Green Scene: Taking the county zero-waste

The goal of the new Zero Waste Task Force (ZWTF) of DeKalb County is to make recommendations on how to generate less garbage overall, and how to turn waste into energy.  

Marc Johnson spearheaded the formation of the 13-member task force. We asked him why he felt it was necessary.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we don’t offer composting services in our county, so that the only place we have to put food scraps is in the landfill,” he said. “I also think we need to really concentrate in adopting a zero-waste policy at the municipal level. We recycle paper, but then some offices don’t bother to actually purchase recycled paper. We need to close the loop.”

In May 2010, The DeKalb County Board voted 16-8 to expand the landfill, allowing it to take in 1,500 tons of waste per day, up from the current 300 tons per day. 

“Soon we will be taking in more garbage than ever before. We can help counteract that by decreasing the amount of garbage we are going to create,” Johnson said. “We have a high rate of recycling, but recycling costs money and energy, and at the end of the day we still have quite a significant amount of waste.”

Johnson said he was “a bit” surprised that the vote to create the Zero Waste Task Force was unanimous.

“I was met with resistance initially, but after talking to the board members about reducing the amount of waste that DeKalb County produces, they didn’t want to say anything against it,” he said.

He said he was first turned on to zero-waste policies by Boulder, Colo., which passed a zero-waste resolution in 2005. Boulder’s Hazardous Materials Management Facility serves more than 100 businesses and 10,000 residential customers. It initially raised sales tax 0.1 percent and added a trash collection fee of $3.50 per residential customer.

“They have been successful in bringing down the amount of waste per capita to a large degree,” he said. “In our county, we are dumping three times as much garbage per capita as Boulder.”

We asked if taxes will be raised in adopting a zero-waste policy in the county.

“Boulder created hundreds of jobs and pulls in $7 million (a year) as a direct result of their zero-waste policies,” he said. “These facilities are self sustaining and pay for themselves so there are no costs, but benefits to the county overall by generating revenue and jobs in the county.”

Green Scene is written by Renee Kopulos and Linda Yates, members of a citizens group working with the City of DeKalb Citizens Environmental Commission. Contact them at, with “GreenScene” in the subject line. The Environmental Commission next meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St., DeKalb.

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