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| be Waste Wise | September 29, 2023

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How U.S. Cities Are Pursuing and Measuring Zero Waste Goals | with Cole Rosengren

How U.S. Cities Are Pursuing and Measuring Zero Waste Goals | with Cole Rosengren

A growing number of U.S. cities are seeking to hit waste diversion or reduction targets in the coming years. While the pandemic challenged many of these programs, renewed energy around climate change and federal funding could provide a boost. Learn how this trend fits into the broader zero-waste movement and how cities are working to track or certify their efforts.

Head to this article on Waste Dive for more information.

Gary Liss also provided more information beyond the hour in the webinar:

Evolution of ZW goals, frameworks and methodologies over the years, along with what is new for Zero Waste USA (GL)

ZW USA Tools

Next Frontier on Zero Waste

What parameters are to be considered to plan a city’s journey to become zero waste?

  • Goals and Definition
  • Existing system
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Options and descriptions
  • Diversion analysis
  • Economic analysis
  • Implementation Plan & Timeline

How are US cities tracking or certifying their efforts?

  • ZWIA and Zero Waste USA Zero Waste Community Recognition Program
  • TRUE Zero Waste and other USGBC certifications

How are communities increasing fees on garbage (keeping recycling and composting lower) in an equitable manner that does not overly punish those who have large or multi-generational families under one roof?

PAYT equity – reduce per-household waste collection fees for eligible residents by a set amount, a percentage discount, or offer a predetermined number of bags or stickers free of charge to low-income/senior residents.  Lower rates can be charged through existing low-income programs (e.g., other utility programs or according to federal poverty guidelines or guidelines for school lunch programs). Every other week trash collection will also help senior residents, as they may not need weekly trash service if the community has weekly food waste collection services. federal poverty guidelines

see the EPA website on PAYT for Special Populations.

What is your insight on assistance from federal legislation (e.g.,  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law or Inflation Reduction Act,  etc)? Some entities feel the funding levels are actually too high for their communities to manage, and they wanted smaller $$.

  • Too high a grant or too much bureaucracy? For the latter, consider Brownfields grants which include Technical Assistance to help in getting grants.  Also, there are now 17 new technical assistance centers for Federal Grants.  The U.S. Department of Energy funds these Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers (EJ TCTACs) to help underserved and overburdened communities across the country access funds.
  • Work together regionally and with community-based organizations.  Figure out a team that can manage well.
  • Remember, “earmarks” are back, so ask your Congressperson or Senator for help.

What are cities doing to pursue real recycling goals? Diversion is a confusing term that often means materials are not recycled,  they are merely diverted from landfill (and could end up in landfill anyway after being diverted!).

Diversion doesn’t mean materials are not recycled.  It means they are diverted from destructive disposal (landfills and incineration). Zero Waste cities are all pursuing real recycling goals as PART of their solutions. ZW cities focus first on rethinking, redesigning, and refusing, then setting up reuse systems, then recycling, composting, and digestion.


Gary Liss, Vice-President, Zero Waste USA

Gary Liss has 50 years of experience in recycling, is a leading advocate of Zero Waste, and has worked on Zero Waste Plans in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Oakland, San Jose, Boston, Austin, Fort Collins, Baltimore and Washington, DC. He is Vice-President of Zero Waste USA, Chair of the Certifications Committee of the Zero Waste International Alliance, past President and Lifetime Honorary Board Member of the National Recycling Coalition, and Coordinator of the Recycling Is Infrastructure Too Campaign. He is an assessor for the TRUE Zero Waste Rating System of GBCI, certified by SWANA, CRRA, and ZERI in Zero Waste principles and practices, and a former Mayor of Loomis, CA.

Natasha Dyer, Executive Director & Program Manager, SWEEP Standard

Lifelong zero-waster and recycler, when she is not found teaching members of her community about the importance of composting as a way to lessen their environmental impact or advising her local County Commissioners as a Sustainability Cabinet Member, Natasha Dyer serves as Acting Executive Director & Program Manager for the SWEEP Standard, a nationally-based solid waste environmental consultancy that helps local governments and the resource recovery industry to realize its goals in waste generation reduction and a movement towards sustainable materials management and circular economies–thus also helping them to lessen their own environmental impacts.


Cole Rosengren, Senior Editor, Waste Dive

Cole Rosengren is a lead editor at Waste Dive and Packaging Dive, and has been with Industry Dive since 2016. Prior to covering the waste industry, Cole learned about waste firsthand during more than a decade of restaurant and catering work in multiple cities. He earned a BFA from Emerson College and a MA from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Cole is a born Mainer and proud resident of Somerville, Mass.

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