This week the Partnership for Working Families released Transforming Trash in Urban America, a report that underscores the urgent need to reform the way America’s largest cities deal with their trash.
The report reviewed the waste management infrastructure of the top 37 metropolitan areas in the United States and found that environmentally unsound waste disposal processes create strain on local budgets, degrade a city’s quality of life and seriously accelerate climate change. Nearly half of the cities involved have recycling rates in the teens or lower— significantly below the national average of 34 percent.
Transforming Trash presents San Francisco, Seattle and San Jose as models for reform. These cities have created sustainable recycling infrastructure that has notably decreased the amount of trash sent to landfills, while creating good jobs and stimulating local economies.
According to the report, the ideal sustainable recycling system has the following five elements.
- Recycling programs with robust public outreach campaigns to maximize participation.
- Agreements with businesses to attempt to reuse materials wherever possible, with an eye to producing zero waste.
- The creation of standards that reduce the waste management industry’s degradation of the environment.
- Policies that ensure that waste management jobs pay living wages, provide benefits and protect the rights of workers to organize.
- Policies that promote economic development, both in the industry itself and the cities in which they are located.
In L.A. the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s Don’t Waste LA campaign has built a coalition of trash and recycling workers, community members and environmentalists to overhaul the city’s broken private waste industry. Los Angeles’ city council recently approved a sweeping implementation plan for the transition to an exclusive franchise system for waste management services at apartments and businesses. This new system allows for the city to keep effective oversight of these companies to make sure they charge fair rates, recycle properly and implement workplace safety measures. Moving forward, the coalition is focusing on improving the working conditions in recycling facilities.
This article originally appeared on The Frying Pan.