Becoming a ‘zero waste’ city requires collaboration

Thao Bartkowski

The United States generates an average of 262 million tons of municipal solid waste each year — and the majority is sent to landfills. Waste generation is, in fact, increasing faster than any other environmental pollutant — so how do we tackle this systemic challenge? For certain cities and corporations, the solution may lie in adopting “zero waste” goals and embracing the circular economy.

This past summer, I went on a coast-to-coast tour across the U.S. to visit 10 of the country’s most sustainable cities. While we witnessed a variety of initiatives — from blockchain and renewable energy to water and energy efficiency — “zero waste” was consistently top of mind. Companies across the country are now working to implement policies that increase diversion away from landfills and minimize environmental effects while helping their bottom line.

As pressure for sustainability initiatives continues to rise, consumers have pushed businesses and legislators to take action — and some businesses are struggling with implementation and goal setting due to an international crackdown on recycling requirements.

In 2017, China banned the import of various scrap materials, including recyclables — so while institutions are committed to increasing sustainability, the current waste infrastructure can’t support or store the large influx of recycling. However, certain progressive cities, such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle, continue to lead the way by committing to “zero waste” targets. In order to achieve widespread change across the public and private sectors, and create the domestic infrastructure needed to sustainably adapt to the international waste landscape, citizens must work together to reduce waste — from individual households to corporate policies and sweeping regulatory change.

Here’s how each group can lead the charge in “zero waste” adoption.