Palo Alto is getting greener, or at least trying to. Zero Waste, a City of Palo Alto initiative, aims to reduce trash and educate Palo Altans on composting. While the concept of reducing trash is commonly accepted, the method by which this goal is achieved leaves citizens wondering if the cost really adds up.
As of July 1, Palo Alto residents received an additional compost container, in which residents could store food scraps before disposing of them in the larger container for yard trimmings. This container features a “strong, rugged closure,” “many grips” and a “removable lid.” The manufacturer also promises that the container provides “maximum odor control.” These compost buckets retail for $14.95, a hefty price for a vessel for food scraps. While the City of Palo Alto most likely paid less than $14.95 per household, considering the population of Palo Alto, the price of a compost container can quickly add up, especially when a cheap bucket could have done the same job.
Much controversy has stirred regarding the “maximum odor control” claim. Given the holes on the lid, odors can easily permeate an entire kitchen. It is not practical to expect residents to place smelly food scraps that can attract bugs and mold on a kitchen counter, in close proximity to meals are prepared. Thus, residents must purchase special biodegradable bags to line their containers.
Zero Waste alternatively suggests that residents place their buckets in the freezer to minimize smell. However, that odor could just as easily permeate frozen food as well. Also, placing the bucket outside is not plausible, as it could easily attract pets, squirrels or raccoons to one’s backyard.
While saving the environment may seem a worthwhile cause, the Zero Waste initiative is not cheap, considering the minor impact compost has in comparison with reducing water waste or planting trees. According to the Palo Alto Weekly, the City of Palo Alto will spend $387,000 on the new buckets and educational materials alone this year. The program itself will cost an additional $532,000 per year. It is also interesting to note that in June the city passed a measure increasing trash prices by nine percent in the next year and eight percent in the two years to follow. So, despite reducing their trash, citizens are expected to pay more for the city to pick up trash they do not create.
To accompany the implementation of the new compost containers, Zero Waste designed pamphlets to educate citizens about their new buckets. A glossy, colored labels adorn the front of the container, featuring compostable food items. These pictures depict items like banana peels, fish bones, pizza boxes (although how someone could fit a pizza box in the small box is beyond me), and several other indecipherable items.
If this sticker is attempting to encourage residents to compost, they should at least be able to understand the items pictured. The information on the pamphlets is basic and is an unnecessary cost for the program. Additional glossy, colored mailers were included with the container. While also extremely costly, these redundant and self-explanatory pamphlets contribute to the waste that the city claims to be reducing. The information contained in these flyers was pictures that are easily accessible on the Internet.
[pullquote speaker=”” photo=”” align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]The program itself will cost an additional $532,000 per year for the forseeable future.[/pullquote]
Instead, the City of Palo Alto could have directed residents to a website, saving considerable amounts of paper and cost. The comprehensive website linked on the City of Palo Alto webpage seems to overlap much of the information contained in the expensive and wasteful pamphlets.
The manner in which the Zero Waste initiative was instituted will not motivate enough residents to participate. Those who already compost in their own backyards will find no problem switching to a convenient container and curbside pickup.
According to an Aug. 21 email sent from the environmental outreach manager of GreenWaste of Palo Alto to the Palo Alto Weekly, only 60 percent of citizens were utilizing the new compost program. However, for those who have yet to hop on the compost bandwagon, the new policy leaves much to be desired. Those who already compost will continue to compost, but the city must improve its current course for the Zero Waste initiative to truly catch on for all citizens.