Zero Waste NYC?


We value sustainability in part because it often coincides with increased quality of life, not just for us, but for our local & global neighbors, whether they be human or otherwise. What makes you consider sustainability? Let us know in the comments & stay tuned for info on how we reduce our landfill-waste at Our Place.

A Visit to “Designing Zero Waste” at the Center for Architecture

There are plenty of reasons why every New York City resident and visitor should be at least a little interested in eliminating the amount of waste that we send to landfills, but here are two: smelly trash & rats. You don’t have to be a conservation enthusiast to know that the city would be a better place without mountains of garbage-filled bags piling up on sidewalks and the vermin that gleefully frolic through said trash-mountains.

Photo: Andrew Blum @theweathermachine

In 2015, NYC set a goal to send zero waste to landfills by the year 2030 - this is ambitious to say the least considering that in 2017 alone, DSNY collected 3,213,400 tons of residential trash. While the City has outlined the steps they will take to move towards this goal (among others) in One New York - The Plan for a Strong and Just City, it seems obvious that it will take more than the work of our city’s agencies to make this vision a reality. One concept overlooked by the City’s Plan is the role that design plays in reducing waste.

How many of us have stood in front of the different colored collection bins for longer than we would have liked, wondering what belongs in each bin? Even in apartment buildings where we live, it is sometimes difficult to determine which bags go where or tedious to get trash & recycling to its appropriate collection container. This is a design challenge - how can we set up recycling and waste collection in our own homes to make it easier for ourselves & the members of our households to reduce landfill-waste? How can professionals use design to make the elimination of waste easy for this city’s millions of residents?

A collaborative process to develop guidelines for designing zero waste began in November 2016 and involved over 100 individuals “ - including architects, planners, developers, city officials, waste haulers, recycling experts and building managers”. The Zero Waste Design Guidelines are meant to be “a resource to help designers, building operators, and planners, the Guidelines will encourage the collaboration needed to dramatically reduce waste...”


We stopped by the Center for Architecture to check out their exhibit on Designing for Zero Waste (runs through September 1st, 2018), which highlights the findings and resulting Guidelines of said collaboration. It was an interesting & informative exhibit, with text and pictures printed on large sheets of corrugated cardboard, a variety of staged collection cans, as well as an interactive Waste Calculator.


While the Guidelines are more focused on the role of designers, building managers, & landlords and how they design their refuse & recycling collection - the visuals, numbers, and physical props (like bailers) made me think about how we have “designed” trash & recycling collection at Our Place, and was another reminder about how the seemingly simple systems that we can easily take for granted are often more detailed and important than we realize.

While the Designing for Zero Waste exhibit was conceptual, I recently toured a facility at the forefront of recycling in NYC: SIMS Recycling Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn - stay tuned for a write up, pictures, and more info. GrowNYC does great outreach and has some great online resources with info about recycling at home. Go to DSNY’s website and Pledge Zero Waste - it’ll cost you nothing and you can choose to receive a free gift for your word. Have resources to share? Please comment below!