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Trash Busters

Case Studies of Government-Sponsored Waste Prevention Programs

State and local governments are in a unique position to promote waste prevention because they often have the resources to launch an aggressive campaign. Implementing a comprehensive waste prevention program allows states, cities, and towns to simultaneously save money and set an example of responsible waste management. Moreover, local governments have a responsibility not only to assist residents and businesses within their jurisdiction to reduce waste, but also to do the same within their own agencies and institutions.

An effective waste prevention program targets all the different generators of waste. To reduce residential waste, it includes outreach and educational initiatives. To reduce government and institutional waste, it encourages waste-preventing practices (such as double-side copying) and the purchase of waste-preventing products (such as reusable dishes, rechargeable batteries, and upgradable computers). To reduce waste from the private sector, it provides technical and financial assistance to help businesses establish reuse, remanufacturing, composting, and recycling operations. Finally, an effective program establishes quantitative measures of waste prevention that allow its own impact to be evaluated.

This section of the Community Waste Prevention Toolkit provides a sampling of waste prevention programs initiated by state and local governments throughout the US. (For more case studies, see the Survey of Waste Prevention Programs in Major U.S. Cities, States and Counties, prepared for the New York City Dept. of Sanitation by Science Applications International Corp.) These successful initiatives can serve either as models or as generators of new ideas for organizations and individuals interested in developing waste prevention programs in their community.

  • Residential Waste Prevention Programs
  • Waste Prevention Programs at Government Agencies and Institutions
  • Composting and Organic Waste Prevention Programs
  • Waste Prevention Programs in the Private Sector
  • Waste Prevention Measurement and Goal-Setting

Residential Waste Prevention Programs

Master Recycler/Composter Program
King County, Washington
This ten-year-old community education program focuses on waste reduction and resource conservation. Participants receive 40 hours of free training on waste prevention, recycling, composting, and nontoxic/low-toxic alternatives to household products that contain hazardous materials. Participants can also construct their own composting bin at reduced cost. In return, they are required to share their knowledge through 40 hours of community outreach. For example, these “master recycler/composters” staff booths at community fairs, provide compost education through demonstrations at nurseries, and teach children in schools about waste reduction and recycling. There have been over 425 participants in the program since it began in 1990, and all county residents outside of the city of Seattle are eligible to apply. With a 2000 program budget of $150,000, mostly for consultants to run the trainings, the master recycler/composter volunteers hosted 158 events and educated over 12,500 people between 1999 and 2000.

Shop Smart
San Francisco, California
In 1996, the San Francisco Recycling Program held a three-week regional campaign to bring the message of waste prevention to consumers through displays in 225 supermarkets. Educational materials included shelf tags, posters, and display units with informational literature. In addition, 780 television ads, 1600 radio ads, and numerous full-page newspaper ads stressed, among other things, the importance of purchasing products with less packaging, buying in bulk, and bringing reusable bags to the market. Exit polls conducted both during and after the campaign showed that over one million shoppers remembered one or more elements from the campaign and 30 percent had altered their buying habits as a result of the educational materials. The project’s total cost, provided by a number of public entities, was roughly $350,000. Since 1996, the campaign — now called Shop Smart: Save Money and the Environment Too — has been held each year with similar success.

Waste Authority Mini Grants
Alameda County, California
Since 1998, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority has offered minigrants to help fund projects focused on waste prevention. The program is budgeted for $50,000 per fiscal year, with a maximum grant of $5000 per applicant. The grants are intended to supplement projects with additional funding sources. In a recent project, a nonprofit group collected used athletic equipment, refurbished the gear when necessary, and distributed it to low-income residents and school children. At one sporting goods drive held by the grant recipient, 7000 Nike hats, among numerous other items, were intercepted from the waste stream. 

 

Waste Prevention Programs at Government Agencies and Institutions

Environmental Management Program
Seattle, Washington
As owner and operator of over 350 separate facilities, the City of Seattle is one of the largest employers in its jurisdiction. To ensure that the city itself sets an example in waste prevention, the Environmental Management Program establishes goals and procedures for all city departments to reduce solid waste and increase recycling consistent with Seattle’s waste management plan. In fiscal year 2000, with a budget of $572,000, the program provided city employees with technical assistance and training in waste reduction conducted by Seattle Public Utilities, the department responsible for the city’s sanitation services. Under the program, each city department must designate a coordinator to promote waste reduction and recycling, and all city buildings must establish recycling collection services. Data on waste generation, reduction, and recycling rates are collected to measure the program’s success.

Environmentally Preferable Products Procurement Program
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Established in 1988, Massachusetts’ Environmentally Preferable Products Procurement Program is one of the most successful such programs in the country. In 2000, the commonwealth and local entities purchased over $65 million worth of recycled products and millions more of products that minimize waste, conserve energy and water, and contain fewer toxic materials. The program targets products of all types purchased under state contracts for state agencies, including reusable shipping crates, rechargeable batteries, retread tires, recycled antifreeze, solar landscape lights, compost bins, and remanufactured furniture and medical equipment. Under the $150,000/year program, vendors are required to certify the environmentally preferable attributes of their products and the state holds the right to cancel the contract if this information is found to be incorrect. Preference is given to vendors able to prove that their products are manufactured without toxic substances. In addition to encouraging responsible purchasing, program staff hold one vendor conference and numerous workshops for public purchasers each year. They also provide extensive outreach materials, including the Recycled and Environmentally Preferable Products Guide for State Contracts, which provides up-to-date details on existing state contracts for environmentally preferable products.

Mercury Reduction Pilot Project
Monroe County, New York
In 1999, this New York county, in association with the University of Rochester, Strong Memorial Hospital, and Eastman Dental Center, completed a very successful two-year pilot project to decrease mercury usage in medical facilities. In response to growing concerns about mercury-contaminated fish in Lake Ontario, the county initiated the project with a $61,000 matching grant from the EPA. Through the efforts of the project’s Mercury Reduction Task Force, mercury thermometer usage at Strong Memorial Hospital decreased by 90 percent in one year and almost all mercury-filled blood-pressure instruments were replaced with mercury-free aneroid. In 1999, the University of Rochester received an Environmental Quality Award from the EPA for its involvement with the Mercury Reduction Project.

 

Composting and Organic Waste Prevention Programs

Yard Trimmings Recycling Program
San Jose, California
San Jose operates an $11 million a year program to reduce and recycle residential yard trimmings, which make up 35 percent of the city’s waste stream. The city encourages grasscycling — the natural recycling of grass that occurs when lawns are properly mowed and the clippings left on the lawn. (A blade of grass is 80 percent moisture, 10 percent nitrogen, and 10 percent fiber, all of which decompose within a few days, adding free water and fertilizer to the soil.) Grass can also be composted in a backyard bin or used as mulch. In addition, the city picks up leaves, small prunings, and clean holiday trees at the curb and recycles them into high-quality compost, mulch, and wood chips for use by the Parks Department, community gardens, and local farmers. This system of handling organic materials separately diverts 13,000 tons a year from the landfill. San Jose has also partnered with local energy and hardware companies to organize a lawnmower exchange, where residents can trade in their gas-powered mowers for cordless electric mulching mowers.

Botanical Gardens Compost Program
New York, New York
Established in 1993, this citywide outreach, education, and technical assistance program, implemented through the city’s four botanical gardens, aims to reduce organic food and yard waste. Together, these materials account for more than one-fifth of the city’s waste stream. The $750,000 program targets schools, city agencies, residents with access to community gardens or backyards, and those interested in indoor composting of organic kitchen scraps (“vermicomposting”). Each botanical garden hosts four “Give Back” events each year where residents can purchase backyard composting bins (at subsidized cost) and take up to 30 gallons of free, fresh compost made by the city. Over 7000 bins have been sold citywide since 1999. In addition, program staff run a “Leave it on the Lawn” mowing program, mainly in conjunction with the New York City Housing Authority, the city’s largest landowner. In a 30-week growing period, an acre of lawn can generate 6 tons of clippings. According to a 1997 survey, grasscycling keeps approximately 1300 tons of grass clippings from Housing Authority sites out of the waste stream each year.

Backyard Composting and Natural Soil Building Program
Seattle, Washington
Seattle Tilth, a local nonprofit, has held the contract to operate Seattle’s composting program since 1985. Focused on composting education, this is a popular program comprising a variety of initiatives. The Master Composter program (similar to the Master Recycler/Composter Program in nearby King County) provides local volunteers with 40 hours of composting training in return for educational outreach to the community. An average of 25 new Master Composters enter the program each year. Seattle Tilth also manages the Compost Hotline, which was recently expanded to promote the benefits of using compost as a natural soil-builder. The organization also hosts an annual two-day compost bin distribution event, plus several smaller workshops and distribution events at which staff are available to answer questions and give advice on organic waste prevention. In 2000, the city distributed 4300 compost bins at these events. In spring 2001, Seattle Tilth initiated a pilot project in which groups of neighbors can request their woody waste to be chipped free of charge by tree care professionals and used on-site as mulch. The project is expected to assist 100 groups of six families each. In 1999, 46 percent of all single-family households in Seattle (accounting for roughly 60 percent of the total population) diverted 12,000 tons of organic waste through the Backyard Composting and Natural Soil Building Program. Seattle Tilth recently received a $650,000 contract to run the program for another two years.

 

Waste Prevention Programs in the Private Sector

Materials for the Arts
New York, New York
For 20 years, the city-run Materials for the Arts (MFA) program has served as a reuse and redistribution center for schools and arts organizations. The program takes donations of art and office supplies, furniture, and art equipment from businesses, individuals, and cultural and municipal sources and stores them for reuse. Donors receive a tax deduction for the fair market value of the material. Materials for the Arts receives approximately $2.3 million worth of donations and diverts about 450 tons of materials from disposal each year. Over 2000 organizations and schools are active recipients of materials made available through this award-winning program.

Wa$teMatch
New York, New York
Established by the Long Island Business Development Corp. and the Industrial Technology Assistance Corp. in 1997 and funded by the City of New York, Wa$teMatch is a materials exchange service for city businesses. The program maintains a database of materials, both wanted and available, and acts as a middleman between businesses looking to find and donate items ranging from scrap metal to shipping containers to day-old bread. In addition to reducing their waste disposal costs, businesses donating unwanted materials can sometimes claim tax deductions. Businesses able to locate free or low-cost materials save on raw materials. The program currently has an annual budget of $200,000 and works with an average 85 different businesses a year. The 255 transactions Wa$teMatch facilitates annually are responsible for the diversion of almost 1800 tons of materials from disposal and savings to participating businesses of over $100,000 a year in disposal and materials costs.

Recycling Market Development Zones
State of California
The goal of the Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ) program is to provide incentives that further the manufacture of waste-reducing products and the creation of reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling businesses. It was established in 1993 by local governments and the California Integrated Waste Management Board, a division of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency comprising six members responsible for managing California’s solid waste. Companies located in each of the program’s 40 zones are eligible for low-interest loans, streamlined permitting and tax breaks, and assistance from the Recycling Business Assistance Team on market development, funding options, and other issues. To date, $25.5 million has been awarded through the loan program and led to the creation of 690 jobs. For example, Parks Optimal Inc., a high-end telescope manufacturer, developed a product that uses recycled plastic components rather than metal and other materials. The new product line has prevented the disposal of 430 tons of plastic and created 35 new jobs. Each year, RMDZ program diverts approximately 1.6 million tons of materials from disposal.

Environmental Management Investment Group
State of New York
Operated by the Empire State Development Corp., a public agency, the Environmental Management Investment Group (EMIG) provides grants for research, development, and demonstration of reuse, remanufacturing, recycling, and other pollution and waste prevention projects. A nationally recognized grant program, EMIG has been responsible for developing new recycling technologies and new markets for products made from reusable materials in New York State. Between 1998 and 1999, EMIG financed 120 projects costing a total of $29.7 million and resulting in the prevention of more than 1 million tons of waste. Since 1992, for example, one grant recipient has been collecting unused medical supplies and used medical equipment for redistribution to underserved medical clinics in the US and abroad. In 2000, this project diverted an average of 4000 pounds a week from disposal and saved participating facilities $240,000 in disposal costs.

 

Waste Prevention Measurement and Goal-Setting

Pay As You Throw
San Jose, California
In 1993, San Jose switched from a flat-fee system for weekly garbage collection to one that charges residents according to the amount of waste they generate. The city provides four sizes of garbage container. The smallest, a 32-gallon cart, costs $14.95 a month; the cost doubles with each additional 32 gallons. Residents who have more garbage than their cart holds can buy tags that are placed with the excess amount at the curb. A survey conducted in 1997 revealed that 87 percent of residents used the smallest container. This system constrains the generation of waste for disposal, but allows residents to place an unlimited amount of recyclables at the curb for collection. In the first four years of the program, the city saved over $4 million annually. Residents seem to have adjusted well to the system and plans are in place to offer a 20-gallon cart, bearing out the connection between a unit pricing structure and waste reduction.

Product Stewardship Initiative
State of Minnesota
In 1999, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance launched its Product Stewardship Initiative with the goal of reducing the volume and toxicity of the waste stream by making manufacturers, rather than government, responsible for their products at end of life. Initially focused on three priority waste streams — paint, carpet, and electronics containing cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) — the program sets broad recovery goals, timelines for specific products, and charges manufacturers with finding the mechanisms needed to meet them. One result of the initiative is a five-year agreement by Sony to take back its products for recycling, an expansion of a three-month pilot project that diverted 600 tons of used electronic equipment from disposal. A $500,000 competitive matching grant pool is also available that awards up to $100,000 per applicant for consumer-oriented waste education and pilot product stewardship projects

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