MISSOULA – Two years after approving the initial idea, the Missoula City Council is endorsing a sweeping strategy to put the city at “zero” solid waste within the next 30 years.
And while there are a lot of details still to be developed in the years to come, approving the concept marks the first bold step in that direction.
It was early 2016 when the council adopted a “zero waste” resolution, starting development of the action plan which came back to the council this summer. A lot has changed in the solid waste business during that time, including the expanding issue of plastics buildup in the environment, and China closing its doors to plastics recycling.
“Zero by Fifty” plan coordinator Chase Jones told the council that’s a big, complicated global problem. However, he notes Republic Services still offers curbside recycling, and the local plan could help educate people about not trying to recycle “contaminated” plastics.
“Single stream recycling, which is co-mingled everything in one bin, versus source separated recycling. And it gets into the issue of what this China policy really gets at, and that’s contamination," Jones said. "It’s not plastic that’s the problem. It’s that the plastics that we’re sending, or previously sending to China are contaminated. And it no longer works for them.”
Jones also says the “Zero by Fifty” plan breaks the challenge into parts, such as helping improve access to recycling and “zero waste” options, improving infrastructure, education and city policies. He says that could help not only with the environment and asthetics, but issues like preserving open space by condensing landfill demands
“The current cell has a life and it’s already permitted for extra cells to happen," Jones said. "But those are in the North Hills and would we like that open space to be consumed by the landfill? And everything that we just partially consume and throw away? Or would we like to have that as an option for open space?”
Council members were supportive, although there’s some concern about how the plan will be implemented.
“I think it’s extremely unlikely that there’s going to be a groundswell of changing opinions on waste. And I just wonder if this is merely for the good feelings of having a plan that looks nice," said Missoula City councilwoman Michelle Cares.
However, council members say don’t expect immediate orders to start banning straws and bottles like other cities have done.
Even conservative councilman Jesse Ramos believes it will help open the door for economic growth though private sector involvement.
“As soon as things start to become more profitable and economic I think that we’ll see a greater shift from our society and I think this is a good start,” Ramos said.