Zero-Waste Cities Around the World


Living a zero-waste life may seems like a pipe dream for most of us. How could I get my personal care goods? Most of them are sold in plastics! What if I suddenly want to bring home some street food, and I don’t carry any food container at the moment? How should I replace/refill my stationery needs, like correction pen and highlighter--which obviously create waste once it runs out?

Those personal questions alone are already uneasy to solve for one individual soul, not to mention for the entire community--how to fulfill the communal needs that require plastics in the name of convenience? This thing then sparked a little wonder : could people do it collectively? Could there actually, possibly be a zero-waste city?

Well, the answer is, it should be possible. While so far there’s still zero city that already acquired the ‘zero-waste city’ title, there’s some cities which already in the running to become one of that kind. Some have just started to move, some have done it for a decade or more. Let’s take a look at 5 of them!

1. New York City, USA

The Big Apple once had a landfill that is visible from space. Yep, Fresh Kills landfills, notoriously known as the world’s largest landfill and was taller than the Statue of Liberty, has been existed in NYC since 1947. It is now planned to be Fresh Kills park, but the project is scheduled for completion at 2037, so there’s still a long way to go. But New York does not want to wait any longer to start their move to be a zero-waste city--it planned to become one in 2030.

This plan may seem impossible for a city where a trash bin that’s not overflowing with garbage is a rare object, but it’s also too pessimistic to say that it’s impossible. NYC has started with a pilot composting program and a ban on styrofoam containers, and starting something always better than doing nothing at all.

2. Kamikatsu, Japan

A girl sorting her own trash in Kamikatsu's recycling center

The local council of this south-western Japan city located in Shikoku island decided to make their city “zero-waste” as it is cheaper and more environment-friendly than establishing an incineration plant (a waste treatment mechanism where the waste materials are burnt to ash at high temperatures). In Kamikatsu, waste should be composted or sorted into one of 34 recycling categories. The town has no garbage truck, it means each residents must do the sorting themselves--and they should wash the recyclable items first before they bring it to the recycling center. The workers in recycling center will oversee the sorting process, to make sure that each piece of trash goes into the right bin(cause if the trash gets placed into the wrong bin it will significantly impairs the efficiency of the recycling process). Meanwhile, the kitchen scraps should also be composted by the residents themselves at home.

The fun thing is, some reusable items are removed from the trash sorting system and taken to the local businesses, where they are resold or repurposed. The products then sent to “kuru-kuru(circular) shops”, a “recycling store” where residents can come and take home anything they like--for free!

With an estimated population of 2.042 in total area of 109,68 km² (2003), Kamikatsu is one of the least populous town in Japan. People from other town with higher density may think that their small population may be one of the reason of Kamikatsu’s success in moving its residents toward the zero-waste life, but actually it’s not that easy to encourage people to have such commitment. Kamikatsu’s government first decided to legitimate the zero-waste policy in 2003, and it took them more than a decade to eventually recycle 80% of their trash(only 20% goes to landfill). They aim to become Japan’s first zero-waste city in 2020, and so far they’re doing really, really good; and it seems they’re most likely to succeed to fulfill the 3-years’ deadline.

3. Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Argentina capital had started at 2005 with a 15-years goal to become a zero waste city. This is quite an ambitious goal, considering its big population(and the bigger waste generated from them) and the fact that the city’s trash services mostly run by private companies that have a profit motive to keep landfilling. But, in the other side, Buenos Aires has their own unsung heroes, that are the cartoneros--the waste pickers. They sort the trash everyday, picking up the recyclable ones, and leave the rest to the waste haulers. In Indonesia, their role resembles the role of pemulung. Now, these impoverished workers have organized into cooperatives where they can do the sortings in safer and cleaner environment, and also negotiate better price with recycling companies.

4. Every city in Sweden

Various trash bins in Sweden encourage its residents to sort their waste in daily basis

Sweden is a zero-waste country, hands down. They had put many efforts in becoming zero-waste country since 1970s. The nation’s fuels itself by burning about 2 million tons of their trash annually in a waste-to-energy plants, replacing their fossil fuel use. It drastically reduce their landfill waste, and they did this while recycling and reducing their waste in a very efficient way. But then it creates another problem--their efficiency in waste management had made them doesn’t have enough trash to feed its incineration plant. Sweden then imports approximately 800.000 tons of trash annually from neighboring countries to be burnt to power its facilities.

5. South Tangerang, Indonesia

Differ from the previous 4 cities, Tangerang has just ‘try’ it in small sector--Camar street and Pinguin street in Bintaro, South Tangerang. Initiated by an architecture collective LabTanya, they start an experimental program called Kota Tanpa Sampah or City Without Trash since January 2016. The goal is simple--to show the residents there how significant their tons of ‘contribution’ to the Rawa Kucing garbage dump near their neighborhood. Here, the LabTanya team aimed to educate the residents about waste management system so that they could take part in keeping the environment clean, starting from their personal consumer behavior.


What these 5 cities did are such a fresh air for our Mother Earth nowadays. The highly-consumtive lifestyle everywhere equals to more and more waste, which contribute significant threat to the preservation of our planet. By 2015, The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) estimates that only 12% of plastic waste currently gets recycled, while the 88% being sent to landfills. Plastic needs at least 1.000 years to decompose, and now hundred thousands tons of plastic debris are currently contained in the oceans, endangered the marine species with extinction. Now, it’s up to us--will we commit to the zero-waste lifestyle? Or, at least, try to reduce our waste as minimum as possible? The choice is yours.

P.S. “Zero-waste” is different with “recycling”, and the zero-waste lifestyle is not only about bringing your own grocery bag. We will talk about it in the next article, but now please sit back and enjoy your coffee first--in a reusable cup, of course! ;)

Images source : One Green Planet, Mother Nature Network


Written by Nadia Maya Ardiani

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