SWEEP to Transform Solid Waste Policy

By Susan Robinson, Co-Chair of SWEEP and Sr. Director of Sustainability at Waste Management

SWEEP, the Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol, is a standard whose time has come!

The solid waste and recycling industry in the United States is truly a local one.  Services are established largely by policies established by local government.

Either city staff or private companies provide recycling collection and/or processing services.  In both instances, local government determines what the services will be included and how they will be carried out

Organics?  E-Waste?  Household Hazardous Waste?  Each city decided how to handle these materials and they are handled differently across the country.

And how do households and businesses pay for these services?

The list goes on…. Does the community require the use of low carbon Natural Gas Vehicles for collection in their community?  Do they want recycling to be mandatory or voluntary?  What about bans for disposal?

When all of these variables are considered, not two communities in the U.S. have the same solid waste and recycling services.

This hodgepodge of policies leads to a vast range of services that make up our industry.  While it is a diverse industry, it is one that provides a valuable public service, and service providers are constantly striving to improve the quality of their services.

SWEEP seeks to create a common benchmark that cities can use to establish a standard for improvement.  Absent some common criteria, our jumbled approach to solid waste management may move towards efficiency and environmental excellence.  Or it may not – at least not in a uniform way.

In shaping the outline for SWEEP’s standards, we recognized the importance of the role of policy.  Without it, our programs wouldn’t exist.  Importantly, there is a trend towards officially recognizing the need for policies around environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria.  Sustainability programs across the globe are understanding the value of evaluating ESG principles.

Standards that drive beyond any single solution, and towards improving our efforts for GHG emissions reductions, lifecycle thinking, labor practices, safety, and community engagement will all ensure that our solid waste and recycling programs reflect each communities’ commitment to their programs.  Providing standards for improvement is exactly how we will make these improvements in a highly fragmented industry.

SWEEP’s standards will evolve and improve; but they play an important role in starting the effort to provide clear guidelines for how to ensure continuous improvement in our industry in communities across the U.S., North America, and the globe.

Policy is a statement of intent and can provide the impetus for later action. For this reason, SWEEP will be emphasizing a good policy foundation for sustainable waste management practices and elements of sustainable materials management policy in its initial iterations. Indeed, the first section in SWEEP is called Sustainable Materials Management Policy (SMMP).

The SMMP section has one Prerequisite and eight Credits. Prerequisites are required elements for SWEEP certification and, for this reason, deserve special attention by a jurisdiction that wishes to certify.

The SMMP Prerequisite requires that all certifying municipalities adopt a comprehensive sustainable materials management policy. Although each jurisdiction can have elements of this policy that are unique to its policy goals and particulars of local markets the prerequisite outlines certain key elements that must be contained in such a policy, for example: environmental procurement rules, material separation, Energy and environmental performance standards for collection vehicles, resident and employee education and information programs, etc.

Other key policies listed under SMMP include:

–Materials processing infrastructure and market development (Support economic development by increasing local and/or regional processing infrastructure and markets for recovered materials)

–Adoption of diversion and recycling goals (Exceed national average diversion by 10-20%)

–Regular waste characterization and generation studies (Conduct waste characterization and diversion studies every 5 years at most)

–Advanced comprehensive sustainable materials management policy (For example include programs for organics, contamination standards for incoming waste and outgoing bales at MRFs, landfill material bans)

–Solid waste greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint reduction (Demonstrate 20%+ reduction in GHG from a 2015 baseline)

–Source reduction policy market-based waste management program policy (Adopt Pay-as-You-Throw and other market-based policies and programs)

–Comprehensive public participation in MSW program development

 

The SMMP section rewards the existence of municipal policies, but not their execution or performance measurement. Performance toward adopted policies is recorded and rewarded in other sections of the standard. This will be the subject of future articles.

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