Spotlight: The Best Municipal Recycling Programs in America

The words “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” have become a mainstay in American culture, inspiring countless communities to move towards a more eco-friendly way of life. Though the majority of U.S. residents receive some form of municipal recycling services, a number of cities have taken sustainability to an entirely new level.

The following U.S. cities boast the best recycling programs:

  1. Austin, Texas

austin texasMany know Austin for its lively culinary and music scenes, but it has also made a name for itself as a prominent recycling hub. Like a number of other U.S. cities, it uses the single-stream recycling technique to simplify the process for its residents and encourage them to recycle more. Instead of needing to sort their recyclables according to material, locals can simply place all paper, metals, and plastics into a single receptacle.

In December 2012, Austin introduced an innovative curbside composting program for all its residents. Known as the Curbside Organics Collection Pilot, this service caters to the organic recycling needs of around 14,000 households across the city. Each resident receives a 96-gallon composting cart that they can fill with all manner of food scraps, yard clippings, and food-soaked papers. The city collects the carts weekly.

  1. Denver, Colorado

Denver has become another recycling haven. In 2007, the city opened the Altogether Recycling Plant in response to the increased demand for local recycling services. It is now the second-largest facility of its kind in Colorado, handling more than 6,000 tons of recycled goods each month. It also stands as the first facility in the state to allow residents to recycle milk cartons and plastics numbered 3 to 7.

Another prominent feature of Denver’s recycling program is that its single-stream process allows residents to forego the need for traditional item separating, thereby making it simpler for them to recycle. Within its first four years, Denver’s recycling services helped the city conserve nearly 170,000 cubic yards of landfill space.

  1. Chicago, Illinois

chicagoIn recent years, the Windy City has made a name for itself as one of the top recycling cities in the U.S. Spearheading these efforts is the Chicago Recycling Coalition, an organization that is dedicated to promoting both sustainable and cost-effective waste management practices. The Coalition has played an instrumental role in the development of new composting and recycling services for residential and commercial consumers alike. Aside from these efforts, it also educates the public about what to recycle, where recycled items go, and the importance of purchasing recycled items.

  1. Boston, Massachusetts

The eco-friendly city of Boston not only boasts America’s largest percentage of people who walk to work, but it is also one of the top cities for renewable composting. Unlike traditional recycling services, the city’s composting initiative focuses primarily on gathering yard and food waste and using anaerobic bacteria to process it into biogas.

For conventional recycling materials, the city employs a zero-sort recycling method. Residents can combine the usual materials, including plastics #1 – #7, paper, metal, and glass, as well as large, rigid plastics, such as laundry baskets and toys, in a single bin.

  1. Los Angeles, California

Los AngelesLos Angeles has been one of the top recycling cities in the U.S. for many years, diverting 76.4 percent of all its waste from landfills back in 2012. Since then, it has established its Solid Waste Integrated Resources Plan (sometimes referred to as the Zero Waste Plan), which has set in motion a number of recycling practices and policies that aim to completely eliminate waste. The city is looking divert 87 percent of its waste by 2020 and raise this amount to 97 percent by 2030.

Los Angeles has already taken a number of steps towards this dramatic waste reduction. Most notably, the city passed a regulation that banned the use of plastic shopping bags in 2014 and implemented a charge for using paper bags. Los Angeles is also working on waste-to-energy initiatives that will take non-recyclable materials and convert them into biofuels.

  1. Portland, Oregon

Portland boasts a recycling rate similar to that of Los Angeles, but it has utilized a number of unique tactics to achieve this. In addition to prohibiting the use of plastic bags, the city works directly with 40 private waste-hauling companies to deliver recycling services to its residents. Together, these entities have created city-wide motivation to recycle on a regular basis. Another one of Portland’s most impactful recycling initiatives is its illegal dumping hotline, which residents can use to report those who dispose of their waste unlawfully.

  1. San Francisco, California

San FranciscoNo U.S. city takes recycling as seriously as San Francisco. Residents can recycle nearly everything, receiving special services for composted items and other materials that are too bulky for traditional waste pickup. In 2013, it became the national leader in recycling with a landfill diversion rate of 80 percent. San Francisco has been able to achieve this impressive number by implementing a wide array of strict regulations that dictate how it manages its waste.

The city became a pioneer in the crusade to ban the use of plastic bags in 2007. Two years later, it introduced legislation that required businesses and residents to recycle and compost. By the year 2020, the city aims to become completely waste free.


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