First steps that communities can take towards zero waste

Zero waste is a journey; here are the first steps that communities can take…

Adopt a goal of zero waste to landfill and incinerators

Though zero waste to landfill is NOT true zero waste, this is can be a great step towards real zero waste. This goal should include concrete objectives and deadlines for achieving the goal. Banning recyclables from landfills and incineration will go a long way towards incentivising their proper treatment. The goal of banning waste incineration altogether will eliminate a major obstacle for waste minimisation and will help guarantee that all that is not buried is either avoided or safely recovered.

Seek public input and involvement

Organise a public meeting to discuss goals and ideas for beginning or expanding zero waste efforts in the community. It is especially important to involve those who make their livelihoods in recycling and reuse, as they know the existing system the best and will be the strongest advocate for its improvement if brought into the process at the beginning.

Segregate waste streams

Whether starting with a single stream like paper or beginning a more comprehensive program, it is important to keep recyclables separate from mixed trash and to make participation easy and convenient. Again, where informal recycling exists, create ways to integrate waste pickers into the formal system by laying the groundwork for public policies that provide payment, training, proper equipment and respect for their work.


Making organic materials a priority is key to cost-effectively reducing waste generation by 50 per cent. Collecting organics in a separate stream ensures that recyclables are not contaminated by wet trash, and organics are not compromised by any hazardous materials.

Institute economic incentives that reward waste reduction and recovery over disposal

For example, reduced tipping fees for recyclables and compostable materials and pay-as-you-throw fees for trash collection.

Make participation convenient

The more people participate, the more materials will be diverted from disposal. Education and outreach are critical. Zero waste programs depend on local citizens separating waste prior to collection, supporting relevant activities and revenues, and providing feedback for ongoing improvement.

Enact regulations to encourage business opportunities in reuse and recycling

Banning the sale of products that cannot be safely reused, repair, recycled or composted, and requiring the reuse and recovery of building materials in new construction and demolition. Develop markets for recycled materials and products, particularly local manufacturers. Government procurement can be a powerful tool to create demand for recycled goods.

Allocate human and financial resources to coordinate the work toward your zero waste goals

Initially, this can take the form of volunteer organisers. However, getting eventual support and participation from local government is crucial.

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