Is It Possible for Cities to Eliminate Garbage?


by Gary Liss and Iginia Boccalandro

Garbage is manmade and stems from a design flaw. There are no dumps or incinerators in nature. The waste of one species becomes food or habitat for another species. Manmade waste is not only ugly, hazardous, smelly and unsightly but it is costly to the bottom line, people and the environment. One job at the landfill translates into four jobs when the same waste is recycled, 16 jobs if it is reused and over 270 jobs if what we call “waste” is redesigned and becomes a revenue stream.

What is Zero Waste?

The Zero Waste International Alliance definition of Zero Waste is “a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

Zero Waste Communities

Local governments around the world are embracing Zero Waste as a key tool to meet their goals for addressing climate change. The Zero Waste International Alliance has developed a list of these communities. Over two-thirds of New Zealand communities have adopted Zero Waste as a goal, and New Zealand is the first country on earth to have adopted Zero Waste as a goal nationally.

In the United States, California was the first state to adopt Zero Waste as one of eight goals in the 2001 strategic plan of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. As a result of that strong state support, more than 20 communities in California have adopted Zero Waste as a goal, and most of them are working to develop and implement plans to reach that goal.

The links between Zero Waste and climate change are significant. Solid wastes that are buried in landfills create methane gas in the anaerobic conditions of the landfill. Methane gas is 21 times as potent as carbon dioxide in changing the planet’s climate. And for every ton of waste that reaches municipal landfills, 71 tons have been created “upstream” from mining, manufacturing and distribution. Using the USEPA WARM Model to calculate the effect of recycling and composting all the materials currently discarded in California, the CRRA Recyclers Global Warming Council calculated that it would be the equivalent of taking all the cars in the state off the road.

Therefore, it’s key to climate change to keep all organics out of landfills. In fact, Zero Waste or dramatically increased local waste reduction efforts is one of the single most effective ways that local government can immediately address climate change.

There are many “Cool Cities,” “Green Cities” and other sustainability programs developing now for local governmental participation. More than 900 communities worldwide are part of the ICLEI network of Local Governments for Sustainability. ICLEI in the United States is working with over 400 communities to address their solid waste issues as part of their sustainability planning. However, the only local sustainability program that has adopted Zero Waste as a goal so far is the United Nations Sponsored Urban Environmental Accords, which have been adopted by over 100 cities worldwide.

ZERI trained System Designer Gary Liss & Associates (GLA) is working with many communities to develop plans for Zero Waste. ZERI stands for the Zero Emissions Research Initiative that was started by Gunter Pauli. Author of the book The Blue Economy, Pauli published the book with the twin aims of stimulating entrepreneurship while setting up new and higher standards towards sustainability.

Want to know more about Zero Waste and how to achieve it? Plan to attend the Clean Economy Series with Gary Liss at Cedar Valley College on April 4-5. For more information, visit

About Gary Liss Associates

GLA works with the community to involve all aspects of the public in developing ideas for what is needed to move forward to Zero Waste. Public participation processes have included Zero Waste Task Forces, public meetings, focus groups, individual interviews with stakeholders, house parties, residential and business surveys, service provider surveys and media outreach. Communities including Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, have issued a Zero Waste Challenge asking that everyone  begin working immediately at home, school, work or their house of worship to adopt Zero Waste as a goal. This generates its own creative energy that encourages everyone in the community to get involved. Communities can then establish short-term and long-term Zero Waste goals and a timetable to achieve those goals, usually timed to coincide with the end of existing contracts or life of existing facilities, so that the goals leverage real-world issues in the community to support this significant change.

Samples of Zero Waste community plans include the Palo Alto Zero Waste Strategic Plan (PDF – 949KB) and the Oakland Zero Waste Strategic Plan (PDF – 1.68MB). Communities only need as large a plan as required to get their elected officials to approve the program, policies and budget to move forward.

Gary Liss will be in Dallas April 4-5.

The Dallas Clean Economy Series offers the free “No More Garbage: ZERO Waste” presentation with Gary Liss at Cedar Valley College on Thursday April from 6-8 p.m.

A one-day intensive training on Friday, April 5 from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. costs $250. Discounts and work trades are available. For more information or to register go to or call 469-554-9202 or 818-913-2877. Please note that the schedule is subject to change.


Filed under Community, Events

4 responses to “Is It Possible for Cities to Eliminate Garbage?

  1. Maria

    Great speaker: Gary Liss. Just what the City of dallas needs, everyone has to knos what Zero Waste is and how we can all benefit from diverting it from the landfill… I attended his workshop in Santa Fe, NM and it ROCKS!


    • Joanna

      Glad to hear you enjoyed Gary Liss, Maria!


    • Each time a landfill is expanded or a new one is made the cost is passed on to the citizen/ tax payer. Imagine if there was no need for expansion because 85% of the waste was recovered, repurposed, recycled or reused extending the life of the land fill and creating jobs and revenue for the community. This is when South Dallas gets a benefit from what has been a stinky eye soar and the members of the community get an opportunity instead of a liability. Dallas goes ZERO Waste help us get there. Join us and share:


    • So glad to hear that you liked our training. I think that the city of Dallas will get even more from our training than Santa Fe given the size, population and demographics of the metroplex. This could be a pivotal workshop for a cleaner future for Dallas and a healthier population. Looking forward to seeing you there with all your friends!


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