Managing Resources Sustainably

What we use, buy and throw away has emissions and resources impacts well beyond our community. Using natural resources responsibly can help ensure their longevity and also improve our ability to sequester carbon.

Consumption and Climate Change

Earth Overshoot

Look around at all the things you use in a day. Where do they all come from? What kind of materials went into them? What resources got used up in the process of getting the item to you? What happens if you put the item in the garbage versus if you donate it to a thrift store? These are among the many questions you could be asking related to the impact of the use of materials and natural resources. As we make decisions on what we buy and what we do when we’re finished with it, we’ll return more things to the beginning of the cycle rather than lose them forever as waste.

Single use plastic is everywhere – in fact, each year enough plastic is thrown away to circle the earth four times.

Consumption and Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Waste

Every time we throw an item away, we miss an opportunity for that item to become something new. But waste also creates GHGs. When organic material like food and even paper and cardboard go to a landfill, they create methane, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than CO2.

GHGs from the waste we produce makes up 7% of Sunnyvale's inventory. Unlike many of the solutions that require new technologies to reduce emissions, the power to eliminate waste related GHGs is in our hands. All we need are simple behavior changes to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost.

SMART Specialty Waste Trucks

Play 4.1: Achieve zero waste goals for solid waste

Our Targets

If we hit our targets, by 2030 Sunnyvale will achieve 90% diversion from the landfill. Doing this will require that we generate much less waste and that all discarded materials in Sunnyvale are recovered for their highest and best use, leaving only minimal materials that need to be disposed of.

Play 4.1: Achieve zero waste goals for solid waste

Understanding Waste Levels

Waste disposed per person per day is a good way to keep track of how the average resident is contributing to the overall amount of waste that is generated in Sunnyvale. Trends were going in the right direction from 2014 to 2018 but have jumped back to 2014 levels as of the latest inventory. 

One thing that is not captured by normalizing for the change in the resident population is the impact of larger local workforces and buildings which generate a substantial amount of waste as well. 

image of annual progress in waste generated per capita per year compared to 2030 and 2050 targets.

Zero Waste Goals for Solid Waste

Diversion Rate

Another way to express our targets is in terms of landfill diversion rate and we are aiming to be at 90% by 2030. We made significant progress on that metric from 2015 - 2018, but it fell slightly to 63% in 2019. This may be due to increased construction activity and the large volumes of waste that can generate. We will continue to watch this metric closely to ensure we're staying on track.

Play 4.1: Achieve zero waste goals for solid waste

How we do it

Separating all the materials in the waste stream to avoid landfilling is a complicated operation handled at the Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer (SMaRT®) Station. While we have many systems in place to recover as much material as possible out of the waste stream, the more you do at home and at work to clean and separate recyclables and compostable material from other trash can help move more material straight to the final destination, saving tax dollars while helping to reach our goals.

Sunnyvale has a SMART system, which separates all materials for the waste stream to save tax dollars and reduce greenhouse gases.

Play 4.1: Achieve zero waste goals for solid waste

What are some easy ways to help reduce landfill waste?

  • Choosing reusable items over single-use, disposable items significantly reduces the amount of waste your household makes. Bring bamboo utensils and reusable mugs when you're on-the-go, use cloth napkins at home instead of paper ones and shop with reusable shopping bags.
  • Refuse items you don't need, like plastic straws in beverages or giveaway freebies you likely won't use.
  • Group your online purchases together to avoid multiple shipments that each come with their own packaging. If available, select options for reduced packaging or shipping in original product boxes. 
  • Look for fruits and vegetables that are unpackaged, and use your own produce bags to purchase them.
  • Prevent food waste by planning your meals, shopping smart and eating leftovers.

Play 4.2: Ensure resilience of water supply

Climate Change and Water Supply

The City of Sunnyvale has three different sources of drinking water supply: treated surface water from the San Francisco, Regional Water System (SFRWS) managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), treated surface water from the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water), and local groundwater. Climate change related drought has been straining our water resources. This means that water that is easy to supply today may be less plentiful in the future. Whether water is pumped from local wells or sourced from distant reservoirs, there is a considerable amount of energy used to get it to you safely and reliably.

Play 4.2: Ensure resilience of water supply

Water Consumption

Our water use shows clear seasonal trends. Not surprisingly, the highest numbers are across the summer months as outdoor uses ramp up. In order to meet demand during these peak periods, Sunnyvale must typically increase the amount of imported water from neighboring water supply systems. Reliance on imported water is not ideal from a resilience standpoint and imported water is the most energy intensive source in our supply. Reducing water use in the summer months is one of the most impactful ways to both conserve natural resources as well as energy.

Play 4.2: Ensure resilience of water supply

Recycled Water Production

In addition to the conservation efforts of Sunnyvale residents and businesses, recycled water is a key strategy for minimizing our need for imported water. Every summer, the Water Pollution Control Plant re-routes treated wastewater to be applied in irrigation and other non-potables uses. Without this recycled water system, our summer peak use would be higher as well as the energy and GHG emissions associated with our water use.

Play 4.3: Enhance natural carbon sequestration capacity

What is carbon sequestration?

When trees grow, they pull CO2 out of the air and convert it into leaves, stems, and wood. A huge amount of the carbon on earth is stored in the trees that once covered nearly all the land in the world. By maximizing the area of trees in Sunnyvale and keeping them in good health, we can help do our part to pull as much carbon out of the air as possible.

Play 4.3: Enhance natural carbon sequestration capacity

Benefits of the Tree Canopy

The Sunnyvale Urban Forest Management Plan identifies several key benefits of tree cover beyond their ability to store carbon:

  • Trees provide comfort and shade, which can even reduce energy use in nearby buildings.
  • Trees reduce smog and other pollutants.
  • Trees provide social and health benefits.

Play 4.3: Enhance natural carbon sequestration capacity

Expanding Our Tree Canopy

Currently, Sunnyvale's tree canopy covers 18.4% of the city with over 231,000 total trees. This amounts to about 1.5 trees for every resident.

The City of Sunnyvale works hard to maintain and increase canopy, including approximately 70,000 street trees and another 5,800 trees on public properties. Together, these represent only about 33% of the trees in Sunnyvale - the remainder are on private properties.

A near-term target of increasing the canopy coverage to 20% would require 15,000 trees on residential properties and 14,000 trees on commercial properties. That may seem ambitious, but we can meet that target if only 12% of residents plant one more tree.

Play 4.3: Enhance natural carbon sequestration capacity

What is green stormwater infrastructure?

Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) uses natural landscaped areas with plants and soils to collect and treat stormwater, allowing it to soak into the ground and be filtered by soil and plant roots. This reduces the quantity of water and pollutants flowing into local creeks and San Francisco Bay.  The City adopted its Green Stormwater Infrastructure Plan in 2019 to guide the siting, implementation, tracking, and reporting of GSI projects on private and City-owned land over the next several decades. GSI integrates building and roadway design, complete streets, drainage infrastructure, urban forestry, soil conservation and sustainable landscaping practices to achieve multiple benefits. The City is aiming to increase stormwater from private development land areas totaling 1,069 acres by 2020; 1,519 acres by 2030; and 1,969 acres by 2040. The City is also continuing to add GSI features that provide community benefits in public areas, such as the newly completed Persian Drive and Caribbean Drive projects, which include bioretention rain gardens treating stormwater runoff from roadways and other paved surfaces.

Play 4.4: Promote awareness of sustainable goods and services

Resource consumption and climate change

In addition to the overall strain on material resources our consumption choices have on material resources, they also drive greenhouse gas emissions in the places that produce the what we consume. The image here illustrates for many cities in the developed world, the global GHGs from the materials we purchase typically outweigh the ones we can measure here locally. 

Even if these GHGs are harder to count, keeping this fact in mind should help to ensure we make better daily choices in what we purchase as well as what we do with items we no longer need.

Play 4.4: Promote awareness of sustainable goods and services

Your Household Footprint

The responsibility to address consumption emissions outside of our boundaries is with each of us as individuals, households, and businesses to make better choices.  A good place to start learning about what choices matter is to check your own carbon footprint, such as the one illustrated here for the average Sunnyvale household.

You may be surprised by how much the food we consume impacts GHGs outside of Sunnyvale during production. Overall, meat and other animal products consume the most energy to get to our plates. In general, the greater the degree of processing and distance an item travels, the more carbon is released along the way. For a typical household in Sunnyvale, the food we purchase has nearly the same climate impact as the energy and materials used in our housing. 

You can find out how big the carbon footprint of your food, housing and other choices stacks up by visiting the Cool California Household Calculator.

Be a Part of the Solution!

Resources for Reducing and Recycling

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