Zero Waste Design Guidelines


Design Strategies and Case Studies for a Zero Waste City

The Zero Waste Design Guidelines are based on the understanding that the design of our buildings and city is crucial in reaching zero waste goals. Although the geographic focus is NYC, many of the strategies presented may be transferable to other cities. The guidelines have been compiled as a tool for those responsible for planning, constructing and managing our buildings, streets and neighborhoods.


Waste management is poorly understood and not even considered by most designers, and waste managers and experts rarely get involved in design and planning. The built result is often a system full of friction, in which maintenance people create ad hoc solutions to compensate for the lack of design and foresight. The guidelines aim to educate designers and development teams about the role design can play in better managing waste materials—those discarded daily within our buildings and those stemming from the construction, renovation and demolition of the structures themselves. Well-designed waste collection systems can be viewed as an amenity that can be programmed into our buildings and public spaces. Design solutions range from macrolevel suggestions for circular material loops to microlevel details as the shape of container openings for waste in a recycling station.

The guidelines categorize waste-management operations by typologies—for particular building types—intended to help users identify opportunities relevant to their situation. An interactive Waste Calculator approximates how much waste an individual building must plan for, under a variety of potential operating scenarios. Infographics illustrate maintenance operations, NYC regulations and other relevant considerations in spatial terms. Best practice strategies offer recommendations that are illustrated by case studies from NYC and beyond. While some of these best practices are possible now, others would require policy changes, which are covered in a later chapter.

The guidelines should be used as early as possible in the design process, ideally during programming and scoping. While new buildings can incorporate a greater array of strategies, existing buildings can often improve their systems considerably. The guidelines are best used as part of an integrative design process involving the entire |team—clients, designers, contractors, operators—in setting goals and designing a system that maximizes the potential of achieving the city’s zero waste objectives.


The Zero Waste Design Guidelines have been made possible by the advisory committee—an expanding group of workshop attendees—and the maintenance staffs who patiently showed the team their buildings and explained how they manage the waste streams produced each day. The advisory committee included city agency representatives, developers, architects, engineers, building managers, waste management professionals, sustainability consultants and university researchers (see Acknowledgments).

The involvement of city agencies—especially the New York City Department of Sanitation, along with the departments of City Planning and Transportation and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability—was essential. Representatives from the departments of Design and Construction, Health and Mental Hygiene and Education and the New York City Housing Authority also attended workshops and provided invaluable feedback. Other participating organizations include the Real Estate Board of New York, Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board, Urban Green Council and Industrial Design Society of America’s NYC chapter.