Governments Going Circular – Global Scan Best Practices
back to top
0 % read case Zero Waste Program of San Francisco

Policy areas

Waste Waste
Spatial planning Spatial planning

Govermental instruments

Partnerships Partnerships
Laws & Regulation Laws & Regulation
Fiscal measures Fiscal measures

Business models

Resource Loops Resource Loops
Product Life Extension Product Life Extension
Circular Marketing Circular Marketing


Local Local

Key facts & Impacts

  • Source separated curbside or door-to-door recycling and food scraps composting collection installed and provided to nearly everyone in San Francisco
  • Over 1000 jobs in the collection and processing services
  • Compostables and recyclables collected curbside or door-to-door have grown to 700 tons and 650 tons per day respectively
  • Disposal reduced by half from 2000


To progress towards zero waste to landfill and incineration through source reduction, reuse, recycling and composting/anaerobic digestion


info zoom

For more information

Visit the website here

Zero Waste Program of San Francisco United_States_of_America.png

The city and county of San Francisco in 2002 adopted a Zero Waste goal, after implementing a successful recycling and food composting program, to fight waste of resources, pollution and other negative social, economic and environmental impacts of disposal and associated unsustainable linear material life cycle. Through partnerships, policies, education and improving processing technologies, the city aims to optimize source reduction, reuse, recycling and composting/anaerobic digestion. 

What does it involve?
The city of San Francisco’s goal is to get as close zero waste as possible or be completely waste free by 2020 and beyond. Achieving the waste-free goal implies not sending any waste to landfill or incineration plants. Part of the Zero Waste Program is creating convenient door-to-door source separation programs for recycling, and composting (including food scraps) programs. This is achieved by working in public-private partnership and by providing financial incentives to service providers that increase recycling and composting programs. In order to achieve maximum participation rates on the consumer level, the program provides extensive outreach, education and assistance. But also, those discarding materials (residential and commercial generators) are incentivized to reduce waste, recycle and compost over disposal via the ‘Pay as you throw’ schemes charging for the amount of discards or volume of collection service.  In addition to providing financial incentives to both service providers as well as consumers, the program also covers the implementation of policies according to the set objectives. These policies encourage greater producer and consumer responsibility including: designing products to produce less waste, toxicity and that can be reused, repaired, recycled or composted; and mandatory participation in recycling and composting; and reducing the use of disposables, such as single use plastic bags. A fourth element of the program focusses on the improvement of processing technologies and expansion of the material markets.

Status quo
San Francisco implemented programs and policies that reduced disposal by half since 2000, to lowest level on record, and continues to implement programs, policies and technologies to move toward zero waste. In 2010, the City exceeded its goal to divert 75 percent of materials away from landfill. Continued participation in San Francisco’s recycling and composting programs helps the City reach zero waste. The ever increasing efficiency in using resources and reducing waste ensures the  return of valuable secondary materials to economy, the creation of jobs, and reduced pollution levels. Altogether, the program facilitates shifts of resource use from a linear economy to a circular economy conserving resources through resource efficiency. The door-to-door recycling and food scraps composting collection is nowadays available to 99% of residential and commercial or institutional accounts, serving over 837,000 residents and an additional hundreds of thousands of daily commuters and tourists.

San Francisco is a highly dense, multicultural and multilingual city, with a growing increasingly affluent population that numbered an estimated 837,000 in 2013. Its large commercial and institutional sector generates two-thirds of all discarded material and hundreds of thousands commuters and tourist travel into the city each day. Both the city’s zero waste and climate changing greenhouse gas reduction policies calls for efficient waste management programs and strict resource efficiency plans. A 1932, voter passed ordinance created the legal system that has led to the current designated Recology Companies as the exclusive service provider of San Francisco. The system is regulated by the City through the setting of rates that Recology charges for collecting of refuse based on service volume for recycling, composting and landfill disposal.

In similar programs, high importance should be given to the communication to public and key stakeholders about the need and benefits of pursuing ambitious goals to reduce disposal and move toward a sustainable material economy. If necessary, start implementation with limited curbside or door-to-door source separated collection program demonstration programs, but do not cease and only expand to larger scale and/or improved, as soon as feasible. Create financial incentives for generators and service providers, conduct extensive and ongoing outreach and education for program participation including on-site multilingual training and assistance, and implement policies to mandate participation and encourage producer responsibility.

Circular ladder

This Circularity Ladder presents economic activities with an increasing ‘degree of circularity’. When looking at the six circular business models we see two important things. First, some business models are able to achieve a higher degree of circularity than others. For example, a Sharing Platform does not directly lead to refurbishment (it is possible), but Product Life Extension does.

Second, all business models fall apart in different activities, of which again some activities are able to achieve higher degrees of circularity than others. For example, the Product Life Extension may involve maintenance, repair, reuse, refurbishment and remanufacturing. However, maintaining a product has more potential for resource efficiency than remanufacturing.