There has been a steady increase in the recycling recovery rate of cities across the country over the past decades, referring to the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) that is diverted from landfills by the municipality. It has been estimated that national recycling figures have increased by more than 25% since the turn of the millennium, and year-on-year growth has pushed the total figure to just over 93 million tons in 2022 as a result of the growth in the number of tons recycled.
The following cities have managed to earn a spot on the list of the cities with the highest recycling rates reported:
- San Francisco, CA: 80%
- Los Angeles, CA: 76.4%
- San Jose, CA: 75%
- Portland, OR: 70%
- San Diego, CA: 68%
The majority of these cities are in California, a state that has been requiring municipalities to reduce the number of landfill shipments since 1989. The state has now set a goal for to reduce landfill shipments by 75%.
What is wrong with the united states recycling system
The steady increase in recycling has stalled since China effectively banned the import of many recyclable materials it had previously accepted from the United States in 2017. As a result of Americans’ imperfect recycling habits, many recycling facilities have had difficulty meeting the high demand for material that needs to be processed and the labor-intensive need to separate clean from “contaminated” recyclables, as a result of China’s effective ban on importing most recyclable materials. In addition, cities and municipalities can recycle quite a bit in different ways. As a result of this context, it is difficult to envision how the US recycling industry could adjust and grow to meet the needs of the nation within the next few decades.
However, this does not mean there is no hope for the future. Some ground-breaking city initiatives have already set a precedent with innovative recycling programs aimed at promoting environmental stewardship and individual action, which have begun to pave the way for the future. As these programs continue to take root, it is hoped that they will go on to serve as models for the entire nation, reducing the amount of waste.
Throughout this article, we will take a look at a few of those “green cities” and how they are redefining waste management and recycling in the 21st century as we know it.
1. San Francisco, CA
The city of San Francisco set ambitious zero-waste policies in 2002 and 2003 as well as committing to 75% diversion by 2010 and zero waste by 2020 respectively. Several years ago, the city implemented the first compost collection program in the United States, as well as a ban on plastic bags.
It is now well known that there are many programs and laws designed to reduce waste and increase recycling. These include the Zero Waste Textile Initiative, the Cigarette Litter Abatement Ordinance, and the Construction and Demolition Ordinance. In order to streamline waste management operations, businesses can also take advantage of customizable waste management signs.
More info can be found on the San Francisco Environment Departments Website
2. Los Angeles, CA
A key goal of LA’s Solid Waste Integrated Resources Plan (also known as the Zero Waste Plan) is to achieve a 90% waste diversion goal by 2025, increasing to 97% by 2030. The plan was introduced in 2013 and emphasizes the roles of manufacturers and consumers in the fight against pollution. Approximately 3,000 stakeholders were brought together through a public outreach program to develop the guiding principles. This ensured that a variety of viewpoints were heard on how recycling can be improved.
Detailed information on state policies and programs is available on the cities website, which provides further information on waste reduction and recycling for businesses and private citizens.
3. New York, NY
There are free decals, signage, and information available to NYC residents, as well as to all types of agencies and organizations regarding the recycling of recyclable materials. In addition to receiving the DSNY’s monthly Zero Waste email newsletter, residents and business owners are also informed of the latest developments and changes to the guidelines. This includes the latest updates to the city’s Organics Recycling Laws when they sign up.
The city of New York is one of those cities looking to the future with its ambitious recycling initiative. NYC aims to reduce waste sent to landfill by a third by 2030. New York’s innovative approach to recycling is making waves across the city as part of their ambitious recycling program. The zero waste guidelines, developed in 2016 through a collaborative process, encourage architects, planners, developers, city officials, waste haulers, recycling experts, building managers, business owners, and the general public to work together in order to build new systems and refine existing ones.
4. Austin, Texas
In addition to being known for its vibrant culinary scene and its vibrant music scene, Austin has also established itself as one of the most prominent recycling hubs across the nation. One of the things that this city does in common with many other cities in the United States is to use the single-stream recycling method in order to simplify the recycling process for its residents and encourage them to recycle more. As opposed to having to sort their recyclables according to their material, locals will simply be able to place all paper, metal, and plastic material into a single container. This will enable them to avoid having to sort them by material.
In accordance with this initiative, 75% of all waste will be diverted by the year 2025, 85% by the year 2025, and 90% by the year 2030. It is hoped that the city will become a zero waste city by 2040 and eventually evolve into a restorative economy as it moves forward.
As part of the program, the main objective will be to redesign the manufacturing and supply chain in order to create a more sustainable supply chain by extending producer responsibility, while ensuring the supply of durable, reusable, recyclable, and recycled products ”
The City of Austin implemented a new curbside composting program for all of its residents. As the name implies, the Curbside Organics Collection Pilot program caters to the organic recycling needs of around 14,000 households across the city as part of the city’s curbside collection program. It is provided to eacresident with a a 96-gallon composting cart that he or she may fill with all kinds of food scraps, yard clippings and food-soaked papers that can be composted. It is the city’s responsibility to collect the carts on a weekly basis.
5 . Seattle, WA
There was a mandatory recycling program in Seattle in 2013, as well as a zero-waste policy adopted in 2010 to ensure that waste is eliminated from landfills and incineration by designing and managing products and processes. Furthermore, the city offers a variety of resources that will assist businesses and citizens alike in recycling more effectively.
In addition to offering recycling and composting information, Recycle-It is an app that can be downloaded for smartphones and tablets that lets customers set up reminders and check collection dates, in addition to offering information on garbage collection, recycling, and composting. The use of smaller trash cans and composting sites are also two of the initiatives that are being taken. These initiatives are designed to ensure that materials are separated properly and recycled in the right way.
6. Boise, ID
Boise’s numerous recycling programs stands out as one of the practices, allowing residents to recycle previously non-recyclable plastics using an orange bag to gather them. So far, more than 550,000 bags have been collected as part of the program
Aside from this, the city also provides a useful reference guide that can be used by both residents as well as businesses to ensure separation and sorting are done correctly. In addition, a regularly updated recycling calendar lets citizens know when the curbside pickups will be taking place.
7. Chicago, Illinois
There has been an increase in the recycling rate in the Windy City in the past few years, making it one of the top recycling cities in the country. The Chicago Recycling Coalition is one of the major players in this effort, as it is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting waste management practices that are both sustainable and cost-effective. Composting and recycling services have been developed as a result of the efforts of the Coalition over the past few years, both for residential and commercial consumers. Additionally, it also educates the public about what to recycle, where recycled items go, and the importance of buying recycled items in addition to these efforts.
8. Portland, OR
There are a range of initiatives being implemented by the City of Portland as part of its goal to reach a 90% material recovery rate by 2030, including a comprehensive youth education program that engages citizens and businesses. A number of resources are available to schools and young adult groups for free, including a wide variety of materials that aim to raise awareness of recycling, composting, and climate change as a whole to ensure that future generations have the skills and knowledge required to achieve a truly zero waste society.
Portland has also provided a wide range of detailed guides, advice, and technical assistance in support of these initiatives including guides and advice for houses, multifamily communities, businesses, demolition and construction projects, and event staging. This includes different guides to types of recycled material such as plastic resin, used wooden pallets, ibc totes, cardboard boxes, and bulk bags
9. Washington DC
The nation’s capital does not have the best history when it comes to waste management, so in order to improve the current diversion rate of D.C.’s solid waste to 80% and to reach zero waste by 2032, the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Act was passed.
In addition to the 2014 act, there are a number of other rules that contribute to a zero waste goal for the city, such as a ban on Styrofoam and the Electronic Stewardship Act. Under the 2009 Healthy Schools Act, the Department of General Services will provide educational programs about recycling, composting, and other environmental health topics to schools on a regular basis. Furthermore, this act is also intended to comply with legal requirements, including improving the operation of buildings and reducing wastes of natural resources and financial resources.
10. San Diego, CA
It is no secret that San Diego has been at the forefront of waste diversion and recycling for many years, as has much of California. It has recently announced the goal of “zero” waste by 2040, as part of its Zero Waste Plan, which the city has heavily invested in new technologies and is promoting awareness throughout its communities in order to achieve this goal.
Since the year 2012, the cities of San Diego have implemented mandatory recycling requirements for all single-family homes, apartments and condominiums, as well as privately-owned businesses and commercial/institutional buildings. These recycling rules have been extended to all single-family homes, apartment buildings, condos and condominiums. There is also a detailed guide to recycling available on this website.
11. Boston, MA
There is no doubt that Boston is one of the most eco-friendly cities in the US. Apart from the fact that the city has the highest number of people who prefer to walk to work, it has also implemented a comprehensive recycling and composting plan. To turn tons of leaves into energy and fertilizer, the compost plan utilizes wildlife and plants to convert leaves into energy and fertilizer.
Besides the compost plan, the city has a comprehensive recycling program that promotes the recycling of computers, cell phones, paper, cans, and bottles as well as compost. Waste management programs are required for businesses in order for them to be able to recycle their waste effectively.
It was announced in 2018 that Boston’s Zero Waste Initiative would achieve 80% diversion of waste by 2030 and is aiming to achieve this goal.
The city has significantly improved its reputation for recycling and material recovery in recent years by providing residents and businesses with a wealth of information as well as a number of practical toolkits that can be used to reduce, repair, and recycle materials effectively and efficiently.
Furthermore, as of 2018, the city has also implemented a plastic bag ordinance, requiring stores to provide customers with only reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or compostable checkout bags, as well as preventing retailers from stocking single-use plastic bags that have handles in their stores.
12. Denver, CO
Denver’s ambition is to make it one of the greatest recycling cities in the US in order to make it one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the country. As a result of its recent collaboration with The Recycling Partnership, the consortium is raising awareness as a result of a range of pilot routes designed to increase the types of materials that residents are able to add to their purple recycling carts. This is one of the pilot programs that encourages aluminum and steel can diversion – with on-the-ground experts assigned to routes, providing information cards detailing how these materials can be properly recycled to residents. Additionally, this information will be made available in the form of mailers, signs, and social media posts.
As a result of the Denver MRF’s opening in 2013, all of these activities are supported by the Denver MRF. In addition to supporting curbside recycling, this facility provides a drop off point for commercial single-stream recycling that can be used by businesses. There is also a wealth of information available on the Denver Recycle site that is both useful to public organizations as well as commercials organizations when it comes to everything from composting to hazardous waste disposal.
13. Phoenix, AZ
There is no doubt that Phoenix has placed itself on a zero waste map due to its recent multimillion-dollar investment in a region-wide recycling scheme. A pragmatic approach to waste management has been adopted by the city by announcing a realistic goal of 40% landfill diversion by 2020, and a zero-waste goal by 2050. In order to promote real change, Phoenix sets realistic diversion rates that encourage accurate measurement – unlike some companies and cities that set unrealistically high goals. In addition,
Phoenix acknowledges and budgets for recycling and composting market realities to make sure materials are actually recovered by recycling and composting. For instance, Phoenix forges creative partnerships outside the company, including those with Arizona State University (ASU) and the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network incubator (RISN).
In collaboration with the city, Pheonix has been able to create 74 jobs with total revenue of $5.17 million. As part of the city’s plan, Arizona intends to continue this modular approach to waste management, creating a more resilient system that is capable of adapting to future changes. However, the true innovation here lies in the collaboration between two parties; with RSIN providing the business acumen and the cash, while Phoenix Public Works provides the space and land, as well as a guaranteed supply of recyclables, to ensure that innovative startups are able to thrive and grow
Through projects like the Greater Phoenix Smart Region Initiative, which leverages scale to create impact by integrating Smart Cities offerings across 22 area municipalities, Phoenix is leading the “Smart Cities” movement in the U.S. As part of its public-private partnership between ASU and the Institute for Digital Progress, the Institute leverages scale for impact.
14. Boulder, CO
It is important to note that Boulder’s Zero Waste Strategic Plan consists of three phases: access, participation, and the zero waste stage. To increase the number of materials accepted into the recycling stream, the plan targets the “hard-to-recycle” material stream so that a wider range of materials can be accepted.
According to the Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, by the end of the year, 85 percent of waste will be converted into new materials. All property managers are required by the ordinance to provide adequate trash, recycling, and composting services to their tenants, as well as make sure that businesses are also conforming to the ordinance by sorting properly and reporting any violations they encounter.
As a result of its zero waste initiative, the city of Minneapolis has set a target of diverting 80% of its waste by 2030.
The Minneapolis Zero Waste Plan has a broad assortment of strategies that range from making it easier for people to access education programs to improving its environmental impact. It is also intended that the city will obtain data from waste generators and haulers so that it can measure the progress made.
The most common types of recyclable materials can be divided into the following categories:
- Used Plastic
Plastic Bottles & Containers
- You can recycle plastics by following the shape of the container: bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs. T
- A variety of food and beverage cans
- Empty tin cans, aluminum cans, and steel cans should be recycled.
- It is also possible to recycle empty aerosol cans. It is recommended that you remove the plastic lid from the can before recycling it.
- It is a good idea to recycle paper, newspapers, and magazines.
- The paper should be composted if it is soiled or wet.
- Flattened Cardboard, Paperboard, Gaylord Boxes, Shipping Boxes
- All cardboard and paperboard should be flattened and recycled.
- It is advisable to recycle cardboard pizza boxes without leftovers or liners, but you should not recycle pizza crusts, cheese, or any other food that may be left over.
Food & Beverage Containers
- There are varying rules for recycling milk cartons, juice boxes, and food cartons based on the city, county, and state in which you live. If you are interested in recycling cartons, you should check with your local recycling programs.
- In order to avoid contamination, make sure that the containers are completely empty before opening them.
Glass Bottles & Containers
- Please check the guidelines of your local recycling program to see if there are any rules regarding glass recycling.
- For more information on recycling glass, please refer to your local program guidelines. The recycling of glass can be done curbside in some communities, or at drop-off locations