Texas Campaign for the Environment: landfills

Zero-Waste Solutions for Texas

Background: No Shortage of Landfill Space

There is no shortage of landfill capacity statewide. With the exception of one year, there have been steady increases in capacity since 1989. There is no economic rationale for weak standards for trash facilities, as there is adequate landfill capacity in almost all regions for the foreseeable future.

Report: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality report shows an abundance (perhaps over-abundance) of landfill space in Texas: Click here to read the report.

Weak and unenforced environmental standards for landfills undercut our recycling programs in Texas by giving landfills an unfair economic advantage. In short, if landfills are allowed to cut corners and endanger public health it can be cheaper to dump trash than recycle it.



“Zero waste” is at once both the concept and the goal of eliminating waste altogether. Just as there is no waste in nature, proponents argue that the very idea of waste is unnecessary. Waste is a design flaw, and one that can and must be solved if we are to create a sustainable future.
 
Trash and landfills are much more than unappealing eyesores. They are leading contributors to global climate change, air, soil and water pollution, and unsustainable consumption patterns. Zero waste is part of a solution beyond our current recycling efforts that is being embraced and implemented by governments and businesses worldwide. Of course, advocates don’t expect literally no waste at all, but often use a 90% reduction as a benchmark.

You may not realize it when you’re tossing that water bottle into the recycling bin, but the bottle itself only represents a tiny fraction of the total waste generated. It’s the tip of the “wasteberg” – about 70 times more waste was created in the process of getting that product into your household. This is why increasing recycling is only part of the zero waste solution. Here are some other components of zero waste:

Zero Waste Has Five Basic Tenets

Redesigning products and packaging: Planning in advance to limit product resource consumption, toxicity, and waste, and recovering materials through reuse, recycling, or composting - designing products for recycling, not for the dump.

Producer TakeBack: Manufacturers are held responsible for the waste and environmental impact their product and packaging creates, rather than passing that responsibility on to the consumer. The end result is that manufacturers redesign products to reduce materials consumption and facilitate reuse, recovery and recycling.

Investing in Recycling, Not Landfills or Incinerators: Rather than using taxes to build new landfills and incinerators, communities can continue to invest in recycling facilities designed to take the place of a landfill or incinerator.

Ending Taxpayer Subsidies for Wasteful and Polluting Industries: Pollution, energy consumption and environmental destruction start at the point of virgin resource extraction and processing. Manufacturers use virgin resources for raw material partly because tax subsidies and other social policies make this a cheaper and easier alternative than using recycled or recovered materials. Additional public subsidies exist to keep "disposal" costs through landfills and incinerators artificially low by not assigning significant costs to the harmful emissions produced by these facilities.

Creating Jobs and New Businesses from Discards: Wasting materials in a landfill or incinerator also wastes business opportunities that could be created if those resources were preserved. According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance's report Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000, "On a per-ton basis, sorting and processing recyclables alone sustains ten times more jobs than landfilling or incineration." The report adds, "Each recycling step a community takes locally means more jobs, more business expenditures on supplies and services, and more money circulating in the local economy through spending and tax payments."
- from Grassroots Recycling Network

Central Texas Strives for Zero Waste

Austin and Travis County have become this first Texas governments to commit to a goal of zero waste! Austin is in the process of designing a Zero Waste Plan to reach that goal by 2040.
Click here to learn more about Austin's Zero Waste Plan.

However, dozens of cities around the country and world are already several steps ahead. San Francisco’s recycling rate is already approaching 70%. Two-thirds of the cities in New Zealand have adopted zero waste goals.
Click here to see a list of zero waste cities worldwide!

Here are some more great resources for learning more about zero waste:
Zero Waste Alliance
Grassroots Recycling Network
Eco-Cycle

Campaign Press

Texas Environmental Agency to Pursue Weakening of Landfill Rules on Toxic Waste   (TCE)

Trashing the Trash Rules   (Austin Chronicle)

Landfill regulations get tougher   (News 8 Austin)

Take Action

Links

  • Blog of the Fort Bend and Brazoria County group opposing the expansion of the BFI landfill in their area.Citizens Against the Blue Ridge Landfill Expansion
  • Environmental engineer Dr. Fred Lee has been working since the 1960's on landfills and has written extensively on many topics.Dr. Fred Lee's Scientific Research on Landfills
  • This manual, written by experienced organizers, is designed to assist communities that live near polluters to pressure for improvements.Good Neighbor Campaign Handbook
  • Order this book to have a step-by-step practical guide about how to organize people for direct action to fight powerful interests.Guide to Organizing
  • Health Care Without Harm is a national group working to improve the public health and environmental impacts of the health care sector. They have worked on medical waste issues since their inception.Health Care Without Harm - medical waste webpage
  • This site has information on how landfills leak and links to photos of landfillsInformation about Leaking Landfills
  • A treasure trove of practical information on how to reduce waste and recycle.National Waste Prevention Coalition
  • Informative analyses of how the North American trash system developed and how producer takeback and zero waste strategies are critical for the future. Good comparative studies of successful Canadian producer takeback programs.Product Policy Institute
  • Twenty year plan backed by dozens of groups in New York City to move towards Zero Waste.Reaching for Zero - New York City Citizens Plan for Zero Waste
  • Good resources on landfills including why landfill gas is NOT green energyThe Basics of Landfills from EJnet.org
  • Waste to Wealth Project - Institute for Local Self-RelianceWaste to Wealth Project - Institute for Local Self-Reliance
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