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Missoula City Council initiates work on 'zero-waste' plan

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The Missoula City Council on Monday adopted a resolution supporting the creation of a “zero-waste” plan and to set waste reduction goals for the entire community.

The plan, which city staff has two years to develop, is designed to achieve the goal of diverting 90 percent of the city’s waste into recycling or reuse by the year 2050, with interim goals of 30 percent or better by 2025, 40 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2040.

The resolution includes a stipulation that the city complete a baseline study of the city’s current rate of disposal, identify objectives and recommend short-term and long-term actions which will, within budget constraints, effectively and efficiently address the issues identified and allow for public involvement along the way.

The council’s Committee of the Whole, led by council president Marilyn Marler, unanimously recommended adoption of the motion because Montana’s current recycling rate of 22 percent of all materials is well below the national average of 35 percent and many suspect Missoula’s rate to be even below the state average, according to a study conducted by the Sustainable Business Council.

The resolution also states that the Missoula Landfill receives more than 210,000 tons of waste every year, which increases the emission of greenhouse gases, wastes valuable resources and will transfer the liabilities associated with disposal to future generations.

"I don't know if we can literally achieve zero-percent waste, but it's something to strive toward," Marler said.

The council has found that the lifespan of the remaining open area of the landfill is estimated to be just 15 years at the city’s current rate of growth. Organic matter such as food scraps, grass clippings, cardboard and carpet cause what are termed “fugitive” landfill emissions.

Council members also said the cost of the landfill is likely to continue to increase and recycling can create new entrepreneurial and employment opportunities.

Marler pointed to Home ReSource, a nonprofit in Missoula that accepts donated materials and then sells them. The organization also has a deconstruction crew that keeps building materials out of the landfill.

"They employ 27 people here in town," Marler said.

Jeremy Drake, education program manager at Home ReSource, said nobody in Missoula really keeps track of what percentage of materials are recycled.

"Other Montana communities, like Helena, have a better grip on that," he said. "In a lot of ways, though, Missoula is pretty progressive and it could be somewhat thanks to Home ReSource. We are showing the community what's possible. There is a real desire for better recycling in our community."

The principles of the city’s plan for municipal operations, outreach, programs and actions will be aligned with the Zero Waste International Alliance, which states on its website that “zero waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”

The Alliance says zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

“Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health,” the website states.

The city already has a Conservation and Climate Action Plan, which includes a waste reduction policy. The city’s growth policy highlights “zero waste” as one of its environmental quality goals and references community waste reduction as a “near-term” action.


Drew Larson of the city's Development Services office gave a presentation on a request by Southgate Mall Associates to rezone the property the mall sits on to allow for taller building heights.

Larson said the rezoning would allow for economic development efforts that would sustain business retention and increase walkability in the area. The majority of the property is zoned C1-1, which has a maximum building height of 40 feet. The zoning change to C1-4 Neighborhood/Commercial would allow buildings to reach 125 feet.

"We, as staff, felt the requested rezone pomotes compatible urban growth, promotes public health and safety and is within the district character and sustainability," Larson said. "It will encourage more mixed-use development, and is suitable for the subject property."

Council member Jordan Hess said he didn't think the zoning change was a "drastic change" and that he supported following the city's growth policy to build vertically in appropriate areas.

"This would enable Southgate Mall to position itself so that it is not as prone to failure" as other malls across the country, he said.

Council member Emily Bentley said she was excited to support the motion because it will open up more housing opportunities.

The council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance to rezone the property.


The council also adopted a resolution of intent to annex property owned by Valley Christian School. A public hearing to annex the land and zone it "Residential" is set for March 7.

Additionally, the council adopted the Public Landscape and Recreation Facilities Design Manual. The manual sets design standards for the maintenence of the city's 60 parks and 48 acres of landscaped areas. It will also guide the creation of the new Fort Missoula Regional Park, which is still in the design phases.

Mayor John Engen also proclaimed Feb. 18 as University of Montana Day in Missoula and Saturday as Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Awareness Day to increase awareness for domestic violence and human trafficking.

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