Seattle joins other progressive cities like San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver and New York to have composting mandates. Last September, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting food from the city's residential and commercial garbage The ban went into effect on Jan. 1, but fines won't be issued until July. In the meantime, the city has an interesting way to make people compost: shame.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Any establishment—businesses, single family homes, apartments, you name it—with more than 10 percent food or compostable paper in its garbage earns a scarlet letter—in the form of a bright red tag—on their garbage bin. The goal of this public shaming is to warn residents about impending fines and, hopefully, create an even stronger culture of composting in which it is simply the norm. All establishments will have to subscribe to a composting service offered by the city for a fee (just like garbage and recycling), compost their food waste themselves or take the food waste to a processing facility, according to Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).
Why the hard line on composting? SPU estimates that "Seattle sends approximately 100,000 tons of food waste 300 miles to a landfill in Eastern Oregon each year, resulting in higher costs and greenhouse gas emissions."According to the Environmental Protection Agency, organic materials continue to be the largest source of municipal solid waste—more than plastic, paper, metal or glass. SPU believes the food waste law will "divert 38,000 tons of food scraps from the landfill via composting, thus helping the city achieve its goal of recycling and composting 60 percent of its waste by 2015."
Seattle has long been a leader in the U.S. for its recycling and composting programs. Seattle has had curbside food waste collection since 2005. In 2007, the city adopted a zero waste resolution with the goal of diverting 70 percent of its waste to recycling and composting by 2030. Then, in 2009, Seattle required all residential properties to subscribe to food and yard waste collection or participate in backyard composting. Seattle businesses where customers discard single use packaging have been required to provide recycling and composting bins since 2009, as well. Multi-family buildings have been required to provide compost collection service for their residents since 2011. The city has also prohibited recyclables in the garbage since 2005, but now, instead of just leaving the garbage on the curb as collectors have done for the last decade, the city will be issuing fines.
So the new mandate is not some giant leap. Recycling and composting have been a city-wide practice for years. But there has been no way to really regulate whether recyclable and compostable items are being properly sorted until now. Beginning in July, non-compliant, single-family residences will receive a $1 fine on their bi-monthly garbage bill. Multi-family and commercial properties will receive a warning notice. After the third notice, they will receive a $50 fine.
Maybe you're wondering: Why the need for tags and fines? With some of the strictest recycling and composting laws in the country and some of the most environmentally-minded citizens too, Seattle residents are probably on top of this recycling and composting thing, right?
"Right now, I'm tagging probably every fifth can," Rodney Watkins, a waste contractor for the city, told NPR. "I don't know if that's just the holidays, or the fact that I'm actually paying a lot more attention." Either way, the city wants to achieve its goal of diverting 60 percent of its waste by 2015. It's currently at 56 percent, so city officials are hoping this measure will get them there by the end of the year. According to SPU, citizens are on board, too: 74 percent supported it and only 11 percent were opposed. And the food waste the city collects? It's turned into compost for local parks and gardens.
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By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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