Austin has announced plans for a 90% reduction in waste output by the year 2040. In a light vein, they refer to their program as "Zero Waste... or Pretty Darn Close". I find this initiative to be quite interesting, of course. Now, Austin is known as the most enlightened of Texas' major urban centers, and the center of their technology industries, so it is not surprising that Austin would be one of the leaders in setting a Zero Waste goal, but to be honest, I am astounded that a city could seriously set such a goal, seeing how hard it is to make solid and liquid wastes just "disappear".
So, is this a real goal? Yes and no. I suspect that Austin will end up happy with, say, a 50% or 60% reduction in waste; in this view, they are setting the bar high just to get people, including themselves, moving forward at a good pace. There is a good deal of initial thought and planning going on, indeed.
Here are some essential links pointing to this effort:
Draft proposal for Zero Waste Austin (MS Word document)
Home Page for "Austin's Future: Zero Waste"
The current plans, developed by a consultant, are still somewhat general and involve pushing part of the responsibility for the waste cuts onto county governments and business.
After careful reading, these are the major components of the actual waste reduction:
1) Reduce, reuse, recycle - increase all of these by increasing fees for waste disposal for both private residents and commercial haulers; use the extra income to fund other aspects of the Zero Waste plan
2) Compost - set up pilot programs and operational locations, especially in educational institutions and appropriate business locations with sufficient useable space
3) Prohibit products with excessive or wasteful packaging
4) Provide educational opportunities to raise awareness of how individuals, businesses, and other institutions can comply with Zero Waste goals
There appear to be some flaws in the plan, primarily those that start with the word "Ask". The draft plan includes "asking" businesses and counties within Austin to comply with the Zero Waste goals, including all the steps needed to reach that goal. Since there will be some significant costs to get this program underway at every level, it is not clear how many of these entities, whether commercial or governmental, will comply with the goals. As of this initial draft, there appear to be no mandates imposed on counties inside Austin, and some significant but not all-inclusive mandates that will be imposed on businesses.
There is also no mention of the one effective means of eliminating plastics and some other difficult forms of waste: high-temperature combustion (which breaks down all the toxic materials in plastic). Some form of combustion would be necessary in order to come close to eliminating waste plastic.
Will this plan, if and when finalized, significantly reduce pollution and save energy? No doubt of it. Will it achieve a 90% reduction in waste volume as targeted for the year 2040? Maybe. There is a good deal of time built in to this plan to get the policies right, but it will require additional thinking and successful actions to achieve the high goal being set, and some major investments in the new way of doing things.