The Obstacles in the Pathway to Zero Waste

Trash, garbage, rubbish, refuse, scrap, debris, junk, dregs -- we refer to the waste we produce by many names. However, a shift in our terminology is rapidly taking place: More and more, waste collection and disposal are being relabeled as "resource recovery." That "waste" is getting trashed as a concept reflects a growing awareness that we can't continue to bury our garbage in landfills forever.

That awareness is central to an emerging goal of zero waste: a resource-recovery rate of 100 percent. We're a long way from that now. Nationally, the average waste-diversion rate is about 35 percent, while reported diversion rates around the country vary widely, from single digits to just over 80 percent for San Francisco at the top of the scale. READ MORE

The Soft Infrastructure of Smart Cities

Cities serve as crucibles of civilization. Throughout history they've provided defining images of our advances in engineering and design but also reflections of our worst industrial and technological imperfections. Cities have been characterized in many ways. Only recently, however, have we begun to call them "smart."

In fact, "smart" is getting applied to all manner of infrastructure, from buildings and lighting to transportation and even electrical grids. One concept unifies all these diverse subjects under the "smart" label: the ability to send and receive information across connected systems. READ MORE

A ‘Wraparound’ System of Care for Schools

If you've spent any time following education policy these days, you probably know that Common Core Standards are the topic du jour. Depending on political leanings, people either love them or hate them. But even the most brilliant, focused and politically embraceable education reform initiative will fail if kids flat out aren't ready to learn when they show up at school each day because they're not getting what they need at home.

The importance of supporting potentially troubled kids in school was a key part of an interesting panel conversation on education reform held last month during Governing's annual Outlook in the States & Localities conference in Washington, D.C. The panel featured Roy Romer, former governor of Colorado; Randy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Elaine Weiss, head of the Economic Policy Institute's Broader Bolder Approach to Education initiative, which is aimed at moving the educational debate beyond didactics and to the ground-level realities of the well-being of kids and families. READ MORE

The Importance of Reinvesting Savings in Preventative Programs

Last month I wrote about "pay for success" initiatives in human services, including opportunity compacts, whereby agencies and budget departments contract through a third-party intermediary to ensure that savings from successful early intervention programs are reinvested back into those same programs.

Opportunity compacts would seem unnecessary given that the rational approach to successful preventative programs would be to feed and not starve them. But way too often -- especially in human services -- "rational" isn't the right word to describe the connection between programs, results and spending. Instead, there is a perverse and pervasive approach to programming and budgeting that I call "punishment-for-performance," which involves taking savings from successful programs and simply sweeping them back into the general fund. It's a powerful disincentive for agencies to pursue smarter, more cost-effective ways of doing business. READ MORE

Do Transportation Apps Compromise Safety?

The first time I fired up Waze -- the hot new traffic navigation app that's generated lots of buzz and lots of money -- I immediately had two thoughts: This thing is incredibly useful, and it's incredibly dangerous.

My first experience with Waze came while I was a passenger on a three-hour drive in December from Washington, D.C., to rural Maryland for a winter camping trip. When my fiancée and I encountered heavy traffic, I fired up the app and was immediately blown away by the volume of information at my fingertips. I could see how far the traffic jam extended, alternate routes available to me, and the speed at which drivers ahead of me were traveling. I could submit my own reports about traffic and road hazards -- complete with photos -- to help out the drivers behind me. And if I wanted, I could even chat with other motorists near me about the roadway conditions. I took particular pleasure in calling out when we'd be encountering roadkill or stalled out vehicles a few minutes before they came into view, almost feeling like I could predict the future. The longer we drove, the more fun I had using Waze. But the longer I used it, the more convinced I became that I would never let myself use Waze while I was driving. The volume of information on display was just too much. READ MORE