Zero Waste Cities in the USA

Many cities in the USA have joined the "Zero Waste" movement, sat goals and initiatives to achieve towards Zero Waste.

Diana Butron

Zero Waste as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is:

"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.” (1)

Following, a list of cities in the USA with information about their "Zero Waste” initiatives, goals and progress over time :

Boston, Massachusetts

The report of Zero Waste Boston from 2019 indicated that Boston’s residents and businesses generated roughly 1.2 million tons of materials annually (25% was reused, recycled, or composted and 75% was disposed of in incinerators or landfills).

Nearly 40% of what was tossed as trash in Boston in 2019 could have been recycled.

The Zero Waste Advisory Committee from Boston recommended the city to adopt a goal of reaching an overall recycling rate of 80% by 2035 and 90% by 2050. (2)

New York, New York

From the "One New York – The Plan for a Strong and Just city” one of the targets for the year 2030 is to reduce volume of DSNY (New York City Department of Sanitation) -collected refuse (excluding material collected for reuse/recycling) by 90 percent relative to 2005 baseline of ~3.6M tons.

Mixed paper, magazines, newspapers, and cardboard make up 18 percent of the city’s residential waste stream. Metal, glass, and all rigid plastics make up another 14 percent. However, last year (2014), New Yorkers recycled only 42 percent of these materials.

New York City generates more than three million tons of residential waste and three million tons of commercial waste per year according to the 2014 ‘One New York’ report.  Since 1989 up to 2014, the city had offered curbside recycling programs to divert certain materials, but these
programs diverted only 15.4 percent of the waste collected by city workers. (3)

Baltimore, Maryland

 In 2017 a total amount of 816,100 tonnes of waste was disposed in Baltimore from which approximately 163,200 tons was organic waste. Organic waste represented the third largest component of the disposal stream (behind construction & demolition waste and traditional recyclables). The residential diversion rate for organic waste was roughly 2%. As of 2017 there was no centralized program for diversion of organics from residential solid waste in Baltimore.

In the Final Master Plan for Baltimore from 2020 the goal of the BFWRS (Baltimore Food Waste and Recovery Strategy) was to provide all residents with access to composting by 2040 and meeting food waste diversion targets for the residential sector of 80-90%. It was estimated that an overall waste diversion rate of 83% could be achieved by 2040. This compares to the overall diversion rate of about 45% achieved in 2017. (4)

Gainesville, Florida

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) annual reports, in 2019,
the county and city managed over 560,000 tons of municipal solid waste with a recycling rate of
39%. In 2019, only 29% of materials other than construction and demolition (C&D) were recycled. This compares to 40% in 2016.

Around 2020 the City Commissioner presented a proposal with recommendations for the city to be classified as a Zero Waste City by 2040. The City established a goal of 90% waste reduction by 2040. (5)

Chicago, Illinois

"The City of Chicago generated 4.13 million tons of materials in 2020. This number is comprised of
refuse, recycling, and yard waste collected from low-density (SF) residential buildings with four or
fewer units (989,924 tons), high density (MF) residential buildings with five or more units (629,735
tons), institutional, commercial, and industrial (ICI) generators (1,456,708 tons), and construction and
demolition (C&D) debris from buildings (1,053,818 tons).” (6)

Chicago decreased material generation by 200,000 tons annually (2018 vs 2020). In 2022, it was registered that a total of 792,575.98 tons were refused, 84,261.03 tons went to recycling, meaning a recycling rate of 9.63%. (7)

Austin, Texas

In 2011 "The City Council established three major benchmark goals for achieving Zero Waste:
• Reducing by 20 percent the per capita solid waste disposed to landfills by 2012 (17% reduction achieved from January 2009 through October 2011),
• Diverting 75 percent of solid waste from landfills and incinerators by 2020, and
• Diverting 90 percent of solid waste from landfills and incinerators by 2040.” (8)

The diversion rate at the end of fiscal year 2021 was 41.96%. The 2015 citywide diversion rate was estimated to be 42.0%. (9)  This means that the goal set in 2011 to achieve 75% diversion by 2020 was not reached. (10)

Denver, Colorado

In 2020 Denver’s total waste in tons was 1,352,670 with a diversion rate of 35%, meaning that 467,938 tons were diverted. From the diverted amount 36% came from construction and demolition debris. The city’s diversion rate doubled since 2010.

"The Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency (CASR) in partnership with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) and the Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) recommend diverting 50% of all solid waste generated by 2027 and 70% by 2032.” (11)

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles’ goal is to become the largest city in America to achieve zero waste. They aim to achieve a 90% landfill diversion rate by 2025, 95% by 2035 and 100% by 2050.

In the year 2000 the city’s diversion rate was 58.8% by implementing an electronic waste recycling program and by beginning the conversion of collection trucks to Liquefied Natural Gas fuel to reduce emissions. In 2011, the city adopted a mandatory C&D recycling ordinance and achieved 76.4% diversion rata. (12)

San Francisco, California

In 2002, San Francisco adopted a goal of 75% diversion by 2010 and a long-term goal of zero waste. It exceeded the first goal two years early, soon recovering over 80% and cutting its disposal in half. (13)

In 2018, San Francisco’s Mayor committed to a new zero waste pledge to reduce municipal solid waste generation by 15% by 2030 and reduce disposal to landfill and incineration by 50% by 2030. Mayors of Paris, Milan, New York and more than 23 other cities have joined San Francisco in this pledge. (14)

Portland, Oregon

In 2009, City Council adopted the Climate Action Plan. The plan included three main goals to be achieved by 2030 related to consumption and solid waste: reduce total solid waste generated by 25%, recover 90% of all waste generated and to reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of the waste collection system by 40%. (15)

In Oregon, in 2020, the total tons disposed of were 3,452,854 and the tons recovered were 2,507,951, while the total of tons generated were 5,960,805, reaching a calculated recovery rate of 42.1%. (16)





(4) Master Plan_7-28-20.pdf














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