Creating a zero-waste city may be a futuristic concept, but it’s one with a long history. As far back as 2002, San Francisco declared its intention to be a zero-waste city by the year 2020. Though it has had to push that ambitious deadline back to 2030, San Fran quickly established itself as the world leader for the zero waste movement. Today, at least 25 other cities around the world are working toward a similar zero waste goal.
What are zero waste cities, exactly?
While reduce, reuse, and recycle has become a common mantra for environmentally conscious consumers in America, the zero-waste city concept scales that idea to a massive level. In a zero-waste city, trash never ends up in landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. Instead, it gets re-absorbed into the resource production process, creating a cyclical economy that operates without trash.
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning, and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
A zero waste initiative usually includes a pay-as-you-throw model for garbage disposal, an advisory board, progress reviews at least once a decade, opposition to incineration, and quantitative targets for the 10- and- 20-year marks.
Is the zero waste concept achievable in real life? These 10 cities believe it is.
10 Cities Making Zero Waste a Reality
The pioneer among zero waste cities in America, San Francisco has spent 19 years incrementally moving toward becoming a 100% trash-free zone. The city has made great strides toward its goal, successfully diverting 80% of its waste away from the landfill in 2012.
Today, most of what stands between the city and its goal is single-use plastic – a problem compounded by China’s recent decision to refuse to buy other nations’ trash. According to Virali Gokaldas and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, “The city has achieved its national distinction through a three-pronged approach: enacting strong waste reduction legislation, partnering with a like-minded waste management company to innovate new programs, and creating a culture of recycling and composting.”
Under the leadership of Mayor deBlasio, the Big Apple has committed itself to becoming a zero-waste city by 2030 under a plan called OneNYC. The program focuses on organics collection, single-stream recycling, making public housing compliant with recycling laws, and making public schools zero waste compliant. New York City is also looking into textile and electronic recycling. As one of the world’s largest cities to strive for zero waste, NYC is marrying its environmental plans to its economic development efforts.
Fort Collins, CO
Home to Colorado State University, Fort Collins serves as a leader in sustainability practices among America’s mid-size cities. Its downtown area is classified as a zero-energy district that uses a smart grid and other energy demand management techniques. In 1999, Fort Collins set a goal of diverting 50% of its waste, and it achieved that goal in 2012. It currently expects to be a zero-waste city by 2030.
Known as one of the hipper cities in the South, Austin seems determined to live up to the Austin Independent Business Alliance’s slogan – Keep Austin Weird. Its goal is 90% waste diversion by the year 2040. It plans to achieve this by improving the efficiency of its recycling, composting, trash pickup, and hazardous waste disposal programs. The Environmental Protection Agency chose Austin for a case study on zero waste cities and applauded its efficient contracting and phased-in implementation strategies.
By 2020, San Diego plans to divert 75% of its trash and capture 80% of the methane emissions from its landfill. In another 15 years, it expects to hit 90% on both those numbers, and capture 98% of the methane gas from its wastewater treatment facilities. By 2040, San Diego will divert 100% of its trash, becoming a truly zero-waste city.
Achieving zero waste is a global effort, not exclusively or even primarily an American one. Neither is it restricted to the most developed countries. Alaminos, a city of just under 100,000 people in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines, is leading its nation in zero waste initiatives. According to Anne Larracas at GAIA, “Whereas in 2009 almost every city dumping field had a pile burning, there were almost none two years later. With sky-high waste separation and composting rates, Alaminos has become a trend-setter for other Filipino cities.”
One of New Zealand’s major cities, Auckland plans to be completely zero waste by 2040. Already, the city is making strides toward its goal, having reduced household waste by 10% between 2010 and 2018. Recently, the Auckland City Council released a list of nine priorities it will emphasize over the next six years.
In 2014, Ljubljana became the first EU capital to adopt a zero-waste goal. According to Zero Waste Europe, the Slovenian capital already had “best performance regarding waste separation and waste avoidance.” Other cities around the country are following Ljubljana’s example.
In 2003, Kamikatsu became the first municipality to establish a goal to become a zero-waste city in Japan. They expect to accomplish their objective by 2020 with an aggressive waste separation program and by cutting the cost of waste management by making recycling cheaper than incineration. In a country that burns 93% of its waste, Kamikatsu is a major trend setter.
In most Indian cities, pollution, garbage, and environmental mismanagement are major economic and public health concerns. But Pune, which is also on track to become one of India’s first smart cities, is making headway toward becoming a zero-waste city thanks to committed municipal leadership, integrated waste management initiatives, public-private partnerships, and a combination of fines and tax incentives.
While the path to becoming a zero-waste management city varies according to locale, some success factors show up consistently – integrated partnerships, waste separation for recycling, and the use of effective waste management technology.
Internet of Things (IoT) technology such as Sensa Network’s bin fullness sensors leads the way in integrated waste management collection solutions for smart cities. According to GreenBiz, “Although the smart waste collection technology sector is still in an early phase, these Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled smart bins and sensors are gaining traction globally … that market is expected to grow from $57.6 million in 2016 to over $223.6 million in 2025 at a 16.3 percent compound annual growth rate.”
Find out more about how Sensa Network’s IoT fullness monitoring solutions can play an integral role in driving down waste collection costs while advancing zero waste initiatives.