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Beyond Recycling: Policy to Achieve Circular Waste Management

Waste collection and recycling services are some of the most essential functions of government to keep cities clean and promote public health.

For more than 50 years, local governments have championed efforts to improve the environmental sustainability of waste management services by establishing curbside recycling programs, investing in sorting facilities, capturing methane and other greenhouse gases from landfills and much more.

Cities all over the United States have prioritised waste management infrastructure when committing to new sustainability goals. Not only is recycling one of the most visible ways a city can commit to sustainability, it is often the most cost-effective option, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), air and water pollution.

But the systems have grown and changed in ways that are not environmentally or economically sustainable. More waste is generated by Americans than ever before, and several crises have recently converged to threaten municipal budgets and expose deep, systemic problems throughout the waste management industry. Recycling and diversion rates have plateaued for several years, and there is serious risk that we are moving backward at a time when we urgently need to make rapid progress.

This policy brief was developed in partnership with the National League of Cities in the United States.

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