Is Palo Alto suddenly going too green? Maybe. And in its haste this past week to achieve a nearly “Zero Waste” goal for the city by 2021, some council members are not even asking about how much green cash residents will have to fork out to achieve this zero goal.
In its enthusiasm to be environmentally correct, the majority of the City Council approved going forward with a several hundred-page “Zero Waste Operational Plan” presented to them Monday night by Public Works Director Glenn Roberts.
The costs of such a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional plan were hardly mentioned, nor did the majority of council members (Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, LaDoris Cordell, Jack Morton, Peter Drekmeier and Judy Kleinberg) who voted for going ahead with the entire plan seem to pay attention the cost.
“Staff has asked us to give them the marching orders (toward zero waste planning) and I say go ahead,” said Morton.
The prevailing philosophy seemed to be if it’s green it’s got to be good.
Right now about 63 percent of our trash is saved from landfills through recycling and other means. Not too shabby. And I certainly agree we can and should do a lot more to sensibly cut down on our waste.
But I have always been skeptical of an idealistic “Zero Waste” concept. And, at the very least, I want to know how much it will cost to ban plastic bags and polystyrene food containers, mandate recycling, get the city involved in food waste collection, force the business community to recycle more, sort all our trash, and a host of other efforts.
For one thing, Roberts told the council that the more that is recycled, the costlier it will be. Diverting our waste from the landfill will continue to increase. And refuse disposal rates are going up. By 2011, our garbage rates could go up 17 percent.
Right now, a few specific policies such as banning plastic bags and mandating recycling will have to go to the council.
But what should have happened rather than blanket endorsement of a several hundred-page plan, is a series of step-by-step council discussions and votes on the policies and the costs of implementing those zero waste policies. It’s fine to go green, but certainly not before the council exercises its fiduciary responsibilities.