Meet the local authorities innovating waste management around the world


Jessica Bradley examines the fascinating innovations local authorities across the globe are implementing to transform how they manage waste.

Local governments are integral to the important job of managing the waste generated by growing urban populations. 

Unfortunately, local authorities face many challenges when it comes to implementing initiatives and technologies to improve waste management.

Some of the biggest challenges include residents’ lack of knowledge about sorting, and weak cooperation with local businesses, particularly those who have little sense of environmental responsibility.

Even in this landscape, many local authorities are finding innovative ways to promote smarter waste sorting among residents and manage waste with AI systems, biodegradable waste processing and advanced recycling techniques.

To help shed light on how local authorities can prepare for future challenges regarding waste management, we’re looking into some of the pioneering initiatives undertaken by local authorities around the world, and how local governments are overcoming obstacles such as funding and public resistance to improve recycling rates and benefit local communities and environments. 

Mid and East Antrim, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Last year, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council won a “Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful Zero Waste Award” for the success of several initiatives it launched to engage the public with reusing items.

The council has been focusing in recent years on engaging the community to reuse and recycle waste and attributes its success partly to having residents who are keen to get involved. 

“Over the last seven years, the public has wanted to be more involved with waste management. We have good recycling in this borough but there’s been a recognition, especially with the cost of living crisis, that many items people recycle still have a good bit of life back in them, so we should be promoting reuse,” says Catherine Hunter, environmental education officer at the council.

The council’s school uniform scheme, which is now in its fifth year, encourages people to donate unwanted uniforms. In 2021, the scheme generated 3.468 tonnes of carbon savings.

The council has also been running a Christmas toy project since 2019 to divert unwanted toys from landfill to local charities and community groups to gift to families in need. In 2022, 5.2 tonnes of presents were regifted.

Over the last seven years, the public has wanted to be more involved with waste management.

However, donations dipped last year, which Hunter partly attributes to the cost of living crisis driving people to sell toys online instead. 

The council also has a community “RePaint” programme, in collaboration with the non-profit organisation Resource Futures, which invites residents to drop off unused or partially used paint at its household recycling centres to be reused for various projects.

The key to engaging the community with these schemes has been communication, Hunter says. 

“Through the promotion of these schemes, you have to play into people’s hearts and minds. We’ve had to be quite clever about the communication behind them to pull at the heartstrings and get an emotive response,” she says. 

It also helps to share how successful the schemes have been every year, to help motivate people to get involved the following year, Hunter adds. 

The council has also tried to incentivise people, with a competition, to download their app, which provides information about its kerbside recycling services. 

Hunter says that the success of the initiatives partly comes down to sharing ideas and best practices with other local authorities and working with them to brainstorm how to best communicate with residents in ways that will help to influence their recycling and reusing behaviour.

The council regularly shares its learnings with others; all of Northern Ireland’s 11 local authorities are members of the environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, through which they regularly share best practices and brainstorm how to nudge residents to recycle and reuse waste.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires

The City of Buenos Aires Ministry of Public Space and Urban Hygiene has won multiple awards for its waste collection and recycling policies. 

Back in 2005, the city council in Buenos Aires passed a zero waste law and has since launched many projects to raise awareness among citizens and make it easier to reduce waste.

The city’s Municipal Solid Waste Reduction Project was launched in 2014 with the aim of reducing waste sent to landfills. The project emphasises residents’ recycling responsibilities and aims to improve source separation, resource recovery, recycling and resource valorisation.

Between 2016 and 2019, the city doubled its recycling capacity and implemented a separated waste system with door-to-door collection. It now has a waste treatment “matrix” consisting of a recycling centre with five waste treatment plants, as well as a mechanical biological treatment plant, composing centres and green centres.   

In 2021, the city launched the Circular Economy Network, which includes hundreds of businesses, banks and universities, and aims to strengthen public-private partnerships.

Since 2015, Buenos Aires has been focused on reducing food waste reduction. It signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, an international protocol through which mayors commit to developing sustainable food systems, and started a program aimed at preventing food waste prevention in 2016

It first launched an investigation into citizens’ food waste, and then introduced the “Take Care Food Waste” programme, which involves encouraging people to use doggy bags in restaurants, training professionals to reduce food waste in kitchens, and generally raising awareness.

However, the city admits that it can be challenging to make a change when food waste covers so many different areas with different objectives and that changing citizens’ habits around food is difficult.

Westminster, London


In 2019, Westminster City Council started trialling a food waste recycling scheme for 7,000 homes. As part of the trial, it provided households with a kitchen and an outside bin for food waste, and free bin liners to use inside them.

Due to the trial’s success, it has been rolling this out as a permanent scheme since 2022. The food collected is processed outside of London, where it’s turned into biogas and also used as a biofertisiler. This year, the council calculated that its recycling rate has increased by 3.7% since introducing the scheme. 

The council has also recently deployed 45 new electric refuse trucks, the vast majority of which will be charged by burning the waste they collect. This will reduce carbon emissions by 2.5000 tonnes each year, Paul Dimoldenberg, councillor for Hyde Park Ward and cabinet member for city management and air quality, says.

The plan, Dimoldenberg says, is to replace all of the 80 diesel collection vehicles with electric ones and the fleet will be charged by electricity generated by the city’s own waste. 

“We’ve worked closely with Veolia, our contractors for waste collection, and used their technical skills to procure, design and operate our new depo, which is situated next to the incinerator,” Dimoldenberg says. 

“We’ve connected the depo to the electric charging system from the incinerator, so at the moment we’re able to charge all 45 new waste vehicles directly from the incinerator so that we have a circular economy.”

San Francisco, United States


Back in 1996, San Francisco was the first city in the US to implement a large-scale food composting programme. It has since collected and converted more than two million tonnes of material and turned it into compost used on local farms. Part of its success came down to an ordinance requiring all properties in the city to participate.

In 2009, San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring all residents and businesses to sort their waste into recyclables, compostables and landfill. It was the first US city to make composting mandatory.

The city’s composting and recycling model has inspired a change in state law requiring all 400 cities and 58 counties in California to reduce the amount of compostable material they send to landfill by 75%.

San Francisco has introduced a “pay-as-you-throw” system.

It has since gone one step further and introduced a “pay-as-you-throw” system to incentivise residents to reduce the amount of material that goes to landfill.

The city has developed tools to help residents and businesses participate in its numerous composting initiatives, including an education campaign and a multilingual outreach programme to train residents.

It made kerbside food scrap collection for composting mandatory in January 2023 – and, now, hundreds of cities have followed San Francisco and implemented their own similar food scrap collection programmes.

However, there are some barriers to improving recycling rates across the city. San Francisco is still seeing lower recycling rates in low-income neighbourhoods and is trying to find ways to engage with residents living there.

Do you want to learn more about the biggest innovations in resource management? Explore upcoming CIWM webinars and develop your professional knowledge. CIWM members have exclusive free access to all its webinars.

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