Right, there is a mind-blowing concept. We know what a zero waste company is – an ethical company that has put systems into place to manage their waste. The idea is that no waste goes into landfill – it is recycled, reused, composted, or otherwise dealt with. Now imagine that concept being extended to an entire city.

That means that every company, not just the few who are leading the way, will go zero waste to landfill. And every hotel and grocery shop. And every household.

That is an ambitious aim. But it is happening worldwide. Many cities have committed to going to zero waste. Derry is the first Irish or UK city to make that commitment.

The zero waste cities approach is a continuous effort to phase out waste, not by burning it or burying it in landfill, but by trying to eliminate waste in the first place, and by dealing in a more green way with whatever waste is produced.

Waste is a big source of greenhouse gasses. There are a number of ways in which this happens. If waste is incinerated, gasses are released into the atmosphere. If waste goes to landfill, methane can be produced as it decomposes. But there is another way in which waste contributes to greenhouse gasses. Carbon is released during the manufacturing, during resource extraction prior to manufacture, during packaging, shipping, and in retail. It is a big carbon footprint that needs to be wiped clean if a city is to go zero.

But though it is a big task, it is a task with a big payoff at the end. When cities commit to zero waste – through minimising, recovering, and treating waste, rather than disposing of it in landfill – they save money, protect the environment, and create jobs. They reduce emissions and promote community pride.

Worldwide many cities have made the commitment, and many countries are encouraging this. The EU has got behind the objective. Cities that begin to move towards zero waste will immediately see savings in their waste management bills. Landfill is expensive – eliminating it has to save money.

Zero waste cities around the world

Zero waste cities

The leading city in the zero waste movement seems to be San Diago in California. Derry is the first city in Ireland or the UK. But they are two among many.

Kamikatsu, Japan

Japan is a huge consumer of plastic. Their culture includes an excessive amount of packaging for just about everything. But for twenty years Kamikatsu has been moving in a different direction. Residents follow strict recycling regulations, separating their waste into an impressive 45 different categories. And items that don’t fall into those 45 categories are sent to a swap shop, where everything secondhand is free. The only items that get incinerated are things like diapers or sanitary towels. In 2016 the town recycled 81% of its waste, more than four times the Japanese national average.

Austin, Texas

The city of Austin has announced it intends to achieve zero-waste status by 2040. There are mandatory composting and recycling programs. Landlords must provide access to recycling services to all tenants. Austin also focused on the commercial sector, which contributed 85% of the waste. One regulation brought in in 2015 forced all large building projects to reuse or recycle 505 of all construction debris.

Capannori, Italy

No one likes an incinerator in their neighbourhood. People protest and petitions are signed. But when the residents of Capannori heard that an incinerator was coming to their community, they went one step further. They became the first town council in Europe to sign up to zero waste.

They implemented a door to door collection scheme, which improved waste separation accuracy. They also increased the cost of waste collection, forcing residents to take more care. The council saved over E2 million in 2009 by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill. These savings were invested into the zero-waste movement.

Pune, India

To most of us in the west Pune is a place of Ashrams and chanting gurus, but behind the facade tourists see, a traditional way of life continues the way it has for generations. Traditionally waste in India was dealt with in two ways. The municipality had the official waste collection, and the lower caste poor sifted through waste to salvage what they could.

When bodies are thrown from funeral pyres into the Ganges or other sacred rivers, young boys scavenge the ashes for coins and jewellery.

In Pune the unofficial waste sifters were from the Dalit caste, and the vast majority were women. It was subsistence living. But then they unionised, and the women were slowly able to carve out a better livelihood. By 2012 unionised workers numbered around 2,000, collecting waste from nearly half the city, and improving waste management as they went.

They separate waste and recycle, and save the city roughly E2.5 million a year.

Derry, Ireland

Derry Ireland

According to the Derry Journal (Nov 19, 2020): “The Derry City and Strabane District Council area has officially become the first Zero Waste City in Ireland and the UK.”

Mayor Brian Tierney said: “This is a significant milestone in our work towards a Circular Economy Zero Waste District, and I am proud that we are the first council area in these islands to achieve this designation.”

It is good to see an Irish city joining the global revolution.

Zero Waste Program with CEC

Green world

Everyone can do their bit to move our cities towards zero waste. We can bring it up on the doorsteps at election time, and we can lobby our local representatives. But we can’t just leave it to others to do the hard work.

If we are committed to making our communities zero-waste, it must start with the individual. We each have to pull our weight, by making our households and our businesses zero-waste. 

At CEC we would be delighted to help you implement your own zero waste program. We have specialist software to analyze your waste, and the experience to lead you in the right direction. You can recycle and reuse. You can minimise waste from the beginning. A lot can be achieved in a few months, and we would love to help you on that journey.