Thank you to Dan Rodricks for highlighting the importance of sound solid waste management in his list of recommendations to incoming Mayor Brandon Scott (”For Brandon Scott, Baltimore’s next mayor, a little advice and some big ideas,” Dec. 4). A new “stop littering” campaign is not going to cut it, however. Nor will expanded neighborhood cleanups. Residents are already taking the lead. Baltimoreans love our communities, and leading cleanups is a proud Baltimore tradition already taking place.
We will not solve our trash problem until we go to its root: a historic and continuing pattern of structurally racist disinvestment driving massive economic disparities in our city. Baltimore’s sky-high eviction rate and the illegal dumping associated with it, disproportionately affect the Black and poor communities that also have the highest rates of vacant properties. These injustices and others contribute significantly to the city’s trash burden. They are compounded, in turn, by a misguided investment in a toxic solution: trash incineration.
Baltimore youth and residents have already taken the lead on the solution to these problems as well. They created a comprehensive Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste Plan for Baltimore. Then-Council President Brandon Scott launched the plan with us in February. He then voted for it, along with a majority of the City Council. He can now implement it — if his political will is strong enough. The Department of Public Works also has a plan. That plan overlaps with much of the Zero Waste Plan. Both include expanded collections for recycling, composting for all residents and job creation through the development of zero waste infrastructure. But DPW’s plan relies indefinitely on trash incineration whose pollution drives $55 million in avoidable health care costs every year and accounts for a full 8% to 9% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Now is the time to implement the Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste. Mayor Scott can address the root of the city’s trash problems and end harmful trash incineration while creating jobs and reducing the burden on our landfills. Doing this will require putting a zero waste champion at the helm of the Department of Public Works. It will then take a consistent and sustained effort to break with the decades-long practice of handing over Baltimore’s control of our solid waste management to industries that profit directly from our communities’ suffering.
It’s time to restore that control to our city. Residents stand ready and willing to lead the way.
Anne C.A. Wilson and Shashawnda Campbell, Baltimore
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