Community Advocacy Guide
DC Draft Zero Waste Framework
|Residents and Businesses: Submit your Comments on the Zero Waste Framework Deadline to submit comments: October 7, 2022 (See below for instructions on how to comment)|
- In 2014, DC set the ambitious “Zero Waste” goal to divert 80% of its food waste away from landfills or incinerators by 2032.
- On August 24, 2022, the Department of Public Works (DPW) released a draft framework for a Zero Waste DC Plan that will help the city achieve Zero Waste by 2032.
- Through October 7, residents and businesses can submit their comments to the draft framework online at: https://publicinput.com/ZWDCPlan
Food waste is the single most prevalent material in the District’s waste stream, representing nearly 20% of all refuse. The vast majority of the District’s food waste goes to incinerator or landfill. The Zero Waste goals for the city play a significant role in changing how the food waste of residents and businesses impact the food system both locally and regionally.
The impact of food on the waste stream goes beyond the food itself, due to the large quantity of materials used for packaging and consuming food, such as food service ware. Single-use items such as bottles, disposable cups, plastic bags, utensils, and takeout containers contribute significantly to the waste stream and are among the most commonly found items at litter cleanups in the District and its rivers.
There are several environmental, pest management, and community benefits that can be achieved through the reduction of food and food packaging waste.
Reducing food waste has important environmental benefits, particularly for climate change. Food waste contributes as much as 8% of global human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which come from the production and transportation of food that is never consumed. When food waste decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, a potent GHG. However, when it is broken down in a controlled environment, such as composting or anaerobic digestion, methane emissions are eliminated. These processes also provide additional environmental benefits such as soil enrichment and carbon sequestration.
Food packaging waste is also harmful to the environment. Many single-use items such as plastic bottles are made from fossil fuels. Food packaging waste is also a large source of litter, which harms local ecosystems; for example, single-use items such as disposable cups, utensils, and takeout containers are among the most commonly found items in the District’s waterways.
Removing food waste from the solid waste stream will address another major problem facing the District: rodents. When food waste is mixed with regular trash, it putrefies, attracting rats and other pests to residential alleys and commercial areas. Reducing food waste production and diverting what is left to a separate, more controlled waste stream is a proven rodent and pest abatement strategy.
Food waste reduction provides numerous community benefits for residents and businesses. We can all reduce food waste by purchasing only as much as we need, which in turn reduces our food costs and limits waste. Businesses and individuals can donate excess edible food to food banks, helping to support emergency feeding operations for residents struggling with food insecurity.
Programs to decrease food waste and food packaging waste also offer opportunities to support the local economy. Unlike recycling, which often takes place far away or even overseas, food waste processing occurs locally, keeping money in the local economy. Programs to decrease food packaging waste can also create opportunities for local business, such as closed-loop services that collect, sanitize, and return reusable food service ware.
The District already leads several programs to achieve these benefits and support food and food packaging waste reduction. These include:
- Home composting incentive program
- Community Composting Hubs
- Food waste drop-off sites at farmers’ markets in each Ward
- A Food Donation Guide for businesses, published by DC Health and DPW
- Food Waste Innovation Grants run by the Department of Small and Local Business Development
- A Ditch the Disposables grant program to support businesses and other institutions transition from disposable to reusable food service ware
- Ban on Styrofoam packaging and plastic straws and a 5-cent tax on plastic bags
- Requirement that certain disposable food service ware be provided only upon request
However, even though these programs have improved the food and food packaging waste in the District, together they still divert only a fraction of the District’s food-related waste.
DPW’s Draft Zero Waste Framework
To achieve its Zero Waste Goals, DPW is engaging with residents, businesses, and other stakeholders to significantly reduce food waste production and determine how to divert more food from incinerator/landfill. DPW’s Draft Zero Waste Framework includes seven goals with 53 associated actions. The proposed actions related to food and food packaging waste are outlined below:
- Goal: Increase Recycling & Composting Participation & Accessibility.
- Implement a universal recycling and composting law that requires all recycling and composting at all public facilities, commercial and institutional buildings, and single-family and multi-family residences.
- Ban the disposal of recyclable and compostable materials to landfill and incineration.
- Pilot and rollout curbside composting (food and yard waste collection) for all DPW-serviced residences.
- Expand the city’s Food Waste Dropoff, Home Composting, and Community Compost Cooperative Network programs. Remove barriers for residents and businesses to use approved onsite organics processing equipment.
- Require retail food stores, restaurants, businesses, schools, and institutions to donate excess and edible food to charitable or nonprofit organizations for redistribution.
- Goal: Establish Resilient Zero Waste Operations & Infrastructure.
- Establish a new organics processing facility (composting, anaerobic digestion, or co-digestion pre-processing) in the District to capture food and other organic waste.
- Goal: Increase Education & Enforcement Community-wide.
- Create educational programs for businesses, institutions, and residents on how to prevent food waste, donate food, obtain liability protection, and follow food storage practices to minimize waste.
- Implement a training, outreach, technical assistance, and certification program to janitorial staff, property managers, and retail food stores on food waste reduction and separation of food waste at commercial and multi-family locations.
- Goal: Protect the Environment for a Cleaner DC.
- Promote the city’s rodent control activities, abatement efforts, and the importance of food scrap composting.
- Goal: Transition From Single-Use Towards Re-Use.
- Remove restrictions to allow customers of food-service businesses to bring reusable food and beverage containers for take-out. Implement refill and reuse policies for take-out containers citywide, including creating a unified reusable food ware program and allowing businesses to offer their own reuse programs.
- Require all food delivery providers operating in the District to, by default, set all delivery orders to “Zero Waste” (no single-use carry-out bags, cutlery, napkins, or condiment packets).
How to Comment
DPW’s Office of Waste Diversion has launched a website to seek feedback from the public on the Zero Waste Framework. This platform allows residents to submit informal comments on each goal. Residents may express support (or opposition) to the potential actions above, as well as recommendations for how to implement them. When writing comments it is best to be specific, reference a goal and/or action and provide your input on how you would change, rewrite, remove, or keep the goal and/or action. If you have a more general comment about the plan, you may also provide input through DPW’s Zero Waste Framework survey. Check out our Instagram Account for sample posts.
The comment period for the draft framework runs from August 24 to October 7, 2022. This period will be followed by community engagement events in October, and another round of public comments on a more finalized draft plan from November 16 to December 30, 2022.
About the DC Food Policy Council
The DC Food Policy Council (FPC) is a coalition of local food leaders and government representatives appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser to promote a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable food system in the District. The FPC creates Advocacy Guides on District food-related policy proposals to educate and inform residents about the policy and how to comment.