The Zero Waste Challenge: Giant steps

Read on Sonoma West Times & News

Cynthia Albers | December 19, 2019

Consumer frustration is a recurring zero-waste theme. It’s discouraging to have one’s resolve to avoid throw-away products constantly hindered by the lack of available alternatives.

There is some truth in saying that businesses must produce those alternatives before consumers can significantly alter their waste footprint. It is also true that many businesses and their customers will hold fast to single-use disposables until change is required by law, and therein lies a source of chronic discontent: Those who seek change will grumble about the lengthy bureaucratic process, and those who abhor change will gripe about government intervention.

Meanwhile, the world is awakening to global pollution of unprecedented scale.

Acting locally

The Sebastopol City Council took giant steps in 2019 to 1) reduce and ultimately eliminate single-use products and food waste at events held on city property, and 2) govern the types of packaging and food service ware that Sebastopol businesses are allowed to provide or sell.

Sonoma West published informative articles (with attached documentation) on each of these zero-waste milestones. I will attempt to answer some reader inquiries here:

  • A permit is required for any person or organization applying for use of city property, regardless of event size.
  • City property includes all city parks (Ives, Libby, Laguna), city parking lots (chamber of commerce, library, community center, High Street) and all city buildings and conference rooms. The Sebastopol Community Center and the senior center are responsible for permitting the indoor use of their buildings, but the city handles permits for use of those parking lots. (This is a partial list of venues and locations. Contact Sebastopol City Hall for specific information.)
  • The revised special events permit application, brought to council for consideration in November, will identify alternative products and resources for event planners and their vendors.
  • The polystyrene ban, which became effective on Nov. 25, only disallows packaging and utensils that have viable alternatives. Grocery meat packaging will not be affected.

Defining zero waste

Zero waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of “resource life cycles” so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean.

Product leftovers are not “waste” if they can be reused or converted into another useful product. One example is food waste, which will (when composted correctly) become a beneficial soil amendment.

Drafting requirements and resources

The Revised Special Events Application was drafted by the City of Sebastopol Zero Waste Subcommittee, beginning with a thorough gleaning of requirements already in effect in other California cities (San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Oakland and San Diego) and resulting in a document tailored to Sebastopol and Sonoma County waste-management policies and capabilities.

Who is involved?

The Sebastopol Zero Waste Subcommittee is a 12-member team comprised of city staff and elected leadership:

  • city management
  • engineering manager
  • Public works superintendent
  • Two of the five city councilmembers

Additional leadership was appointed by the council to represent:

  • Sebastopol citizenry and youth
  • Sebastopol commercial entities
  • Local franchise hauler and waste management agency

As we close this calendar year and begin the next, I want to thank everyone who adopted a new eco-friendly habit in 2019. Cheers to those who brought their own reusable coffee mug or salad container, reduced their intake of plastic bags, discovered the benefits of thrifting, talked with their restauranteur about to-go container options, deposited their kitchen scraps into the green compost cart and more.

Writing from my Apple computer, it feels only right to quote Steve Jobs, who said, “Those who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are (indeed) the ones who do.”

Cynthia Albers is a member of the Sebastopol Zero-Waste Subcommittee. Send comments to