Simpler, Cheaper, Better: How cities can take the first step to financing zero waste systems

By Cecilia Allen

Zero waste is expanding worldwide as a proven approach to address “the waste problem” from a holistic and yet simple perspective that puts people at the center of solutions and drives systemic change. 

It is also a smart approach in terms of optimizing the use of public resources. With municipalities in many countries spending 20% or more of their scant budgets in waste collection and disposal only, there is a need to show the way for them to transition into zero waste systems to make a better use of those resources and even see savings to the  public coffers.

Recyclers in the “Green Center” Cortejarena. ©Santiago Vivacqua/ Zero Waste LAC

Even though zero waste is the most cost-effective approach, it is not free. The transition from conventional collect-dispose of programs into zero waste systems poses several challenges, ranging from finding -or freeing up- resources to pay for the initial costs to the fact that the most resourced financial mechanisms for the waste sector are designed to support capital-intensive systems that are…much more expensive! Yes, the simpler (and cheaper) solution is out there, but unfortunately many cities are still stuck with antiquated and costly waste management systems.  

The good news is that we are witnessing how zero waste is already saving public money and driving investments into inclusive and regenerative systems, and out of the disposal economy. These municipalities can serve as inspiration for others, and our advocacy and implementation work can be strengthened by their example, giving us more tools to navigate the financial waters of zero waste.

Waste workers going household to household in Tacloban, PH. ©Rommel Cabrera/GAIA.

For instance, the Philippine city of Tacloban saw a 27% cost reduction after transitioning into a zero waste system while also expanding waste management services to all households, 70% of whom were not covered before!  Also the 50 municipalities in Treviso, northern Italy served by a zero waste system were as of 2015 paying €178.9 per household / year to manage residual waste, substantially lower than the average cost in the rest of the country of €245.6 per household / year.

Cities and communities embarking on their journey toward zero waste can gain invaluable insights and strategies from the new guide, “Funding Zero Waste in your municipality: 3 steps to success.”  The guide focuses on how to assess and access funds to implement a zero waste system, and outlines the three steps to funding zero waste: 1) assess costs, 2) find financial resources and 3) address gaps and issues. The guide also shares data and ideas to persuade municipalities to invest in zero waste, and presents the case study of the Philippines, one of the foremost examples of how these steps have been put into action.

There is a cheaper,  better way– it’s time for cities to take the first step.