Seattle shoots for zero waste

  @FortuneMagazine October 31, 2013: 7:10 AM ET
MET18 landfill

Seattle trash heads for the landfill.

(Fortune)

Despite our best intentions, America remains a disposable society. In 2011 we generated 250 million tons of garbage, nearly double the amount in 1970. Over the same period the number of dumps in the U.S. dropped from 20,000 to 1,900, and many municipalities privatized trash hauling, leading to higher dumping fees. According to the National Solid Wastes Management Association, the average cost of dumping is about $44 a ton, compared with $8.20 in 1985. Another way to look at it: We waste $7 billion a year on trash.

Some forward-looking cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are working with the private sector to reduce the negative impact of landfills and to cut costs by aiming for what's called zero waste. It's a stretch target, but getting anywhere near it would be a big improvement over the status quo. The national average for recycling is only 35%.

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