By George Stubbs and Jim Wilson, Co-chairs, Zero Waste Melrose
The Melrose Recycling Committee is changing its name to “Zero Waste Melrose.” The reasons for this change are important, and we’d like to explain why.
The world of waste management has changed dramatically since the Melrose Recycling Committee was established in the late 1980s. Back then, we believed recycling our wastes would be sufficient to create a circular economy that would significantly reduce our impact on the environment. Over the past three decades, however, our society has ramped up its consumption of material goods, to the point where that consumption is overwhelming the waste management system—both recycling and traditional disposal.
In response to this trend, the Recycling Committee began recently to rethink its mission regarding the service it provides to the community. The world is evolving, and so are we. Here in the second decade of the 21st Century, several factors have prompted us to use a wider lens in trying to understand what we need to accomplish. These factors include the following:
• A growing awareness of the negative impacts that irresponsible waste disposal practices have on public health and the environment—particularly single-use plastic products fouling our water ways, beaches, and oceans, harming marine life, and potentially causing harm up the food chain.
• The connection between climate change and waste, as many products—and their packaging—require fossil fuels to produce. Furthermore, the large amount of food that goes to waste presents a double threat, through the wasted energy-intensive processes used to produce food that isn’t consumed, and the breakdown of non-composted food waste into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
• Growing doubts, responsibly raised or not, about the efficacy of recycling, which is supposed by some to encourage consumption and by others to be insufficient to solve the problems we face.
So why “zero waste”? What does that concept mean to people? What kinds of goals does it suggest?
As recently as a couple of years ago, the term “zero waste” might have caught people off guard. It may still mean different things to different people today, but with so much media attention directed to the impacts of our wastes on society and the environment, people in many cities and states around the country—and their leaders—are increasingly focusing on some core ideas about where our society needs to go in terms of waste generation and waste management. Recycling, as necessary as it is, can’t do the whole job. We need to generate less, even as we take a broader approach to managing what we do generate. “Zero waste” is an aspirational goal, one that can yield benefits along the way. Being more diligent about reducing what we generate and reusing items we once thought had outlived their usefulness can bring immediate gains, for our pocketbooks and the environment.
Make no mistake: the mission of Zero Waste Melrose will remain what it always was for the Recycling Committee—to educate Melrose residents, visitors, and institutions about ways to reduce waste and increase recycling, with the ultimate goals of reducing our environmental impact, saving money, and keeping Melrose beautiful. Zero Waste Melrose believes firmly that recycling remains an essential part of the solution to our waste challenges, and we will continue to help Melrose residents “recycle right,” so that truckloads of recyclable materials aren’t deemed contaminated and sent to the incinerator—at increased cost to the city. But we will also do what we can to help the community consume smarter and divert wastes from the curbside altogether.
We can all do our part. As it has been for three decades, Zero Waste Melrose is here to help. To find out more about the organization, please visit our website. The look of the website—and the URL—will change at some point in the future, but for now, go to: https://melrecyclingcommittee.wordpress.com/.