texas, the report says.


“Boston has the opportunity to get into the spotlight nationally and create a world-class model here,” said Papali, who was a member of the task force that worked on the report.

The recommendations detail how city leaders, community groups, and residents can work together to strengthen Boston’s green profile. Work on the plan, which is divided into short-term and long-term goals, started in June 2013. The recommendations are organized around four main objectives:

 Developing policies that will increase Boston’s recycling rate to 50 percent by 2020, 75 percent by 2030, and “zero waste” — at least 90 percent — by 2040.

 Creating a citywide “zero waste” plan that emphasizes community input and the creation of green jobs that help the city reach recycling goals.

 Creating programs that divert food and yard waste from landfills while helping small, local businesses grow.


 Guaranteeing a living wage and safe working conditions for those employed by companies with waste and recycling contracts with the city.

“We look forward to reviewing your recommendations in this report . . . and moving Boston forward on this important issue,” said Brian Swett, chief of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office of environment, energy, and open space. “Increasing recycling in Boston is a priority of Mayor Walsh’s. In fact, just last week, I was on Beacon Hill strongly advocating the mayor’s position and support for expanding the bottle bill.”

The 32-year-old bottle bill aims to reduce waste and encourage recycling by allowing people to return empty soda and beer bottles in exchange for a nickel. The Legislature is considering expanding the list of redeemable containers to include bottles that hold water, juice, sports drinks, and coffee beverages.

Swett said city officials have heard from residents who want to improve the city’s recycling program and increase the composting of organic waste, two issues to be included in a soon-to-be-released report by Walsh’s environment transition team.

“So your work is well-timed,” Swett said to the crowd. “This is a real important issue. Sometimes, it doesn’t get the attention that it sometimes deserves.”

The plan presented by the task force urges the city to hire a consultant to facilitate the “zero waste” planning process and change its procurement process so price is not the dominant factor in hiring waste removal companies. The group would like the city’s waste removal contracts to weigh such things as local hiring, refuse diversion, and climate mitigation as well as price.

Some of the goals outlined in the plan mirror those that the city’s public works department recommended last year, including increasing the amount of organic waste reclaimed and better aligning trash and recycling collection schedules.

“This is the missing link in Boston’s green economy,” said Sylvia Broude, executive director of the Toxics Action Center, an environmental organizing group.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.