Ten cities leading the way with innovative local action on climate change

    by Gregory Scruggs
    Wednesday, 6 December 2017 09:30 GMT

Members of Aucklands' "Compost Collective" are seen in this undated handout photo by the City of Auckland.

"You must get people on the journey with you, otherwise you’ve got no hope in hell"

SEATTLE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) –  Dar es Salaam, Auckland and the Rocky Mountains city of Fort Collins in the United States were among 10 cities honoured with awards this week for their efforts to reduce carbon emissions at a time when city initiatives are seen as crucial to meeting global climate change targets.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Network, a network serving over 90 cities, and Bloomberg Philanthropies hopes the awards’ will encourage other cities to make their transport systems, energy supplies and waste management more sustainable and adopt similar tactics against climate change.

Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, was hounoured at the C40 Cities Awards 2017 in Chicago for its new bus rapid transit system serving 200,000 people, while Auckland was recognized for engaging communities to reduce waste.

Fort Collins, a small city at the foot of the U.S. Rocky Mountains, was recognized for its climate action plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Other winners included Chicago, Copenhagen, New York City, Phoenix, Mexico City, Washington DC and Wuhan.

“The urgency of the climate challenge facing the world means that we need to be constantly sharing and replicating the best ideas in how cities can shape the future,” said Paris mayor and C40 chair Anne Hidalgo as the awards were handed out the at the North American Climate Summit in Chicago on Monday.

Waste is high on the list of contributors to climate change where cities can play a pivotal role. The World Bank estimates urban garbage will triple by 2100 and will not peak until the end of the century.

In Auckland, New Zealand, the "Waste to Resources" program has developed a way to divert 65 percent of curbside waste to be recovered, re-used or recycled with the ultimate goal of zero waste by 2040. The city says it is the largest transformation of a waste management system in the southern hemisphere.

 “Our ambitious plan for waste minimization reflects the value we place on our environment and seeks to deliver cost-effective services and achieve sustainable growth,” said Mayor Phil Goff.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to Parul Sood, Auckland Council’s general manager of waste solutions, by telephone from Chicago, where she was accepting the award on behalf of her city. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What makes this program the largest waste transformation in the southern hemisphere?

Auckland is a massive city, as we merged seven cities into one in 2010. We now look after about 1.4 million people, or roughly one-third of the country’s population. That means 500,000 households. That’s a big scale on which to bring all city services together and while trying to do that we are striving for zero waste by 2040.

We have an ambitious goal to get from the linear economy – buy, use, and throw away  – to the circular economy. We’ve got leadership within the city council and we’ve found great community champion. There is a change movement around waste.

Who are you working with at the grassroots level on waste issue?

We said let’s go and talk to the people who are actually impacted, not just organizations like EcoMatters who work in that environmental space but also motivated individuals. For example, we run programs on cloth nappies, part of an effort to teach parents how to be waste free. A lady was so motivated by what she heard that she said I want to become a facilitator and educator in this area. Residents start to ask, “How can I make a difference?” They get the waste bug.

What are the major innovations of the “Waste to Resources program”?

We are working toward a three-bin service of garbage, recycling, and organic waste. That’s nothing new, we’re behind the times there. But the interesting bit is the community engagement part of it that I described above.

The other major element is the resource recovery network. Quite a few cities have facilities where people can take their stuff to get recycled, reused, or upcycled, but we have some unique ideas. We look at running them as a social enterprises and we want them to be self-sustaining. We also plan to make them available to the community so they can serve as a social hub. We want to build a network that is convenient for people. Finally, we’re also looking at them as resilient infrastructure like shelter for storm flooding events and places that can provide supplies.

Where does most of your waste coming from?

We’ve been focused on curbside domestic waste for awhile but as any city grows, the construction and demolition waste is always an issue. We are just in the process of reviewing our waste plan for the city and the main focus is around construction and demolition waste.

Have you received any pushback from ratepayers in your service district?

Half of our customers were on a flat rate and half were on a pay-as-you-throw model. We’re moving everyone to pay-as-you-throw. We built in community engagement so we talked to those who resisted at the beginning to understand where the drivers were. We tried to explain why you want a user pays system – it makes you recycle better than a flat rate. The goal is to have a flat rate for diversion services like recycling and composting, and the user pays for anything going to landfill.

There is always a cost associated with any new service. People don’t usually say, “Great, charge me more,” but if you show them the logic and benefits behind it they are ok with it. The difficulty in New Zealand is we have very cheap disposal rates, especially in Auckland. It’s really cost effective to put things in landfills instead of diverting. The landfill levy is NZ$10 (£5.12) per tonne – that’s fairly low – the challenge would be to get central government to think differently about it. They drive legislation so we are advocating to make that levy higher and to drive investment in commercial infrastructure.

What was the most transformative part of the initiative?

The partnership model with the diverse communities which has showed that tailor-made engagement works, followed by the resource recovery network because those really align with people. You must get people on the journey with you, otherwise you’ve got no hope in hell.

What lessons does the Auckland experience offer other cities?

Community engagement is key. Try to look beyond waste. When you make a connection with somebody think about what’s going on around them. People asked why are you talking to me about rubbish? When you talk about food and gardens, they connect. We have a New Zealand version of the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign. Composting waste, having a backyard garden – it helps you in terms of your family economics, that makes a connection. If you just talk simple rubbish that doesn’t make a connection. So start early, get people on the journey with you, and figure out what would tick their boxes in terms of how they make that connection. If you think in terms of, “Save the world, don’t put stuff in landfills,” it doesn’t mean anything to anyone.

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