Eureka is trying to limit the waste it sends to the landfill by creating a zero waste action plan.
The city and consultants Zero Waste Humboldt launched the planning process at a meeting attended by dozens at the Adorni Center on Wednesday night where locals had the opportunity to give their feedback on what the city could do to encourage both residents and businesses to reduce waste.
Maggie Gainer, a Zero Waste Humboldt board member, said the goal is to create a circular economy where waste materials that are recycled can be reused as raw materials by industry instead of being shipped to poorer countries that are increasingly refusing to accept waste from the West as their standards become as stringent as countries like the U.S.
“We had an easy out for a while,” Gainer said. “Garbage is like water, it runs to the point of least resistance and that means the poorest countries in the world. What we don’t sort here, we’ll have people under horrible conditions sorting now in Malaysia, Vietnam.”
Those who attended the meeting had the opportunity to write their suggestions regarding what the city could do to reduce waste in terms of getting youth involved, passing local ordinances and working with manufacturers who could get their raw materials from what the county recycles.
Suggestions included opening up a government-run compost waste pickup; supporting small businesses that can use the county’s recycled waste as raw material; working with Eureka City Schools to limit waste; and educating residents on proper waste disposal.
A lot of people are throwing things that aren’t recyclable, such as coffee cups, and difficult-to-recycle items, such as plastic straws, in with their recycling. That cross-contamination ends up leading to more waste ending up in the landfill, Gainer said.
“When in doubt, throw it out,” Gainer said.
Several of the residents who attended the meeting said they were already trying to live a zero waste lifestyle and that more needed to be done on a larger level to fix the situation.
Mandy Hackney, of Arcata, said she attended the meeting because she wanted to learn new tricks and tips she could use to reduce waste, but that she already knew most of the information that was presented in three videos about how to personally reduce waste.
“I feel like this was like the beginner level,” Hackney said. “I think they need an intermediate and expert level.”
Hackney said she faced some practical challenges when trying to implement some of the advice in the videos, such as bringing your own containers and having the clerks pre-weigh them before you fill them in the bulk section so the weight of the container is not part of the cost.
“But Winco doesn’t do that,” Hackney said. “Winco’s the cheapest place to shop bulk, so am I going to pay extra or go for the plastic?”
Denise Newman, of Freshwater, also said she does her best to live a zero-waste lifestyle, but that the city could do more to hold restaurants accountable.
“When you order a drink, you shouldn’t expect a plastic straw to come and then it’s my problem,” Newman said.
But it’s not just the restaurants. Newman said some stores have started using thicker plastic bags they call reusable now that single-use plastic bags are banned in the state.
“People’s behaviors haven’t changed,” Newman said. “They’re still being used, I think, in the same way.”
Hackney and Newman said increasing awareness and education about refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling was essential to curbing waste. Hackney said if people are confused about what does and doesn’t go in the recycling, “why not make a list?”
“And attach it to the surface of every garbage can,” Hackney said.
The city is still seeking input from residents about what it can do to get the city to zero waste as it develops its zero waste plan. To submit your comments, you can email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, call 707-441-4206, or take a survey at www.gozeroeureka.org.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.