Smarter Infrastructure


At its most pragmatic, zero waste is the efficient management of resources. Zero waste infrastructure sets out to replace older and now-debunked models of waste management, particularly waste incineration and its equivalents. Those methods were designed as large-scale centralized facilities, dependent on the hauling and delivery of large quantities of waste for disposal and the availability of land. In addition to being incredibly toxic, these facilities are prohibitively expensive, requiring long-term loans and long-term city commitments to deliver waste.

Zero waste infrastructure, on the other hand, helps city planners unlock a path that avoids environmental destruction and its corresponding social, health, and economic impacts, and enables the creation of sustainable cities. Through pioneering zero waste systems, cities can not only significantly reduce the amount of waste they generate, but can also save money and create better, sustainable jobs. This is because zero waste solutions prioritize decentralized systems like community composting and neighborhood-scale collection, which avoid extensive infrastructure and are therefore not only more cost-effective but provide more jobs.


The ultimate aim of resource management is to make sure no waste is created in the first place. In this model, the value of materials is preserved and extraction is minimized; waste prevention is key and disposal is not considered a sound strategy. Smarter, zero waste infrastructure facilitates efficient segregation and collection systems, sets out doable and cost-effective solutions for the ecological management of organic waste, reduces consumption of wasteful products and packaging, and presents viable alternatives to landfilling and incineration—which are harmful, expensive end-of-pipe disposal technologies that fail to address the problem at the root.

Addressing the problem at the root begins with recovering materials as close to the point of generation as possible. Resource management infrastructure should therefore follow the same principles of zero waste and maximize reuse and repair systems and, failing that, composting and recycling. Separation of materials at source is key and can be accomplished through the implementation of door-to-door collection systems that formally include waste pickers, thereby providing them with better working conditions and income opportunities.

©Santiago Vivacqua

Incinerators are one of the most toxic, expensive, dangerous, and climate-polluting industries.

Despite being a major contributor to climate change, the incinerator industry stays afloat by relying on renewable energy credits, costly subsidies, and externalized costs that take up millions in taxpayers’ dollars.