Delco to host public workshop series as it seeks a ‘path toward zero waste’

Delaware County is starting to update its 10-year Municipal Waste Management Plan — and it wants the community’s help to achieve an ambitious goal.

The Chester Covanta incinerator on Lewis Street

The Chester Covanta incinerator, a waste-to-energy facility that burns trash from Delaware County, Philadelphia, New York City, and others, seen from Lewis Street in Chester, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Delaware County is starting the process of updating its 10-year Municipal Waste Management Plan, which is required by state law Act 101. The purpose of the plan is simply to identify long-term disposal methods.

However, Delco has aspirations of approaching the entire plan through the lens of zero waste by having more of a focus on recycling, composting, reducing, and reusing.

Because of that, the county is inviting residents, businesses, and community organizations to attend a series of public workshops to help shape the new plan in a way that best reflects the wants and needs of the community.

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“We’re really encouraging the public to get involved, because — recycling, zero waste, trash — this is something that we all deal with every day. And so the idea is that in order to demonstrate the opportunity for sustainability, we can re-envision what a 10-year solid waste management plan would look like,” said Ruth Abbe, the principal with Zero Waste Associates, the consulting firm that is assisting Delaware County.

The monthly workshop series kicks off Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at the Upper Darby Township Sellers Memorial Library. The first session will focus on goals and guiding principles. There will be an opportunity to participate in person and online.

Some of the guiding principles for the plan that the workshop might touch on include things like sustainability, equity, and the vision for the future.

The second session will be held on May 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the Norwood Public Library as well as online and the theme of that event will be zero waste initiatives.

“When we talk about zero waste, it’s really zero waste or darn close. If you think about what all we generate, there will still be some materials that we’ll have to dispose either at landfills or incinerators, but we can get really close to zero waste,” Abbe said. “The state is currently conducting a waste characterization study to look at what’s in our trash statewide. And you won’t be surprised to hear most of it is recyclable or compostable.”

She plans on the workshop identifying programs and policies that Delco could adopt such as a county-wide composting program and more drop-off locations for items that are difficult to recycle curbside.

“Our third workshop is scheduled for June 30. And it’s really to bring back to the public information about the direction that they’ve given us,” Abbe said. “What’s the potential in terms of diversion recycling rates? What’s the potential in terms of greenhouse gas reduction from zero waste strategies? And what would be our vision, our goal for the 10-year strategy? To get closer and closer to 50%, 60%, 75% diversion from landfills and incinerators?”

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The next step would be for the county and its consultants to begin drafting its formal plan that, once submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, would lead to a public review process.

The workshops come on the heels of news that the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority has approved a three-year contract with the controversial waste incineration company. While it is seen as an improvement on previous contracts, some are concerned that it did not do enough.

Community members interested in attending one of its three public workshops can register on the county website.

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