Top Cities with Successful Recycling Programs

Day 307 – After China banned the import of recycled material from the U.S., our rates have declined. Many municipalities have been struggling to meet demand due to the sheer weight of material that needs to be processed and the labor-intensive need to separate clean from “contaminated” recyclables, due to Americans’ imperfect recycling habits. However, there are some cities that are doing something right and have seen their recycling rates increase over the years.

Here is the list shared by rts.com, along with a brief summary of their efforts (shared on the rts.com website)

  1. Phoenix, Arizona – Phoenix is promoting real change both by setting realistic diversion rates that encourage accurate measurement – unlike some cities and companies that set unrealistically high goals – and by acknowledging and budgeting in for recycling and compost market realities to ensure that materials are actually recovered. Phoenix does this by forging creative outside partnerships, including with Arizona State University (ASU) and the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network incubator (RISN). To date, RSIN has incubated 16 companies and created 74 jobs with a total of $5.17 million in revenue generated.
  2. New York, New York – Developed through a collaborative process in 2016, the zero waste guidelines encourage architects, planners, developers, city officials, waste haulers, recycling experts, building managers, business owners, and the general public to work together to refine existing systems and build new ones.
  3. Los Angeles, California – LA’s Solid Waste Integrated Resources Plan (better known as the Zero Waste Plan) aims to achieve the goal of 90% waste diversion by 2025, rising to 97% by 2030. Introduced in 2013, the plan highlights both manufacturer and consumer responsibilities in the fight for a cleaner city. Resources for businesses and private citizens are available at the Rethink LA portal, where advice and guidance on waste reduction and recycling can be downloaded. Additionally, the CalRecycle website offers further information on wider state policies and programs.
  4. San Francisco, California – The city introduced one of the first composting collection programs in the US, as well as a plastic bag ban in 2013. Numerous programs and laws now exist to reduce waste and increase recycling, including; the Zero Waste Textile Initiative, the Cigarette Litter Abatement Ordinance, and the Construction and Demolition Ordinance.
  5. Seattle, Washington – Seattle’s commercial recycling program was made mandatory in 2013, and in 2010 it adopted a zero-waste policy that aimed to design and manage products and processes to eliminate landfill and incineration. In addition to this, the city provides numerous resources to help both businesses and citizens recycle more efficiently.
  6. Boise, Idaho – Among Boise’s numerous recycling initiatives, the Hefty® EnergyBag® stands out as particularly innovative, allowing residents to recycle previously non-recyclable plastics by collecting them in an orange bag. Over 550,000 bags have been collected so far.
  7. Portland, Oregon – The City of Portland aims to increase material recovery rates to 90% by 2030, engaging citizens and businesses in a range of initiatives including a comprehensive youth education program. Available free of charge to schools and young adult groups, it includes a broad range of resources designed to raise awareness of recycling, composting, and climate change as a whole aim to ensure that future generations have the tools and skills required to achieve truly zero waste.
  8. San Diego, California – Its Zero Waste Plan is now aiming for “zero” by 2040, with the city heavily investing in new technologies and promoting awareness throughout its communities. This also includes a Resource Recovery Center at the Miramar Landfill to maximize diversion, even at the final stages of the waste management journey.
  9. Boston, Massachusetts – Boston’s Zero Waste initiative was introduced in 2018 and is striving to achieve 80% diversion by 2030. Offering residents and businesses a wealth of information alongside a range of practical toolkits designed to help residents reduce, repair, and recycle materials effectively and efficiently, the city has drastically improved its recycling and material recovery reputation in recent years.
  10. Denver, Colorado – Its recent collaboration with The Recycling Partnership is helping to raise awareness through a range of pilot routes designed to increase the types of materials residents can add to their purple recycling carts. One of these pilots encourages increased aluminum and steel can diversion – with on-the-ground experts assigned to routes, guiding residents by providing information cards detailing how to properly recycle these materials. This information will also be available in mailers, signs, and social media.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Chicago is not on the list. We are the 3rd largest city in the country, but have still not figured out how to become a leader when it comes to zero waste initiatives and programs that would educate residents and businesses. There is much work to be done.

Tomorrow, the crisis in Madagascar.

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