Over the past 50 years, our consumption of natural resources has increased by about 190 percent. Much of this consumption occurs in the production of everyday consumer goods (such as furniture, clothing, and food). Unfortunately, the lifecycle of most of those goods follows a path that could be best described as “take, make, waste”— natural resources are taken to make goods and disposed of after usage. At the same time, the demand for goods continues to grow along with Washington, DC’s increasing population. To address growing challenges in managing waste, the District will have to not only reduce waste at the source but also develop systems and infrastructure to recover the value of unwanted goods. Creating a more sustainable system will require a new perspective: unwanted goods are not waste but simply wasted resources.
Sustainable DC was the first pronouncement of the District’s bold waste diversion goal: divert at least 80 percent of our waste away from landfill and waste-to-energy by 2032. While recycling is relatively convenient, many residents lack confidence in knowing how to sort their waste. ZeroWasteDC, a joint program of DOEE and DPW, is focused on helping residents understand “what goes where” for all materials.
Sustainable DC 2.0’s actions on waste have real benefits for Washington, DC at all levels:
Individual: Individuals have a role to play in reducing waste at its source by taking actions like eliminating single-use plastics and embracing reuse. Reducing waste at its source will mean less waste polluting the District neighborhoods, parks and waterways, enhancing the desire for communities to make use of their community assets.
Neighborhood: Communities will benefit from clean, litter-free streets and access to clean and attractive green spaces.
District: Seeing our waste as a commodity can help grow a local circular economy by providing additional streams of income for local residents and providing materials for growing local enterprises. By separating the District’s waste into identifiable clean waste streams that can be used in the manufacturing of new products, we conserve natural resources, reduce greenhouse gases, and can spur innovation in reuse to help create local businesses.
Sustainable DC Waste Goals
- Reduce waste generated per capita in the District
- Facilitate local reuse and recovery of materials to capture their economic and social value
- Achieve zero waste citywide.
In the five years since the first Sustainable DC Plan, there has been a dramatic shift in how we think about our discarded materials—not as trash but as potentially valuable resources. The District Government created an Office of Waste Diversion within the Department of Public Works (DPW) which now publishes an annual waste diversion report. District Council passed several significant new laws: banning the use of expanded polystyrene containers (commonly known as Styrofoam), banning electronics from our waste stream, and adding a fee to the distribution of disposable bags. The District Government has also established new programs to sustainably manage waste including a program for producers to take responsibility for old paint and used electronics and a city-wide food waste composting drop-off program. Through an interagency effort, the District Government launched Zero Waste DC, which developed a universal list of recyclable and compostable items. This universal list has helped reduce residents’ confusion as to how to properly sort their waste. Moving forward, the District Government is also scoping out a comprehensive Zero Waste DC Plan that will examine the programs, initiatives, and plans that contribute to the diversion of waste in the District. The plan will tie together existing activities and inform the development and evaluation of further policies.
In 2017, the District's Office of Waste Diversion implemented food waste drop-offs at farmers' markets in each Ward. Compost Cab is conducting the collection and composting of the food scraps. While many of the drop-offs close for the winter as the farmers' markets do, three drop-offs stay open year-round. In 2018 alone, the city collected over 340,000 pounds of food scraps that were composted.
Read the entire Waste section below, or read the whole plan here.
Interested in creating or finding a career in these fields? Read more about available jobs and job training pathways here.
There are ways to take action at home and in your community. Learn more here.
Want to volunteer with SDC as we work towards sustainability in a local circular economy? Find out how here.
lxv: Department of Public Works; lxvii: Department of Public Works; all as cited in Sustainable DC 2.0.