In Support of Municipal Zero Waste Principles and a Hierarchy of Materials Management

Adopted at the 83rd Annual Meeting in 2015

  • WHEREAS, solid waste management is one of those most basic of services that a city must provide to its residents, and cities and local government entities exclusively bear the operational and financial burdens of sustainable municipal solid waste management; and

    WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors has a long history of supporting the principles of sustainable waste management and of endorsing programs and initiatives that promote them; and

    WHEREAS, examples of this support include a host of policy resolutions adopted by the United States Conference of Mayors, particularly over the past 25 years, including resolutions in 1990, 1993 and again in 2005 supporting comprehensive solid waste management; 1993 and 1994 resolutions supporting composting; a 1997 resolution in support of Recycling at Work; resolutions in 1994 and 2000 supporting shared manufacturer responsibility for waste reduction; resolutions in 2010 endorsing Extended Producer Responsibility for Products and"Closing the Recycling Loop - Affirmative Sustainable Procurement Program;" a 2012 resolution supporting Extended Producer Responsibility for Mattresses; and a 2014 resolution supporting the Donation of Used Goods to Legitimate Local Nonprofits as a Means of Contributing to Local Economies and Diverting Items from Landfills; and

    WHEREAS, while progress has been made, today the United States as a whole still generates an estimated 251 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) each year, recovering only 87 million tons, or 34% of that amount, through recycling and composting - a mere fraction of the recyclable/compostable amount; and

    WHEREAS, the majority of MSW - 135 million tons in 2012 - ends up in landfills, generating significant amounts, as it decomposes, of methane - the second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the United States - among other adverse environmental impacts; and

    WHEREAS, Increasing the amount of MSW recycled and/or composted could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and contribute billions to the economy; and

    WHEREAS, the energy intensity of extracting virgin materials for product manufacturing is an order of magnitude higher than that of recovering the same material through recycling - to wit, it takes 10.4 million Btu to manufacture products from a ton of recyclables, compared to 23.3 million Btu for virgin materials; and

    WHEREAS, additional concerns arise from the inefficient routing of waste, and in some cases the long-hauling of waste for low-value disposal methods - which result in increased energy use, greater emissions and increased road and traffic impacts; and

    WHEREAS, the concept of zero waste goes beyond recycling and composting at the end of a product's life cycle, to encompass the entire life cycle of a product, beginning with product design, and envisioning the use and management of materials in ways that preserve value, minimize environmental impacts, and conserve natural resources; and

    WHEREAS, materials management through zero waste can begin to shift the fiscal burden of waste and empower industry to embrace resource responsibility by rewarding stewardship through purchasing and economic development incentives; and

    WHEREAS, while cities and other local and regional government entities across the country have adopted a variety of ambitious plans and strategies aimed at increasing diversion rates, there is no one set of universally adopted principles or guidelines that guides the development of these plans and strategies; and

    WHEREAS, furthermore, while cities and local government entities bear the operational and financial burden of sustainable municipal solid waste management, in many instances state and federal legislative actions can significantly enhance cities' abilities to work successfully toward zero waste; and

    WHEREAS, while industry and the federal government have variously defined and categorized zero waste strategies, it behooves the nation's cities, with primary responsibility for waste management, to devise a definition that encourages shared fiscal responsibility and legislative innovations,

    NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors adopts a definition of Zero Waste, and set of Zero Waste principles, that recognizes a Hierarchy of Material Management as follows:

    • Extended Producer Responsibility and Product Redesign
    • Reduce Waste, toxicity, Consumption, and Packaging
    • Repair, Reuse and Donate
    • Recycle
    • Compost
    • Down Cycle and Beneficial Reuse
    • Waste-Based Energy as disposal
    • Landfill Waste as disposal, and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors calls upon the federal and state governments to recognize the rights of local governments to enact ordinances that support strategies to reduce waste in their local communities, as part of a comprehensive zero waste strategy; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors actively supports a system where producers minimize waste during product design and take responsibility for the reuse and/or recycling of these used products; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors calls upon the various partners in the food industry to work with the federal government and other stakeholders to minimize food waste through education about food expiration dates and other strategies; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors calls upon Congress and the Administration to design tax incentives, legislative and other strategies that incentivize the use of recycled over virgin materials in the manufacture of products and product packaging, as well as the local handling and management of solid waste; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors encourages cities that have not already done so to work toward the adoption a similar set of zero waste principles in their own communities.

    Projected Cost: Unknown

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