Sustainable D.C.


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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers some disturbing facts on U.S. food waste: Each person throws away about one pound of food waste every day, generating about 30 million tons of food waste annually, or about 12 percent of the total waste stream. Only 2 percent of that food waste is composted, whereas in comparison, some 67 percent of yard waste is reused. Discovery reports that food waste, much of which is due to avoidable spoilage of fresh produce, is equal to throwing out $17 billion annually. 

A number of innovative cities have instituted zero-waste policies (meaning no waste to landfills). San Francisco is aiming at becoming zero waste by 2020. In addition to recycling and compositing efforts, San Francisco is banning plastic bags and Styrofoam, encouraging donations, and asking producers to make recycling and reuse easier. 

Set clear, ambitious targets and deadlines for achieving zero waste in the District and measure progress against targets. Like San Francisco and Palo Alto, develop a robust waste action plan that leverages compost for urban agriculture, including rooftop farms. Enact waste rules that create fines for homes and offices that don’t recycle and compost. Recognize businesses that are voluntary early adopters in these efforts with “Best Zero-Waste Places to Work” or similar certificates. Promote zero-waste policies throughout the District. 

Traditional ways of constructing buildings create pollution and waste. Building materials contain vast amounts of embedded energy. According to Architecture 2030, building construction and materials account for 5.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, while exact numbers aren’t available, trucks and cranes transporting and installing materials at construction sites produce considerable amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Typically, materials from torn-down buildings and sites are carted off to the landfill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says only 40 percent of building and construction material is now “recycled, reused, or sent to waste-to-energy facilities, while the remaining 60 percent of the materials is sent to landfills.” Many sustainable architects, landscape architects, and construction firms are now moving towards a more sustainable construction process to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

In a sustainable reconstruction, building materials are reused or recycled, dramatically reducing waste. For example, a new park can be created out of old building materials. Once the materials have been separated, some are kept at the construction site and reprocessed. Reclaimed soils, concrete rubble, glass, wood, and steel can be reused or recycled to serve new functions, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process. With climate change, any new construction methods that help landscape architects avoid producing additional emissions are a major benefit both to the project and society as a whole. 

Ensure all building materials are reused in new buildings (if the materials are non-hazardous). Like Chicago, invest in building material reuse exchanges and also create a new park material reuse exchange.

Parks, like any man-made landscape, generate yard or grounds waste. It should be a matter of practice that park waste is composted and reused, perhaps for urban agriculture projects on rooftops within the District. 

Use Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) guidelines for park maintenance and eliminate grounds waste generated from Washington, D.C., parks through composting. Reuse compost in urban farms within the District.

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