Summary

Every week, the average New Yorker throws out nearly 15 pounds of waste at home and another nine pounds of waste at work and in commercial establishments” (OneNYC, 2015). As a result, New York City spends over $350 million per year on waste disposal, while trucking garbage to out-of-state landfills, which generates additional carbon emissions. To tackle this situation, New York City has set a goal of reducing the amount of waste by 90% by 2030 from a 2005 baseline. It will also send zero waste to landfill by that point, which will contribute to reaching the city’s target of 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050 compared with 2005, a goal introduced in 2014 and reaffirmed in OneNYCxiv (April 2015), the city’s sustainability and resilience plan.

 

Results

The ambitious zero-waste goal has led to development of multiple city-wide initiatives,xv a detailed underlying analysis of benefits and co-benefits of the zero waste programme, and early engagement of public and local organisations, helping to bring diverse stakeholders on board.xvi The Zero Waste NYC initiatives aim both at reducing costs and waste generation and include, for example, the expansion of New York City’s organics curbside collection (currently available to 100,000 homesxvii) and local drop-off site programs to serve all New Yorkers by the end of 2018. The city also hopes to implement single-stream recycling collection for metal, glass, plastic and paper products by 2020. Other waste initiatives include building a waste-to-energy anaerobic digestion plant to transform up to 500 tons of organic waste a day into methane for heating; reducing the use of plastic bags and other non-recyclable waste (e.g. expanded polystyrene foam); giving every citizen the opportunity to recycle and reduce waste; making all schools zero-waste schools; expanding opportunities to reuse and recycle textiles and electronic waste; developing a blueprint for a Save-as-You-Throw programxviii to reduce waste through application of the polluter-pays principle; and reducing commercial waste disposal by 90% by 2030.xix

 

Reasons for success

Since the closure of the Fresh Kills landfill in 2001, New York City has shipped nearly all of its landfilled waste to out-of-state facilities, which led to rising costs and environmental concerns. Driven also by concerns about the negative impact of waste on neighbourhoods and by the city’s GHG emissions reduction target (waste reduction has the potential to contribute at least 4% or 3.8 MMt of CO2exx towards the city’s 2050 GHG emissions reduction goal), New York City has developed the ambitious zero-waste target and a comprehensive strategy to reduce the amount of waste generated.

 

When/why a city might apply an approach like this

Cities that are facing an increasing need for resource optimization as well as constraints on landfill space, fuel consumption and a need for improved service quality should identify clear targets to guide their strategies. Cities looking to deploy ambitious long-term programmes to reduce waste disposal can learn from San Francisco’s and New York City’s experience of engaging citizens, producers and service providers, as well as maintaining a consistent participation strategy across the city, measuring progress and delivering the infrastructure required to match people’s participation. 

 

C40 Good Practice Guides

C40's Good Practice Guides offer mayors and urban policymakers roadmaps for tackling climate change, reducing climate risk and encouraging sustainable urban development. With 100 case studies taken from cities of every size, geography and stage of development around the world, the Good Practice Guides provide tangible examples of climate solutions that other cities can learn from. 

The Waste to Resources Good Practice Guide is available for download here.  The full collection of C40 Good Practice Guides is available for download here.  

All references can be found in the full guide.