Four strategies on the road to zero waste

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Sierra Club’s August Educational Forum on Zero Waste was hosted by members Sally Dannemiller, Marie Kocoshis and Jeanne Nightingale with guest panelist Colleen McSwiggen, director of the Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub.

What is “Zero Waste”? We can define “zero waste” as the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health. We must systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials to conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Bob Gedert, National Recycling Coalition president, sees Zero Waste as a visionary goal that is at once ethical, economical, and efficient. We must design our products so we no longer need to dispose of them through landfills and incinerators. The concept of Zero Waste serves to guide us as we modify our choices to emulate the sustainable cycles of Nature. When all discarded materials are pre-designed to become resources for further use, we create a Circular Economy.

Four pathways towards Zero Waste:

1. Stop single-use plastic pollution (Jeanne)

We can all agree that the Earth’s living ecosystem is being choked by plastic waste. Single-use plastic litters our neighborhoods and clogs our waste streams, stormwater systems, landfills, rivers, and oceans. We’re eating plastic for dinner! The very production of plastic is accelerating climate change. As a culture, we’re are fatally hooked on plastic.

Past Plastic Cincinnati Coalition is a grassroots campaign pioneered by UC students and spearheaded by the Miami Group 12 years ago. Now, 20 organization members strong, chaired by Marie Kocoshis, PPCC meets monthly to engage and educate the public about runaway plastic consumption and its hidden costs to human and ecological health. In efforts to shift the culture, we distribute reusable bags at markets, fairs, festivals, and parades. We successfully lobbied City Council to pass an ordinance in 2020 banning single-use plastic bags in Cincinnati. The ban was permanently blocked however by state law in 2021 prohibiting fees and taxes from being levied on all plastic auxiliary containers in Ohio municipalities.

2. Enact a five-year solid waste plan (Sally & Marie)

The Hamilton County Solid Waste District is required to update its Solid Waste Plan every five years. On August 7, 2022, the Hamilton County Solid Waste Policy Committee submitted a draft plan to the OEPA. While the OEPA is starting its review, the Policy Committee has been working on important revisions to that plan. A group composed of local citizens and non-profit groups, including the Sierra Club Miami Group, called the Solid Waste Caucus (SWC), has been reviewing the plan and helping to get revisions in place in order to move our county forward on waste diversion.

The caucus is advocating for: universal trash collection, universal access to recycling and universal access to organics (yard waste and food scrap) collection. Organics currently make up about 27 percent of the landfill material. The caucus is also pressing for an increased tipping fee for out of district waste haulers. That out of district trash is roughly 56 percent of what goes in our landfills.

Rumpke’s landfill is one of the largest in the country and by far the biggest landfill in Ohio. It contains 63 million tons of waste and the capacity to add another 100 million tons according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Rumpke produces more methane than any other landfill in the nation. This is due to unnecessary dumping of organic material in the landfill.

If you would like to add your voice, please attend the next Solid Waste Policy Committee meeting on September 21 at 3 PM. Further information can be gained at the SWC meetings held every Tuesday or the SCMG Conservation Committee on the second Wednesday of the month. 

3. Visit the Cincinnati Reuse & Recycle Hub (Colleen)

As managing director of the hub, Colleen McSwiggen coordinates all events, logistics and day-to-day operations. Colleen listed all the recyclable items the hub will take for free or for a fee, through Terracycle or through zero landfill. The facility, located at 911 Evans St., is open on Thursdays & Saturdays. Hours may vary.

Park in the gated lot on Woodrow Street off Gest Street. For a list of recyclable items, go to: for updates.

4. Join Findlay Market’s Residential Composting Program (Jeanne)

This new program keeps organic material out of land fill by distributing processed compost throughout nearby landscape. Since the system is commercial (not industrial), the program accepts plant material only (no meat or dairy). The market received two grants to expand the program: The Ohio EPA Recycling Grant, and a Hamilton County Waste Reduction Innovation Grant.

— Jeanne Nightingale

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