To improve municipal waste management practices, boost local green jobs and help address climate change, the National League of Cities (NLC), in partnership with Starbucks, released Recycling Reimagined, a new action guide designed for city leaders. Released on America Recycles Day, the action guide provides cities the tools they need to establish a circular economic framework for recycling and to work towards zero waste.
“For decades, cities have led the charge for reducing waste and reusing valuable materials,” said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and Executive Director of the National League of Cities (NLC). “City leaders care deeply about health of their citizens and the safety of their environment. From coast to coast, cities large and small can use the tools and recommendations in this action guide to reduce waste and build a more sustainable future for their communities.”
Americans generate more waste than any other country in the world, and that amount is growing fast. But the EPA suggests that as much as 75 percent of all waste is recyclable and compostable, even though over half of that material ends up in landfills.
Currently, much of the global economy operates in a linear fashion: Resources make products, products are consumed, and both the products and any byproducts of manufacturing are disposed of. This “take-make-waste” model depletes resources, harms the environment and ultimately traps valuable materials in landfills.
In contrast, the “circular economy” model aims to keep resources within a closed loop of reuse, regeneration and recycling. A circular economy closes the loop by connecting the two ends of the linear cycle — using waste as a feedstock for production and limiting actual disposal. It ultimately aims to achieve zero waste by prioritizing the highest and best use of materials and resources.
The benefits are manifold. A 75 percent diversion rate by 2030 could produce 1.1 million new jobs and reduce carbon dioxide by 276 million tons, as well as save billions of dollars.
Recycling Reimagined offers case studies from cities like Phoenix, Arizona, Boulder, Colorado, Austin, Texas, Copenhagen, Denmark and Vancouver, Canada, who are already leading the way on zero waste. The action guide also includes recommendations and data for city leaders looking to build sustainable waste management systems in their communities.
“Starbucks is committed to serving our communities sustainably,” said Rebecca Zimmer, global director of environment at Starbucks. “We are proud to partner with National League of Cities as they work to help cities increase access to recycling, reduce waste and create equitable, prosperous communities in cities across the country.”
Recommendations for achieving zero waste include:
- Performing waste characterization studies
- Doing continuous outreach and marketing
- Prioritizing the best use of materials and resources
- Considering instituting standardized recycling and composting programs
- Using city procurement to boost sustainable products and end markets
- Building partnerships and regional support
- Finding innovative funding models
- Investing in infrastructure and improved technology
- Piloting programs