Petaluma crafting goal of zero waste by 2030

As the region’s landfills run out of space, the city wants residents to reuse more.|

With nearby landfills expected to reach their capacity in the coming decades, Petaluma officials are pursuing a zero waste goal that could also help lay the foundation for future policies on climate change.

City officials are currently ironing out the details of a resolution that will ask the Petaluma community to reduce its landfill deposits by more than 90% within 11 years by reusing many items.

Petaluma’s garbage is dumped at the Redwood Landfill in Novato, which is expected to reach its permitted capacity in 2032, said Patrick Carter, management analyst for Petaluma’s Public Works and Utilities Department.

An expansion beyond its permitted limit might be possible, he said, but that could lead to future cost increases that would trickle down to households and businesses.

The entire Bay Area will hit its capacity by 2058, according to a 2016 report by CalRecycle, the state agency that regulates landfills.

“That’s not too far in the future,” Carter said. “Just like we’ve done with water conservation and energy efficiency programs when we’re presented with a challenge like that, we’ve found that prevention is more effective than remediation.”

The goal of zero waste is to change the life cycle of resources so everything is reused, and materials are utilized to the best of their abilities, Carter said.

Shopping with reusable bags, using your own containers when purchasing prepared meals, and utilizing canteens when making a cup of coffee or tea at work are the type of low-cost, high-impact habits that have immediate environmental returns, he said.

For City Councilwoman D’Lynda Fischer, who has been practicing the zero waste principles for several years, the biggest leverage point is what you eat and where you eat.

“(Food habits are) probably the biggest change and the one that’s been most effective,” Fischer said. “The consumer has so much power in our society.”

Residents and businesses across Sonoma County sent almost 421,000 tons of waste to landfills in 2016, generating approximately 103,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from decomposing organic matter, according to a report.

Celia Furber, Waste Zero Manager for Recology Sonoma Marin, Petaluma’s garbage hauler, pointed to resources on the company’s website that helps inform customers about waste practices, and how to better distribute items throughout their bins.

One example that residents could take up immediately is tossing food scraps into the green bins, or composting at home.

“That has a huge positive environmental impact,” Furber said.

As the practice of zero waste grows amongst consumers and they begin exercising their purchasing power throughout the market, the idea is it will eventually shift upstream to manufacturers so they can redesign their products and change how they’re delivered, creating a more circular system.

City officials are expected to spur some of those changes later this year with an ordinance banning polystyrene, a hard plastic often made into a foam material for food packaging.

The law would ban any local businesses that sell prepared meals like restaurants and food trucks from using polystyrene foam, Carter said. It would also encourage them to either give a discount to customers that bring reusable containers, or charge a fee to patrons that require a disposable one.

In May, the city council declared a climate emergency, moving the issue of global warming to the highest priority for Petaluma, and set a goal of zero carbon emissions within 25 years.

For some, adopting a zero waste ordinance is progress toward that goal.

“Landfill limitations are not the only reason to get serious about zero waste. Climate change is, too,” said Annie Stuart, a member of Climate Action Petaluma. “This resolution is a step in the right direction, but it’s only the first step.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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