Zero Waste

11 U.S. Cities Leading the Way to Zero Waste

July 7, 2021

In 2018, San Francisco held the Global Climate Action summit where many world leaders and cities pledged to become zero waste. 2020 is the next step where these countries will be able to bolster their commitments, which means that we will see an upcoming decade of progressive zero waste initiatives. Only a few U.S. cities, including San Francisco, New York, and Washington D.C., have made a pledge but many U.S. cities have begun to follow in their footsteps.

Here are the top 11 cities in America undertaking major zero waste initiatives:

1. New York City, One New York

Starting in the 1970s, New York began to symbolize the modern “garbage crisis” when the amount of available disposal sites on urban land started to decline rapidly. The local Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island became the largest landfill in the US at the time. After the closure of landfills and incinerators in the late 1980s, the city set up a massive mandatory recycling program and implemented the Solid Waste Management Plan.

Part of One New York’s vision to “be the most sustainable big city in the world and a global leader in the fight against climate change” is it’s goal to send zero waste to landfills by 2030. One New York's initiative focuses on increasing the diversion of organic waste, which makes up 31% of NYC’s waste stream, by expanding curbside and drop off collection services and increasing the processing capacity.

By 2030, New York plans to reduce refuse headed to the landfill by 90%, relative to a 2005 baseline of 3.6 million tons. By 2020, there are also plans to enhance curbside recycling by developing a single stream recycling program to increase the amount of material diverted to recycling processing centers.

2. San Francisco, Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance

San Francisco leads all U.S. cities in the race for zero waste with its record 80% diversion rate. San Francisco has declared a resolution of achieving zero waste by 2020. Much of San Francisco’s success is due to the large number of laws and incentives made regarding waste disposal.

The Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance affects all residents, tourists and visitors and is a significant cause of San Francisco’s dramatic reduction in material sent to the landfill. Residents are given a behavioral nudge through strategic bin sizes. Businesses are required to comply by providing the proper bins and education on bin sorting for all tenants, employees, contractors, and janitors.

Large refuse generators, businesses or buildings that produce at least 40 cubic yards of compacted refuse per week, are required to have waste audits every 3 years to ensure compliance as stated by the Refuse Separation Compliance Ordinance. The Food Service Waste Reduction Ordinance requires all food vendors and restaurants to provide compostable or recyclable to-go containers.

San Francisco’s partnership with a single waste management company, Recology, allows collaboration to produce long terms goals.

3. City of San Diego Zero Waste Plan (ZWP)

By 2020 San Diego plans to divert 75% of its waste being sent to the landfill, by 2035 it plans to divert 90%, and by 2040 it plans to be purely 100% zero waste.

San Diego’s Zero Waste Plan (ZWP) is comprised of several diversion strategies. Some of the first key strategies include establishing infrastructure by encouraging private sectors to develop waste facilities and enhancing the education of current recycling programs and future changes being made. San Diego also plans to make multiple modifications to the City Recycling Ordinance (CRO). These modifications include reducing exemptions of multi-family properties by 40% and requiring the CROs compliance as part of City leases of commercial office space.

4. Los Angeles, Solid Waste Integrated Resource Plan

LA’s Solid Waste Integrated Resources Plan (SWIRP) is also known as the cities zero waste plan. By 2020 the plan promises to reach a 87% diversion rate, by 2025 a 90% diversion rate, and by 2030 a 97% diversion rate.

SWIRP focuses on enhancing the existing infrastructures waste management programs and policies. It stands by 12 guiding principles:

1. Education to decrease consumption

2. City leadership as a model for Zero Waste practices

3. Education to increase recycling

4. City leadership to increase recycling

5. Manufacturer Responsibility

6. Consumer responsibility

7. Convenience

8. Incentives

9. New, safe, technology

10. Protect public health and environment

11. Equity

12. Economic efficiency

5. Oakland Zero Waste Strategic Plan

In 2006 Oakland adopted a 90% diversion rate zero waste goal by 2020 which would be obtained through the Zero Waste Strategic Plan. Oakland has been successful in the past at meeting its zero waste goals through both voluntary participation and free recycling services available to businesses.

To reach the zero waste goal, the city has implemented several strategies such as the adoption of new rules and incentives to reduce waste disposal, improving and expanding local and regional recycling and composting, and banning problem materials.

6. Washington DC, Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act

The nation's capital does not have the most notable waste management history, which is why the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Act was implemented to improve D.C.'s current diversion rate to 80% and  reach zero waste by 2032.

The 2014 act is only one regulation alongside others such as a Styrofoam ban and Electronics Stewardship Act that are giving way to the cities zero waste goal. The Healthy Schools Act of 2009 ensures that the Department of General Services ensures schools to provide educational programs relating to recycling, composting and other environmental health topics. The act is also designed to fulfill legal requirements such as improving building operations and reduction of financial and natural resource waste.

7. Seattle Zero Waste Resolution

In 1988 Seattle adopted an ambitious solid waste management plan to ultimately reach a 60% recycling rate by 1998, but this was not obtained in the allotted time frame. Since then, the city passed the Zero Waste Resolution in 2007 with the goal of a 70% complete diversion rate by 2025.

The resolution focuses on tactics such  increasing opportunities for waste audits, making organic waste collection available to all single-family homes, and ultimately banning organics from the landfill bin. However, in 2015 the Seattle was sued by residents who believed that unwarranted landfill bin inspections were a violation of privacy.  In 2017 Seattle nearly reached its 60% recycling goal, achieving 56.9%.

8. Austin Resource Recovery Program

In Austin’s master plan, the Resource Recovery Program, reaching zero waste means: “reducing the generation of waste materials at the source and maximizing diversion methods to avoid landfills and incinerators.”

The initiative includes diverting 75% of waste by 2025, 85% by 2025, and 90% by 2030. By 2040 the city hopes to be purely zero waste and eventually evolve into a restorative economy.

The main focus of the program is redesigning the manufacturing and supply chain to become more sustainable by extending producer responsibility and “produce durable, reusable, recyclable and recycled-content products”.

In association with the Resource Recovery Program, the cities Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO) requires commercial property owners to provide tenants access to a recycling center and ensures that food-permitted businesses give employees convenient access to landfill diversion methods to keep organic waste out of landfills.

9. Fort Collins Road to Zero Waste Plan

This Colorado city was one of the first in the country to set a high diversion rate of 50% in 1999 which is achieved in 2013 and is already home to some zero waste businesses including Annhueser Busch, Intel and Hewlett-Packard. The Fort Collins Road to Zero Waste Plan sets the goal of a 75% diversion rate in 2020 and 90% by 2025.

One of the fundamental steps in achieving these goals consists of 3 different facilities. These consist of a commercial composting facility, a recycling plant for construction and demolition materials, and reuse material warehouse for the sale of reuse products to residents and businesses.

10. Boulder Universal Zero Waste Ordinance & Zero Waste Strategic Plan

Boulders Zero Waste Strategic Plan consists of an access, participation, and a final zero waste stage. The plan targets “hard-to-recycle” material stream to allow a wider list of materials to be accepted into the recycling.

The Universal Zero Waste Ordinance has a final goal of creating new materials from 85% of waste. The ordinance requires all property managers to provide adequate trash, recycling, and composting services to tenants, as well as businesses to sort properly and report their compliance to the ordinance.

11. Minneapolis Zero Waste Plan

The city of Minneapolis has established a zero waste goal of diverting 50% of its waste from the landfill by 2020 and 80% by 2030.

The Minneapolis Zero Waste Plan has a broad assortment of strategies ranging from easier access to educational programs. The city also plans to obtain data from waste generators and haulers to measure progress.

How Could These Cities Zero Waste Procedures Affect You?

There are a few things that all of these zero waste cities have in common. At some point in each of these cities, any business or building that produces waste will be required to be responsible for it in some form. With the majority of these regulations having implementations start in 2020, now is an important time to plan for changes in your waste management.  

Zabble’s mobile waste monitoring technology can help these cities reach their zero waste goals by maximizing the amount of landfill diversion opportunities and helping businesses and buildings stay compliant with any regulation.

Contact us today to find out how Zabble can support your journey to Zero Waste.

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