New York City: co-designing building guidelines to reach zero waste


New York City

Policy type

Capacity building

Sector focus


Circular principle

Encourage learning and experimentation


The Zero Waste Design Guidelines address the crucial role that design plays in achieving NYC’s ambitious goal, outlined in OneNYC, to send zero waste to landfills by 2030. The Guidelines were developed through a collaborative process starting in November 2016. More than 100 collaborators—including architects, planners, developers, city officials, waste haulers, recycling experts and building managers —engaged in multidisciplinary workshops at New York’s Center for Architecture. The guidelines team visited more than 40 buildings and held discussions with porters and supers to fully understand waste collection issues across building types.



The Zero Waste Design Guidelines are based on the understanding that the design of 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  buildings, streets and neighborhoods.

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 Zero Waste Design Guidelines are made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and were developed in collaboration with the AIA New York Committee on the Environment; Kiss + Cathcart, Architects; ClosedLoops; and the Foodprint Group



Download the guidelines


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