Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Diverting Waste Through Uniform Disposal

We've been talking a lot of trash about rats lately, specifically how new uniform trash barrels will help in the war on them. Along with keeping trash out of rats' mouths, the new barrels will likely have another positive effect: cutting down on solid waste.

Somerville is committed to sustainability and the environment, and we’ve set a citywide goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Reducing our solid waste and increasing our recycling are critical to meeting this goal.

Disposing of solid waste means burying it in a landfill or burning it in an incinerator. This requires energy, and the more waste a city produces, the more energy is required to get rid of it. Likewise, manufacturing a product from virgin materials requires energy to source the material (mine the tin or cut down the tree), transport it to a factory, and refine it. Manufacturing the same product from recycled material requires significantly less energy - in some cases, up to 95% less. When less energy is used, less carbon is pumped into the atmosphere, which reduces the negative effects of climate change.
a graph showing the increase in recycling from 2007-2013

The success of Zero-Sort

In September of 2011, we implemented Zero-Sort recycling to reduce our carbon footprint and conserve resources. The big blue barrels we now know and love make it easier for people to recycle everything from newspapers to coffee cans to cereal boxes, all in one place. Since the program began, we’ve seen a significant decrease in solid waste tonnage coupled with a significant increase in recycling. The data we’ve collected show that when you make it easy for people to recycle, they’re more likely to do it.

New uniform trash carts

Building off the success of Zero-Sort, we’ll soon start distributing uniform trash carts for items that can’t be recycled. We’re asking people to set a personal goal of producing no more trash than fits in their one City-issued cart. The cart’s 64-gallon capacity will be about the same as two of the trash barrels you would find at your local hardware store, so it should provide plenty of space for most people.

Time will tell, but examples elsewhere suggest that providing a uniform cart with a reasonable, but limited capacity improves the diversion rate, or the rate at which waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators and instead recycled, reused, or composted. Our recycling rate, a component of the diversion rate, has increased with Zero-Sort, as you can see to the left.

We hope for another increase once people have gotten used to their new carts. We’ll be monitoring how people use them over the coming months and may make changes to the program based on additional data and community feedback.

In addition to hopefully reducing people’s waste output, the new carts will provide other benefits:

  • Their sturdy construction and secure-fitting lids will keep out rodents and result in fewer blown over barrels, keeping our streets clean and attractive on trash days
  • Their standard design will allow them to be picked up more easily, improving worker safety and making collection quicker and more efficient
  • Handles and wheels will make the barrels easier to roll to the curb, even when full (just like the Zero-Sort bins)

Other ways to reduce our solid waste

Of course, we can reduce our solid waste tonnage further by turning yard waste into compost, and by disposing of hazardous waste and e-waste in a responsible manner. We’ve posted tips for what to do with these types of waste in our 2014 Environmental Service Guide.

We’re also taking steps towards making citywide curbside composting a reality. The city of Somerville produces about 5,200 tons of food waste each year (or 130 pounds per resident). The majority of this goes in the trash, making up close to 25% of the city’s total solid waste tonnage. Over the coming months, a recently appointed resident task force will research best practices and make recommendations for a program that will allow us to turn this waste into compost, which requires little energy to produce and can be used for gardening and farming.

We’re excited to see how programs such as uniform trash bins and curbside composting affect our 
solid waste tonnage and diversion rate. Stay tuned for more information on how reducing our solid waste impacts our city’s net greenhouse gas emissions.


  1. Those new trash bins are ginormous, though! Combined with the recycling bins it makes the sidewalks hard to navigate on trash day :( And we never fill that thing up weekly, but it DOES fill up with water when it's left open in the rain after pickup. This article is correct: these do not turn over easily...

  2. I can't believe how well the recycling rates have raised! That is amazing to see the waste disposal going into the right bins. I've been thinking of getting a yard waste removalist to help us with our lawn, bushes, and trees. What are some tips that you'd suggest when they take care of our yard wastes?

  3. Recycling of waste is a much in the present times. The way the quantity of waste being produced by factories in mounting, it cannot be left untreated or merely be dumped in a dumping. Thankfully, we have companies Everything Rubbish which give due importance to recycling while disposing off trash.

  4. Thanks for this article is worth to be shared. It's important to write and share good content like this. Your article is full of interesting and thought provoking materials.

  5. Most often manufacturing companies as well as organizations are looking for the solution on solid waste disposal systems. Through recycling we are able to redefine their structure; but still wondering the percentage of success. Here this article describes some useful and important tips about disposal system; hope it works to deal with waste materials.
    Recycling Project


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