The holidays are a time of great joy, but they are also a time of increased waste. To remind Philadelphians to recycle as much of that waste as possible, the Philadelphia Streets Department and the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet are thankful that the Inquirer made the city's Commercial Recycling Plans a focus of a pre-holiday story.

The story was primarily based on the fact that only about a quarter of commercial properties in Philadelphia have filled out the required Commercial Recycling Plan -– something we acknowledged in the Zero Waste and Litter Action Plan released last August. (The full plan can be read on The city recognizes that we need to improve the system, and in the action plan we called for adopting a commercial building-waste audit system.

Waste audits, much like recycling plans, instruct a business to review the waste created in a building and find solutions to divert as much of that waste from the landfill as possible. While the current Commercial Recycling Plan focuses primarily on single stream recycling materials, the forthcoming Commercial Building Waste Audits will expand to focus on other items such as non-single-stream recycling (e-waste, nonferrous metals, wood pallets). The Commercial Waste Audits will also focus on items such as food donations, food composting, clothing donations, waste oil recycling, etc. These items can all be diverted from the landfill and will be a major component of the city's actually achieving zero waste.

The Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, in collaboration with other city departments and stakeholders, has been working toward this expansion since the Action Plan was released.  We recently launched a Municipal Building Waste Audit program for more than 500 city-owned and staffed buildings. This program employs a mix of outreach, education, and collaborative resourcing among departments to ensure that our municipal buildings fill out a waste audit.

By gathering this information, the cabinet and the Recycling Office will be able to identify the gaps in resources, education, and contracts needed for a building to divert as much waste from the landfill as possible. This program also provides the tools for these buildings to track their waste on a monthly basis so that the cabinet and the Streets Department can acknowledge buildings with high diversion rates through a forthcoming Zero Waste Partnership Program that the Streets Department is developing. You can read all about this program at

Our intention is to use everything we learn from the Municipal Building Waste Audit Program and apply that data and those outcomes to the transition to these waste audits. We are also planning many private and public meetings with the business community as we develop the commercial building auditing program, to get their input.

We disagree with the contention of some of those interviewed who believe that the best method for implementing this program is to focus on fining businesses.

We see the costs of the poor compliance rate not as lost revenue from fines, but as a cost to our environment and the loss of valuable recyclable material. Of course, we always want to ensure that bad actors are penalized for committing crimes that negatively affect the quality of life in Philadelphia. However, we know that zero waste is going to take a lifestyle change and we want the business community to be our partner in this effort.

Carlton Williams is Philadelphia Streets Department commissioner. Nic Esposito is the Philadelphia Zero Waste and Litter director.