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Atlanta Gets Sustainability Kudos As Zero Waste City

In 2008, Atlanta lost a convention-bid to Orlando, Florida, because the city wasn’t perceived as green enough.  But just three years later, the city is a zero waste pioneer, and a sustainability leader for the south and the nation.

Even one convention loss can greatly impact a convention-driven city like Atlanta, Georgia.  And after a 2008 convention loss, city leaders decided to step up Atlanta’s green profile.  Atlanta now has a zero waste downtown business district, one of only a hand-full in the entire U.S.

But the Georgia capital has not stopped at its downtown borders.  In October 2010, Mayor Kasim Reed unveiled Power to Change, a plan that will guide the City of Atlanta’s sustainability efforts for the next several years. As part of the plan, Reed set the aggressive goal of making Atlanta a top 10 city for sustainability.

The city has already made significant progress, too.   SustainLane.com has ranked Atlanta number one in the southeast and number 19 overall in the country, up from number 38 in 2006.

The mayor’s plan includes a combination of new projects and policy initiatives that support the ZWZ, including climate protection, energy reduction and new clean water initiatives.

“One critical step in this process (of creating a sustainable city) is to develop a viable zero-waste plan that will create green jobs and reduce the green house gas emissions of discarded materials. ZWZ complements our zero-waste plan and vision and is the economically and ecologically right thing to do for the city.”

The ZWZ-downtown project is the brain-child of Holly Elmore, founder and executive director of the Green Foodservice Alliance.  She came up with the idea that the district’s food-service operations might be interested in creating a zero waste zone.  She then partnered with pal Laura Turner Seydel, a local environmental activist and the daughter of Ted Turner, and the two began a coalition– with Atlanta Recycles, the Georgia Recycling Coalition, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the EPA— to develop and recruit participants for a ZWZ-Downtown district.

Zero waste zones (ZWZ) are designed to reduce the environmental impact of waste in homes, workplaces and in the community.  Atlanta’s downtown zero waste zone has focused on the city’s convention district and participating food service operations. Participants include the Georgia World Congress Center, the Hyatt Regency and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, among others, which pledged to recycle, reuse spent grease for the local production of biofuel and compost or donate food residuals to decrease the amount of garbage going into local landfills.

Currently, composting of leftover food from the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome alone divert about 34 tons of waste from landfills and produce more than 20 tons of compost each month.

“Atlanta is focused on becoming a greener city, and the Zero Waste Zone is an excellent step in that direction,” said Kevin Duvall, assistant general manager of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. “We want to make sure that we are leading the way in recycling initiatives so that conventions, events and meeting planners continue to look upon Atlanta as a great destination city as well as one that cares about the environment,” he added via press release.

Zero waste policies benefit not only the environment, but ensure cost savings for local governments. In tough economic times, that can make a big difference in a community’s bottom line.  But the implementation of Atlanta’s ZWZ seems to have brought the community together by involving citizens and businesses directly in the future and profitability of their city.  I think that’s an example worth following.  So, Go Hot’Lanta!

About Sebrina Zerkus Smith

Professional writer, foodie. Lupus survivor. Loves pugs, wine, days at the beach and good movies. Takes recycling seriously, but not much else. Sebrina Zerkus Smith is a Southern Gal that has been scratching the writer’s itch for nearly 30 years. Her career began in Washington, D.C., in 1987, fresh out of collage and full of ideals. While plying her trade by day on congressional reps and senators, at night she burned the candle writing features for local newspapers and national magazines. She quickly realized that her southern upbringing gave her a unique and humorous voice that resonated with her readers. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles where she pursued her dream of becoming a novelist and screenwriter. She paid her bills by working as a freelance writer for major marketing projects from studios such as CBS, NBC and Disney. Realizing that the future of writing lay with the internet, she was bitten by the blogging bug back in the 90’s, back before it was even called “blogging.” Then it was still just writing and trying to make a living. Through those early blogging years, Sebrina found passion and purpose. Over the past 10 years she has written articles for clients such as LightCues.com, MatterMore.com, Greenopolis, MacAddict, Yahoo, CNN and more. Today, Sebrina writes about a variety of topics including the Southern Experience, sustainability, clean water, food, gardening, sleep and her obsession with pugs. She is a regular paid contributor to WildOats.com as well as other entities. She now lives in Houston with her husband Jeff and their pug Newton. She hopes one day to complete her opus, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed.

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