New York City - Cross-sector strategies for achieving zero waste in New York City


Given that New York City is the largest US city with a population of nearly 8.5 million people, the Zero Waste plan is massive. The programme is extensive in nature and includes many individual initiatives. Given this structure, some initiatives have had internal institutional challenges –– however, the plan overall has been a great success.


The success of recycling, re-use, re-purposing, and organics programmes require the active participation of citizens, and creating behavioral change is a long-term challenge. As a means of tackling this challenge, the City’s Zero Waste programme has developed tactics for encouraging new habits by directing energy and resources to the development of educational programs which have proven to be successful.


The city has worked to make it much easier to recycle and repurpose materials for individual citizens and, as a result, has diverted 118,000 tonnes of organic material, 10,000 tonnes of textiles and e-waste, and 3,000 tonnes of hazardous waste thus far, in addition to donating 26,000 tonnes of material. As of right now, the organics programme alone serves more than 1.2 million people. The City’s reduction plan is multi-faceted and does not stop at recycling or diversion; instead, the plan has developed pathways to reduce, re-use, and re-purpose collected materials. In one particularly creative instance, Zero Waste has established a long-term re-purposing partnership which uses recycled paper collected in Manhattan to create pizza boxes on Staten Island. In the first year of the program, the City diverted more than 600,000 tonnes of organics and recyclables and transformed these waste streams into compost, renewable energy, and raw materials.


The environmental benefits of New York City’s Zero Waste programme are manifold. Beyond mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing the amount of waste sent to landfills, with a goal of sending no waste to landfills by 2030, the plan collects and recycles more than 10 million pounds of electronic waste which contain highly toxic pollutants. The City’s e-waste collection practice also captures valuable materials used in electronics, which could result in changing practices in the technological sector and reduce the need to extract more raw materials. The consideration paid to re-use has resulted in the development of a donateNYC network which collects more than 50,000 tonnes of furniture, textiles, and appliances, extending the life of those products.


On the educational front, the Zero Waste project has trained over 13,000 people to develop more sustainable practices and has given more than 400,000 people access to recycling. The programme’s pamphlets have been translated into 15 languages, demonstrating a dedication to accessibility. The initiative has a central focus on teaching behavioral change, and the Zero Waste Schools programme has been incorporated into more than 100 schools, reaching nearly 50,000 public school students. Proving the big impact of the small actions of many, the initiative’s collaboration with the GreeNYC programme has encouraged 100,000 people to opt out of junk mail resulting in 20 million pounds of paper saved per year.

Projected Outcomes

New York City’s Zero Waste programme commits to sending zero waste to landfills by 2030 and, in so doing, establishes the City’s dedication to climate action. The success of this programme will mean that nearly 8.5 million people have learned to live more sustainable in their everyday practices –– the potential for a ripple effect is massive.


Zero Waste’s curbside organics programme is the largest in the country, and sets a new precedent for other major cities by proving that the largest city in the Western Hemisphere which generates 6 million tonnes of trash per year can successfully adopt ambitious waste-reduction strategies.