The Missoula Landfill receives more than 210,000 tons of waste every year and the city estimates it will be full within 15 years.
Although there is room for expansion to make it last another 80 years, that's land that could remain open space if the current rate of garbage coming in drops.
But first, Missoulians need to change their ways. Today, residents only recycle 19 percent of their waste, compared to a national average of 34.5 percent, according to statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
That’s why the Missoula City Council last year adopted a resolution supporting the creation of a “zero waste” plan designed to divert 90 percent of the city’s garbage into recycling or reuse by the year 2050. There are interim goals of 30 percent or better by 2025, 40 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2040.
This week, the city holds its last two listening sessions to get public input on meeting those ambitious goals. The first is scheduled 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Burns Street Center at 1500 Burns St. in Missoula. The final meeting is scheduled 6-8 p.m. Wednesday in the Missoula Public Library’s large meeting room at 301 E. Main St.
The initiative is called “Zero by Fifty” and the city is collaborating with a local nonprofit, Home ReSource, that deconstructs homes and also takes building materials donations and sells them for reuse in the community.
Chase Jones, the city's energy conservation and climate action coordinator, said the purpose of the listening sessions is to inform the public about the concept of the zero waste plan, to understand why the community cares and the barriers to achieving the goal, and to find out what the city needs to include and implement in its plan.
At the first meeting, Jones said city officials got a lot of good feedback.
“The feedback was organized around themes such as education, policy, programs and services and around infrastructure,” he said.
Jones said that many people want to know why the city doesn’t have a glass recycling program, or why Republic Services — the private company that operates the landfill and recycling pickup services in town — can’t take glass.
“Glass is one that we hear early and often,” Jones said. Because Montana is located far away from glass processing centers, it hasn’t been economically feasible for anyone to operate a glass recycling center here.
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Jones said zero waste strategies focus on helping people find ways to reduce their consumption of things that can’t be reused or recycled. The goal of the zero waste plan is to re-think systems and infrastructure to try to reuse and recycle as many products as possible.
Many products break down and produce methane when they’re buried in the landfill, and methane is even more of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Jones' job was created by the city four years ago with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality of municipal operations by 2025. Jones said the city had an interim goal of reducing carbon emissions by 10 percent below the 2008 baseline by 2015, and the city actually hit 11 percent.
“That’s something to be celebrated and is the result of a lot of hard work by city leaders and city workers and the help of citizens and great nonprofits in town,” Jones said.
Missoula City Council member Marilyn Marler said she is frequently asked why Missoula doesn't have better recycling options, particularly for glass. The city doesn't "control the waste system. But waste reduction, recycling, reducing pesticides and those kinds of things are all important to Missoulians.”
Marler said Jones has been a good liaison to the public and is valuable because of his grant-writing skills. She said she’s glad the city is paying him.
“It kind of takes somebody to be constantly working on energy conservation and waste reduction,” she said. “It’s helpful to have a point person.”
Katie Deuel, the executive director of Home ReSource, said she believes the initiative is very "doable."
"There is a fair bit of low-hanging fruit," she said. "Reducing waste is very doable. Montanans don't like to waste and they want to have opportunities to reduce waste."
In the end, Deuel said, her organization wants to inspire people and show them that reducing waste can be fun and creative.
For more information visit the city's Zero Waste website at ci.missoula.mt.us/2087/Zero-Waste.