In hopes of encouraging Boston to improve its green economy and recycling rates to levels of zero waste, a group of environmental advocates and experts have teamed up to provide city officials a set of recommendations to meet certain environmental goals.
The group, called the Zero Waste Task Force, released the recommendations in a City Hall meeting on Tuesday. The plan calls for Boston to reach a 90 percent recycling rate by 2040 by engaging the community in a planning process involving diverting more organic waste from landfills and supporting development for recycling and zero waste businesses.
“Within the first year, we’re looking at really getting the planning process going, getting the stakeholders to the table and committing some funds to the process,” said Tolle Graham, labor and environment coordinator at the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational and Safety Health.
The task force analyzed environmental policies from across the country, particularly cities similar to Boston. They found that cities such as Austin, Texas, Seattle and San Francisco exceed Boston’s recycling rates.
Graham said she believes the reason these numbers so drastically exceed Boston’s recycling rates, which are less than 20 percent residentially and about 30 percent commercially, is that these other cities have more of a commitment to making it happen.
The initial actions will include improving trash collection and recycling, and also improving conditions for the people that actually do the sorting and getting them in compliance with the city’s Living Wage Ordinance, which would raise workers’ salaries to $13.76 an hour as opposed to the $8 or $9 hourly wages that most employees in the field receive, Graham said.
“We feel pretty good about the communication we’ve had this far with the Walsh administration,” she said. “We’re hoping that in the next few weeks, when we meet with them around this document and they finalize their own transition team that we’ll see a lot of similarities.”
Brian Swett, chief of the Office of Environment, Energy and Open Space, said the department is evaluating all of the task force’s recommendations and its transition team will be issuing its own report on the issue. He said the details of the recommendations would be discussed at a later date, and there should be an announcement shortly on some near-term courses of action.
“Recycling is a priority of Mayor Walsh’s and we are an active part of the conversation with members of the community about how important it is to them,” Swett said.
Some Boston environmental groups expressed their support of the task force’s recommendations.
Edward Hsieh, executive director of MassRecycle, stressed the importance of getting all stakeholders involved, including “the actual boots on the ground people who do the recycling work on a regular basis.”
Boston’s low recycling rate can be partially attributed to its unique layout including tight streets and transportation blockage, Hsieh said.
“It’s a challenging city since there are so many different neighborhoods and different types of challenges,” he said.
Some residents said they support an increased recycling initiative, with varying views on how to accomplish it.
Kelly Driscoll, 54, of Beacon Hill, said making recycling more accessible throughout the city will help promote it.
“Some of the things that the city has done and some of the things that employers are doing make it a lot easier for people to get into that habit,” she said, “Separation of recyclable bins at the workplace and trash cans that have places to put water bottles and plastics. Making it easier for people will help cause people to change.”
Leonard Neil, 52, of Beacon Hill, however, said changing attitudes alone will help achieve the same goal and attributes a lack of recycling to longstanding bad habits.
“The younger generation is just being brought up in a way that recycling is good,” he said. “People have done it a lot more in the last 10 years than they used to. It’s just becoming a way of life.”
Nicole Sahim, 34, of Beacon Hill, said the best way to attain the task force’s goal would be regulation.
“We can absolutely get there, especially if it’s required by the city government,” she said. “But I think 2040 is not soon enough.”