Driven by bold climate goals or simply the reality of rapidly declining landfill lifespans in certain regions, communities have embraced the zero waste movement.
Goals have taken all shapes and sizes, given local governments’ varying abilities to enact market-changing policies, influence collection systems and implement new programs. While the Zero Waste International Alliance only considers commitments of achieving at least 90% diversion from landfills, incinerators and the environment to be zero waste targets, U.S. municipalities' commitments and progress vary greatly.
Looking ahead, momentum around reduction and reuse, and questions on how to best define, promote, pursue and measure zero waste efforts, continue to evolve.
Waste Dive seeks to map which U.S. communities have pursued goals or plans related to zero waste, and how far along some are in that journey. This list was primarily compiled with records from Zero Waste USA, CalRecycle and Eco-Cycle, and with research from Ryan Call.
Click on the interactive maps below to find local governments with zero waste initiatives. Do you have more recent reports, data or local government goals we should include? Please let us know.
Mapping zero waste cities: Where local governments are pursuing waste prevention and diversion
Waste Dive is tracking which communities throughout the U.S. have zero waste goals, how they define those efforts and how much progress they’ve made.
Driven by bold climate goals or simply the reality of rapidly declining landfill lifespans in certain regions, communities have embraced the zero waste movement.
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Progress: Boston estimated its recycling rate was 25% in 2019. More recent data is not available.
Policies and programs: Boston enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags in 2018, expanded yard waste collection and added on-call collection for textiles in 2021. A curbside organics collection pilot that the city rolled out in August 2022 has seen strong demand for that pilot. It initially offered service for up to 10,000 households and could expand in the future. Existing state regulations banning the disposal of certain materials — a list that recently expanded to include textiles, mattresses and some commercial organics — could also play a role.
Looking ahead, a recent Boston Foundation report said the city is “unlikely” to achieve its goals without an extended producer responsibility program for packaging as seen in some states. That report also noted Boston “will soon be leveraging $3 million in funding to explore municipal infrastructure for food waste disposal and a center for hard-to-recycle materials.” The report also called for Boston to reduce the amount of waste sent for disposal to “incinerators adjacent to distant environmental justice communities.”
Progress: The city’s baseline was 3.6 million tons of waste disposed in 2005 from the residential sector. In FY2022, New York disposed of 3.16 million tons of waste.
References: One New York Plan (2015) Department of Sanitation Strategic Plan Progress Report (2018)
Policies and programs: New York announced its zero waste targets in 2015 as part of a multifaceted sustainability plan, though timing on certain initiatives has shifted amid the pandemic and a new mayoral administration. Multiple DSNY commissioners have said over the years that the 2030 target is unlikely to be achieved, while still supporting bigger initiatives laid out in the original document.
Plans to implement commercial waste franchise zones, which proponents say will lead to better recycling rates, are proceeding ahead of potential contract decisions in 2023. The city has also redoubled its focus on residential organics collection, with a pilot launched for all Queens residents in the fall of 2022. The New York City Council could also be poised to pass a bill in 2023 requiring organics collection for all residents. Local officials have also called for the passage of a statewide extended producer responsibility law for packaging, which they say could be a major boon to reducing disposal volumes.
Progress: Baltimore City had a 19.94% waste diversion rate in 2020. Maryland calculated the diversion rate by adding a “source reduction credit” calculation to the recycling rate.
Policies and programs: “Less Waste, Better Baltimore” outlined a waste future for the city that could include residential and commercial composting by 2040, as well as expanded recycling access and dropoff centers. It also notes the potential of individual recycling incentives such as implementation of reverse vending machines that reward recyclers with vouchers for public transportation. As for remaining disposal, the report primarily recommended continued use of a WIN Waste Innovations mass burn combustion facility.
Baltimore is in the process of working with community stakeholders to revise the plan to achieve 90% diversion by 2040.
In 2021, with support from partners including The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners, Baltimore rolled out 65-gallon carts to customers. But Baltimore has also struggled with curbside recycling in recent years, with service disrupted amid the pandemic and staff shortages, prompting the city to move to biweekly pickups.
Baltimore’s waste policies include bans on expanded polystyrene foam and plastic bags. Statewide catalysts include a 2021 recycling market development law and an organics recycling law set to take effect in 2023.
Progress: The citywide waste diversion rate was estimated to be 16.11% for 2018. The residential waste diversion rate was 25.24%.
Policies and programs: The District announced in 2022 that it had reduced contamination in its recycling program from 33% to 11% between 2017 and 2021 through education and outreach.
In 2022 it enacted new restrictions on disposable food service ware. D.C. offers a network of farmers market-based food waste collection sites but does not yet have a widespread, city-led curbside organics service. It has product stewardship programs for paint and batteries.
Also in 2022, local officials have been seeking feedback on a Zero Waste DC Plan. The draft framework for the plan suggests the city study and pilot a pay-as-you-throw collection system and lays out ambitions like providing curbside compost collection by 2025, adopting a disposal ban on recyclable and compostable materials by 2032 and eliminating virtually all single-use plastic consumption by 2034.
Progress: The city’s 2017 waste diversion rate was 50.3%; when it factored in waste to energy, that rate was 72.2% diverted from landfills, the city said.
Policies and programs: The city’s Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet was disbanded amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that, it set ambitions for reducing waste and promoting reuse at municipal buildings, commercial buildings and events. Now, under the Office of Sustainability, the city’s zero waste initiatives include a zero waste partnership with businesses that can become eligible for a sustainable business tax credit, a network of community composting sites and implementation of a plastic bag ban.
Progress: The city of Gainesville and Alachua County, Florida, had a recycling rate of 39% in 2019, including C&D waste.
References: Zero Waste Strategy Report and Implementation Plan (2021)
Policies and programs: Gainesville, the county seat of Alachua County, enacted ordinances informed by the work of a zero waste subcommittee that require new solutions for food waste, including that restaurants and grocery stores donate edible food or use it for animal feed before composting it. The city is also implementing a by-request-only plastic utensils policy for businesses after facing legal challenges to past single-use plastics ordinances. Gainesville’s pay-as-you-throw collection system dates to 1994.
Progress: Chicago’s diversion for material collected by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation (primarily residential accounts in buildings up to four units) is estimated to be around 9%. A 2010 report estimated the “maximum achievable” diversion rate for this sector could be 43%, while the maximum achievable citywide rate (including the private sector and construction material) could be 57%.
References: City of Chicago Waste Strategy (2021)
Policies and programs: Chicago’s 2021 plan identified an array of policy and program opportunities. At the time, possibilities included single-use plastic product bans, revisiting the city’s C&D waste regulations, requiring recycling and composting for special events, and reviewing recycling policies for commercial and multifamily buildings.
Other developments include a Blue Cart recycling contract awarded to LRS in 2021 and the planned launch of a new food scrap composting program at six community gardens. DSS is also in the process of expanding its team to increase the focus on these efforts going forward. Pending results from the initial dropoff composting pilot, DSS hopes to potentially scale that model and assess the viability of residential curbside organics collection.
Progress: The city reported a 35.5% diversion rate for city-managed residential waste in 2021.
Policies and programs: Minneapolis’ current goals were spurred by Minnesota setting a 75% recycling and composting target in 2014 for the Twin Cities Metro Area by 2030. Curbside organics collection has been a key focus, prompting the city to add a citywide food scrap program to an existing yard waste program in 2016. This program applies to residential buildings with four or fewer units and the city recently reported a 52.5% opt-in rate. Multifamily and commercial accounts can also join, and a recently enacted Hennepin County ordinance requires organics diversion for large generators.
Looking ahead, Minneapolis expects to further evaluate its goals based on the results of an ongoing county zero waste planning process. Future focuses could include moving from biweekly to weekly recycling collection and making recycling participation mandatory.
Progress: The city had a 42% diversion rate at the end of FY21. It did not meet a 2011 target to achieve 75% diversion by 2020.
Policies and programs: A universal recycling ordinance requires all properties, including businesses and multifamily housing, to offer recycling. A construction and demolition recycling ordinance requires certain waste be kept out of landfills. Today, all of Austin Resource Recovery’s residential customers have access to curbside composting service. The agency also offers a zero waste business rebate to incentivize businesses to send less trash to landfills, as well as programs to support startups in the circular economy.
Going forward, ARR plans to expand on-call pickup services for certain types of waste. It’s also pursuing a “commercial compliance unit” that works to ensure compliance and education around commercial recycling.
Progress: The city reported a 20% recycling rate in 2020.
Policies and programs: Dallas’ 2022 plan in part sought to advance zero waste progress in alignment with the city’s climate action plan, with an emphasis on the single-family sector over which it has control.
It noted that added strain to landfill capacity driven by population growth emphasizes the importance of zero waste infrastructure. Such infrastructure could include expanded organics processing capacity, increased access to electronics recycling, and an upgraded transfer station system that can manage multiple material streams. The plan also calls for future material bans and residential recycling requirements to increase the capture rate of single-stream recyclables from 60% to 80% — after the city successfully implements voluntary approaches.
The report also called material generated by the multifamily and commercial sectors, which haulers service, its “next major opportunity.” The plan says the city should place more stringent reporting requirements on non-exclusive franchise haulers and consider incentivizing them to recycle by providing credits on franchise fees. The city may consider development of an exclusive or zoned franchise system in the long term on commercial recycling.
Progress: Reported a 32% citywide (defined as residential, private sector, organics and C&D) diversion rate as of February 2021.
References: Integrated Resource Recovery Management Plan (2021)
Policies and programs: Houston’s 2021 plan said it was “intended to identify pathways towards zero waste” through education, incentives and enforcement, and “presents realistic strategies.” The plan noted that disposal contracts are on a per-ton basis: “Therefore, there is a one-for-one ratio of waste reduction and costs for disposal.”
At the same time, the plan stated that “zero waste is currently not attainable” on a citywide basis. “Currently, there is no silver bullet for making waste go away. Technologies continue to evolve to help move toward a future of zero waste, but it is unlikely that during the planning period, the City’s reliance on landfills will come to an end,” the plan said. It also called for the city to begin identifying sites for future disposal facilities and “move to permit and construct its own landfill.”
In 2021, the Solid Waste Management Department and the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability ran a small-scale compost dropoff pilot.
Progress: San Antonio’s recently adopted a capture rate metric, which it defined as the amount of recyclable material collected for recycling, divided by the amount of all recyclables available in the waste stream. In 2021, the capture rate was estimated at 47% for recycling and 32% for organics. The city is in the process of updating its solid waste plan and expects to have new capture rate figures in spring 2023.
References: Solid Waste Management Department FY 2021 Annual Report (2022)
Policies and programs: San Antonio recently adopted a deconstruction ordinance and launched a material innovation center to promote reuse and keep C&D waste out of the landfill. Since 2018, its ReWorksSA program has sought to bolster businesses’ recycling and composting.
Progress: The city reported a 33.21% diversion rate for 2021.
References: Sustainable Resource Management Plan (2022)
Policies and programs: Denver’s 2022 plan lays out strategies including moving from biweekly to weekly recycling collection, passing a universal waste reduction ordinance and assessing infrastructure and end-market development needs.
The city council in 2022 approved a three-cart pay-as-you-throw collection system to be scaled up in 2023. In addition, voters in the November election approved a ballot measure to require apartment and condo buildings over eight units — plus businesses like restaurants, hospitals and event venues — to have recycling and composting. Colorado will also have an extended producer responsibility for packaging program that could begin in 2026.
Progress: Los Angeles reported a 76.4% diversion rate in 2011, with more recent data not yet available.
Policies and programs: In addition to its topline goals, Los Angeles is aiming to reduce MSW generation per capita by at least 15% by 2030, while also “phasing out single-use plastics” and ending landfilling of organic waste by 2028. Its plan has a goal to increase the amount of “waste products and recyclables productively reused and/or repurposed” within Los Angeles County to at least 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2035. The city’s 2019 plan also included details on multiple initiatives to help achieve these goals.
Since the city last provided a comprehensive update on its plan, the coronavirus pandemic delayed local legislative action and implementation efforts. Los Angeles now aims to offer residential organics collection service for all city-managed accounts by the end of 2022, as required by a state law. Plus, it is working to refocus attention toward organics service for commercial and multifamily accounts managed by private haulers. The Los Angeles City Council has also taken steps to ban certain types of plastics. A state extended producer responsibility law for packaging signed in June 2022 will also have major implications at the local level.
Program: The city said in 2022 its diversion rate from landfills stands at 36%.
References: Climate Action Plan (2021)
Policies and programs: Zero waste was one of the 2050 sustainability goals that the Phoenix City Council adopted in 2016. The city, an Ellen MacArthur Foundation network partner, has been developing a zero waste and circular economy road map that it intends to launch in 2023.
Included in Phoenix’s climate action plan is a push to attract businesses “that turn waste into resources” for its Resource Innovation Campus, which will offer land leases and business incubation services to circular economy innovators at the same site as a transfer station, MRF and compost facility. The goal is to allow local feedstock to contribute to new products. Accordingly, the city emphasized sustainability in the MRF contracts it awarded in 2022. In addition, the city has collaborated on a circular economy incubator with Arizona State University.
Regarding policy, the city noted in its climate action plan that the state of Arizona has pre-empted the banning of single-use plastic bags. It also noted that it worked with the Arizona Multi-Housing Association to create an ordinance requiring new multifamily complexes to build in dedicated capacity for recycling.
Progress: The city reported 67% diversion in 2015.
References: City of San Diego Zero Waste Plan (2015)
Policies and programs: Like many other jurisdictions in California, the key focus for San Diego is rolling out organics collection service for residential accounts. While the city previously offered green waste collection for many households, food waste collection will be new. Following the passage of a recent ballot measure, San Diego will soon be able to charge single-family homes for collection services and cover some of the additional costs presented by the organics rollout.
San Diego has also been working to make other updates to its commercial waste franchise collection contracts, which will influence progress toward the goals. In addition to broader recycling policies that have passed statewide, the San Diego City Council also recently passed a bill banning expanded polystyrene foam containers and limiting the distribution of plastic utensils and straws.
Progress: San Francisco reported an estimated 40% decline in disposal volumes between 2015 and 2020, but notes this was largely due to the pandemic’s effects on segments such as construction waste. For total disposal volumes, San Francisco reported a 11.7% reduction between 2015 and 2021.
Policies and programs: In 2002, San Francisco laid out a goal to hit 75% diversion by 2010 and zero waste by 2020. While the city says it hit the first target, based on specific accounting methodologies, it did not meet the second and later set its new benchmarks.
The city has long had organics collection and other waste diversion programs, so in recent years it has focused on additional ways to optimize performance. This has included initiatives such as requiring large buildings to perform waste audits and scaling up edible food recovery programs (part of a broader state mandate to reduce organics disposal).
Progress: San Jose at one time reported a diversion rate of 74%, according to information shared by the U.S. EPA. The San Jose City Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee reported in 2021 that waste trends changed in 2020, when the pandemic reshaped time spent at home. Between April and December 2020, garbage tons increased 8% and recycling tons increased 17% year over year.
Policies and programs: San Jose has been guided by a zero waste plan for over a decade and in 2013 opened the country’s first commercial-scale dry fermentation anaerobic digestion and in-vessel composting facility, according to EPA. This system was part of a broader shift to an exclusive commercial waste franchise collection system, which the city says significantly boosted diversion rates.
The city also previously enacted a pay-as-you-throw collection model. EPA has highlighted innovative aspects of San Jose’s approach to waste over the years, including through the use of recycling incentive payments and clean feedstock and diversion incentives. The city’s 2021 update also highlighted influential recent state laws, including those promoting recycling infrastructure development as well as recycled content to bolster domestic end markets, and in particular necessary efforts to comply with SB 1383’s requirements for organics recycling.
Policies and programs: Portland’s 2009 Climate Action Plan set a goal to “recover” 90% of all waste generated by 2030. It also set goals to reduce total solid waste generated by 25% and reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of the waste collection system by 40% by that same year.
The more recent 2030 Regional Waste Plan from the Metro Council aims for a statutorily established voluntary goal of 64% recovery by 2025. The 2030 plan also says it seeks to intervene in product life cycles prior to recycling or composting management.
Directives include implementing regional standards for collection container colors and signage, as well as establishing standards for collection areas at multifamily properties to ensure residents have adequate access to receptacles for garbage, recyclables and food scraps.
At the state level, Oregon passed the nation’s first bottle bill in 1971. Fifty years later, it passed the country’s second EPR for packaging law, with a program to be implemented beginning in 2025. Portland was credited with having the U.S.’s first deconstruction ordinance to reclaim materials and divert construction waste.
Progress: The city previously had goals noted in its 2011 plan to recycle 70% of C&D debris by 2020, and 70% of municipal solid waste by 2022. The city had an overall recycling rate of 52.7% in 2021.
References: Solid Waste Plan: Picking Up the Pace Toward Zero Waste (2011) Solid Waste Plan Update: Moving Upstream to Zero Waste (ongoing)
Policies and programs: Seattle has worked to make recycling and organics diversion accessible through curbside composting and service to multifamily buildings. It’s been helped by a disposal ban on organics. Its forthcoming solid waste plan update seeks to shift the focus from waste diversion to waste prevention, emphasizing data and new metrics for measuring zero waste progress. The Reuse Seattle public-private partnership among the city, event venues and other businesses seeks to launch reusable packaging systems.