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Zero waste towns

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Zero waste towns are motivated by the landfill shortage in Western countries, awareness that organic decay in landfills affects climate change through releasing methane, and a desire to have a smaller ecological footprint.

In remote towns, and in countries and regions with strict environmental regulations, it may be more economical to implement zero waste policies than to ship, bury and/or process the waste.


A town or commune in Denmarkplease expand[1] separates and recycles all waste. The high density of the community (dense-low style) and shared commitment makes recycling possible to a degree impractical in most communities. Waste is separated into many material types, for recycling, or composting.

Nantucket in the USA has been called a leader in zero waste.[2]

Kamikatsu, a town on Shikoku Island in eastern Japan, was reported in the news in 2008 for its zero waste policies.[3] Waste is classified into 34 categories.[4]


The first step is crucial - reduce unnecessary use of materials including:


Encourage people pool old, broken and/or unwanted products through a recycling center where scavengers or people looking for a particular product can safely pick through and take things, either for free or a small cost.


Collection and separation are key - effective recycling requires:

  • community level decisions to discourage products whose packaging is difficult to recycle
  • consciousness - separating recycling and other waste at the household level.
  • central collection/processing area. If the quantities are sufficient, an efficient process can be set up, possibly aided by automated separation technologies.
  • Minimize downcycling - in practice this can't be avoided entirely, but product and packaging choices can help.


  1. Name? Mentioned in Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence, by Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy.
  2. Nudging Recycling From Less Waste to None, NY Times, October 19, 2009.
  3. Japan’s zero waste town: recycle everything! - embedded videos of news reports. Zero waste in Japan (brief text), BBC, 11 July 2008.
  4. Kamikatsu Town Government (PDF), information on Environmental Protection Activities and learning opportunities.

See also