Earlier this month, we talked about how there was a delta gap between the amount of material that most cities are trying to recycle and what’s actually getting recycled. To be honest, the article (along with an earlier one this month on how Americans seem to not care about environmental issues at present) were more than a touch depressing to us. After all, these are issues that we’re patently passionate about. So while we think that a realistic look at the state of environmentalism in America is important, we went out of our way with this article to pick a topic that would re-inspire all of us. Did you know that there are cities out there that are making a true push to become zero-waste cities? And with a concerted effort between both government and individual citizens, they’re making amazing progress. Here are five examples of cities on the way to being zero-waste cities.

San Francisco: You Haven’t Entirely Imploded Yet!

San Francisco has a whole world of problems right now. Nobody is denying that. It’s the least affordable place to live in the country despite being one of the most beautiful and everybody is aware of the issues that situation is causing. But the City by the Bay has many upsides, too. One of them is its spectacular move towards a zero-waste city. San Francisco has the highest diversion from landfill percentage of any US city at 80%. In fact, San Francisco citizens not only separate trash and recycling, they also separate compost. That’s a big and important step. Sure, they may run out of houses, but they’ll have recycled materials to build emergency camps with when they do.

Austin: The Green Heart of Texas

Most people don’t think of Texas when they think “eco-friendly,” but then again even most Texans will tell you that Austin isn’t really Texas! Austin has committed to sending 90% less trash to landfills by 2040 and it’s created actionables to support that goal. Two of the coolest ones (in our opinion) include rebates for home composting systems and free house-paint made from 100% recycled materials. You’ll be in a bind if you want a bright, bold house since the paints only come in beige, but sometimes the most vibrant thing that you can do is to care about the health of your planet.

Carrboro, North Carolina: First Mover Advantage

It’s actually a little difficult to find data on exactly how successful the zero-waste effort in Carrboro, population 20,000, is. But the town certainly deserves a mention on this list as they were one of the first locations in the United States to begin to move towards a zero-waste goal. Carrboro first adopted a zero-waste plan way back in the bygone era of 1998. If you think back, zero-waste in 1998 could have just as easily been a bad video song as a plan of action. They’ve since worked on the goal with directives like single-stream recycling and non-ewaste initiatives. Whether or not they’re making great progress, we salute them for being trailblazers in the green movement.

Seattle: Lots of Rain. Very Little Waste.

Seattle’s been working on a zero-waste plan since way back in 2007. The goal is to recycle 72% of the city’s waste by the year 2025, which frankly isn’t all that far away. Much like Austin and San Francisco, part of what drives the success of Seattle’s zero-waste plan is the passion of its residents. Unrelated but of note, Seattle also has a completely net-zero energy building, the Bullitt Center, that has enough solar powers to generate all of the energy the building will ever need for 250 years. Fun fact!

Boulder, Colorado: Of Course!

If you’re surprised to see Boulder, Colorado on this list, then you don’t follow the green movement very closely. Since 1993, Boulder has had a “trash tax” on wastes and uses the revenue from this tax (close to $1.8 million annually, which is both good and bad) for programs like recycling and compost rebates and free recycling for businesses. Boulder is also home to the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials, or CHaRM, which we adore.

Quick but Fun Note: Zero-Waste Does Not Mean Zero-Carbon Footprint. But It Could.

Remember, zero-waste doesn’t necessarily mean zero-carbon footprint. Plenty of things go into a carbon footprint other than waste and trash. However, there are theoretical plans for experimental zero-carbon footprint cities. Masdar City, under construction in Abu Dhabi, is anticipated to be the first fully functional zero carbon footprint city in the world. All we know is that we’ll happily take an invite!

Both zero-waste and zero-carbon footprint cities will be a requirement as the world moves into previously unheard of population levels and consumption levels. While the cities and projects we’ve talked about here are a great start, the effort certainly needs to escalate quickly. With that said, we feel better and more enthusiastic about a sustainable and green future having done some research on cities that are actually making definable efforts and progress to get there.

Did we miss a city that’s doing a great job heading towards zero-waste? Tell us about it on the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: David Yu via Flickr