Three zero waste proposals for your city council [with scripts]

As much as local government does not resonate with me personally, local governments are a critical part of creating a holistic, high-impact climate action plan.

I say local government doesn’t resonate with me because I find local politics arduous, overly personal in the wrong ways, and prone to overdramatic power plays rather than functional policies that make sense for the community. There are – of course – people doing absolutely wonderful work, but they’re often overshadowed.

Still, we must engage with local leaders (or better yet, overthrow them and become them!) alongside the grassroots community work we do as well.

One of the best ways to engage is by getting yourself in front of your town, city, or county council and presenting a zero waste proposal. It’s much harder to ignore a constituent when they’re in front of you – use that to your advantage. Case in point: several of us have emailed both town and city council members. The outcome? One 5-word reply. An email may be more effective for you but anecdotally, it usually isn’t.

what do you do at a council meeting?

So if you don’t know, at its very basic a city or town council is an elected group of people that gets together (usually monthly) to pass laws, discuss potential policy, supervise the government, and decide where money gets distributed. Basically, they’ve got a lot of power locally!

Their meetings are open to the public and allow for public comment, although the details of how each operates is different city by city. Public comment – whether at the start of end of the meeting – is a time for anyone to talk about any issue for about 2-3 minutes. (Again, double check locally!)

getting started with a zero waste proposal

If you don’t already have an idea of what you want to propose, I have three basic ideas below. And because I hate when people say “just go to your city council meeting and propose something” I have actual scripts you can use!

But beyond those three, there’s a great resource called the BC Climate Action Toolkit which offers resources and case studies on how to get this stuff done on a town/city level. And while it’s a Canadian resource, the basic ideas are something that will work for just about any area. (The US Government also has a toolkit which is less impressive to me, but may be helpful to some.

Best of all, the toolkit offers resources for small and rural communities as well as medium and large communities and even for elected officials themselves.

Three zero waste proposals for your city council [with scripts] -

What I like, though, is the bits of advice they give for creating an effective campaign which is basically the same for each:

  • Straightforward;
  • High impact on GHGs;
  • Strong business case;
  • Highly educational for elected officials, staff and/or the community; and
  • Easily integrated into initiatives already underway.

General tips:

  • Find local or related policy already in-place to bring as an example. Don’t reinvent the wheel! There’s a very good change you’re not the most progressive town or city in the world – chances are some other city or organization has already done the hard work for you! As you search, the closer the better! City officials in a small Midwest town won’t resonate with a plan put in place in Los Angeles. (But use it as a sample if it’s all you’ve got!)
  • Come with a script. Have your notes prepared beforehand so you don’t start veering off-topic and waste your allotted time. I’ve provided some examples below. Please change the scripts I’ve provided if they don’t seem natural to you – we want this to sound like an idea you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, not just reading someone else’s words from a page!
  • Have a story to tell. Facts and figures are important, but what people really resonate with is a story. Talk about how the climate crisis impacts you – whether bad for your garden, fear for your children, a health risk, etc. Highlighting how the issue affects you as a community member is critical!
  • Bring documentation. Make sure you have some applicable resources to pass on – it will probably depend on your council whether they’d prefer to have them in hard copy or sent by e-mail. Either way, be prepared to come with facts or – better yet – a policy brief for easy digestion.

Three zero waste proposals for your city council [with scripts]

Three zero waste proposals for your city council [with scripts] - climate resolution -

1. Enact a City-Wide Environmental Resolution

This is not a “start small” solution, but rather a philosophical declaration by your town or city that will lead to concrete steps toward carbon neutrality. So it may not be small and immediately actionable, but it is something on the books that will begin to force change.

This particular policy is where it’s so important to have samples from nearby or similar cities because you’re able to share the types of goals an environmental resolution would encapsulate. Remember: most of the city officials probably don’t have any specialized knowledge on this front and will require significant education.

It’s also helpful to think very carefully about the types of people on your commission. Climate deniers? It may be helpful to omit an emphasis on “climate change” and instead focus on the economy, pollution, public health, etc. Yes it’s annoying and backward, but we need to get this done.

Nearby cities like [Goshen and South Bend] have already adopted such resolutions amid widespread support from all residents – in particular the youth who will have to face the devastating effects of the climate crisis. That fact is not only an exciting path to follow, but an urge to catch up so that our city doesn’t fall behind and lose its reputation for innovation.

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Using any of these scripts? Please feel free to support this work by buying me a coffee – a monthly subscription of even $3 helps me budget for site maintenance, community work, and donations. Thanks!

Three zero waste proposals for your city council [with scripts] - green team -

2. Set up a Civic Green Team

A Civic Green Team is basically what it sounds like: a group of experienced and/or passionate people 100% committed to developing plans, educating the public, and creating programming that supports a more sustainable community. I like this option because it’s fairly straightforward and creates a ton of opportunity for educating the public and elected officials themselves.

This is also a “less scary” step for cities or council members who may not want to explicitly show they support climate change. Instead, it can be viewed as a public health, beautification, etc. project which – sadly – is much less politically fraught.

This is a simple and effective way to get our community talking about how we can be more sustainable in a way that is just and equitable for all. I have reached out to [local organizations or environmentally-conscious community members] and they have expressed interest in being a part of the Green Team. With such interest, it seems clear that a Green Team is the natural progression for our city!

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Three zero waste proposals for your city council [with scripts] - anti-idling -

3. Enact an Anti-Idling Bylaw

If you feel like your town or city needs to start with a very small, concrete step, enacting an anti-idling bylaw may be just the ticket. This is an immediate, cost-effective way for a local government to reduce GHG emissions that requires some basic public education.

As the BC Toolkit puts so well, “An idle reduction initiative may mark a personal transition that leads to other actions on climate change and support for policies that reduce emissions. This change in behavior can be a foundation for learning about climate change and our roles.” Sneaky sustainability education FTW!

I’m here today to ask you to enact an anti-idling bylaw. Idling is a bit of a mystery to me – it’s not only bad for the environment, unpleasant for the people around the car, but it costs people money! My neighbor idles his car (just at his house!) for about 20 minutes every day. That’s 1100 pounds of CO2 every year – or, doing a little math… at $3/gallon of gas and a car that would be lucky to get 25 mi/gallon – a waste of at least $184 each year!

Here’s the text.
Want your own to edit? Click File -> Make a Copy.

Using any of these scripts? Please feel free to support this work by buying me a coffee – a monthly subscription of even $3 helps me budget for site maintenance, community work, and donations. Thanks!

Now go forth and bother your elected representatives until they do something for you! It’s why they were elected, after all!