Catalyzing Investment in Urban Sustainability
U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on
Urban Sustainability


Zero Waste Strategies

Policy Overview

A "zero waste" goal recognizes that incremental improvements in resource efficiency may not enable us to reach a sustainable future in the way that a more comprehensive goal of eliminating waste can.

Zero waste policies minimize resource consumption and eliminate waste whenever possible in order to conserve energy, mitigate climate change, reduce water usage, prevent toxics creation, and stop ecosystem destruction. These policies help us address inefficiencies in the way we develop, use, and dispose of products. Policies that emphasize producer and consumer responsibility in the use of materials throughout the product life cycle are central to achieving a zero waste goal. Product manufacturers, retailers, and we the "users of products" together need to share responsibility for environmentally sustainable design, manufacture, marketing, reuse, recycling, and disposal.

Zero waste policies are leading to the development of new, streamlined materials, more recycling and less landfilling, and cooperative efforts involving the public, private, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) sectors to manage what otherwise would be end-of-life-cycle waste.

How to Apply this Policy

In one application of zero waste policies, San Francisco currently recovers 78 percent of discarded material and has a goal of zero waste by 2020. By ordinance, the City has required mandatory three-stream source separation and recycling of wastes; created "pay as you throw" trash collection incentives for businesses and residents that reduce waste; banned use of non-compostable or non-recyclable containers by food service vendors and restaurants; moved toward eliminating use of plastic bags-first by large supermarkets, for all stores by 2012, and for restaurants by 2013; mandated the recycling of construction and demolition debris; established green building standards for new construction; taken steps to ensure that recycling plans be in place for all special events; and required green purchasing requirements for city government.

Contact Information
Jack Macy
Zero Waste Coordinator, City of San Francisco
Phone: +1 (415) 355-3751

Other American cities, such as Seattle, Austin, and Oakland, also have adopted zero waste goals and have implemented municipal policies that promote both waste reduction and recycling.

In Brazil, the principle of "reverse logistics" is a cornerstone of the National Solid Waste Law, requiring producers to be responsible for waste generated from both packaging and a product itself. This requirement is leading to the development of more streamlined and recycled materials and to new strategies among the private, public, and cooperative/NGO sectors to manage what would otherwise be end-of-life-cycle waste.