Texas Campaign for the Environment Strives for Zero Waste
It’s a routine most people are familiar with: on a designated day, we push our garbage and recycling bins to the curb or alleyway, and then a sanitation truck comes by, empties our bins, and a week’s worth of trash magically disappears from our lives. However, following the trail of our trash from the curbside will reveal a less rosy scenario.
“Some of the highest points in Dallas-Fort Worth are landfills,” says Corey Troiani, DFW regional program director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE). “More than a third of the monitored landfills in Texas now are on record as having leaking liners, so rainwater generates leaching of chemicals into the groundwater. There’s no real solution to fixing those leaks, because we don’t have the engineering capacity to do it.”
Since 1991, TCE has been doing grassroots advocacy work to change corporate and governmental laws through sustained canvassing campaigns. They work at the municipal and state level and can boast of myriad achievements in all areas of sustainability, but they believe zero waste starts with changing the mindsets of everyday residents. “People should really think about their purchases, especially when it’s something they absolutely don’t need,” Troiani says. He suggests repairing and reusing items whenever possible. While people might think they are doing their part by recycling, he notes it’s best to not generate so much waste in the first place.
“There are the three R’s—reduce, reuse, recycle—but when we’re talking about zero waste, we’re not saying, ‘Let’s get everybody a recycle bin to make sure they recycle as many water bottles as they can.’ We’re focused on systemic changes so people are changing their lifestyles,” he says. “That includes preparing in the morning to pack a reusable water bottle and bring a lunch, and to not give in to what corporations have made so convenient for us. It all begins with thinking about the impact that we have on our environment and where our waste goes.”
Other zero waste and near-zero waste accomplishments by TCE include getting laws passed in Texas that require major computer manufacturers including Dell, Apple and Toshiba to voluntarily recycle computers from their consumers. “There are now programs that make it easy for consumers to return those computers to those manufacturers, and they would ensure that they were recycled,” Troiani says.
In June, TCE convinced the city of Dallas to pass a local ordinance requiring all apartments with eight or more units to offer recycling to their tenants. In addition, Austin’s TCE branch successfully rallied for compost bins that accept food scraps and yard waste. The group has also worked diligently to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic bags at grocery stores.
“Austin had a plastic bag ban ordinance, and we helped direct an aggressive campaign in Dallas to pass a similar ordinance, this one requiring a five-cent fee on bags to reduce use. But then the city got sued over that ordinance, and ended up dropping it,” Troiani explains. “Shortly after, the city of Laredo’s plastic bag ordinance was challenged and went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.”
Although the Texas Supreme Court ruled that per Texas state law, municipalities couldn’t enact laws restricting single-use plastic bags, thus overruling local plastic bag ordinances, TCE is still fighting on the local front, pressuring retailers to not bring back single-use plastic bags. “In the upcoming legislative session, we will continue this fight in either repealing that interpretation that cities cannot have these rules or passing another law that carves out exemptions for restricting single-use plastic bags,” Troiani says.
For more information about Texas Campaign for the Environment, visit TexasEnvironment.org.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.