Zero Waste Palo Alto is a group within the City of Palo Alto Public Works Department.
We are tasked with safely, legally, and sustainably managing Palo Alto’s solid and hazardous waste as well as the closed landfill, and helping the community reach its Zero Waste goal.
This page has information about our mission, history and how Palo Alto’s Zero Waste goal and plan were created.
In 2005, City Council adopted the goal of Zero Waste – the goal is to achieve Zero Waste. However, knowing that achieving Zero Waste is very difficult the metric of 90% diversion of waste from landfills by 2021 was adopted. Diversion includes all waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting activities.
In 2016, as part of the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, Council adopted a more aggressive goal of 95% diversion by 2030.
Zero Waste Goals
- 90% diversion by 2021 – adopted 2005
- 95% diversion by 2030 – adopted 2016
Zero Waste Palo Alto's mission is to:
- Help the community reach its Zero Waste goal
- Protect the environment and public health in a cost effective manner by safely, legally, and sustainably managing our solid and hazardous waste, and our closed landfill
Municipal garbage collection in Palo Alto started in 1914 after an incinerator was built near Newell Street and Embarcadero Road to burn local garbage. Prior to this, residents and businesses were allowed to bury or burn their garbage on their property. To dispose of excess garbage, individuals could hire a private service provider or haul the material themselves to municipal dumping grounds. Marsh land was purchased by both private contractors and the City of Palo Alto for this purpose. Excess waste and incinerator ash was used as fill for the expansion of Embarcadero Road into the Baylands. After the incinerator burned down in the early 1930's, disposal operations were moved to open areas a short distance from Embarcadero Road and behind the sewage treatment plant built in 1934, where Byxbee Hills Park is today. In 1954, the City began more sophisticated, sanitary landfill operations. The City of Palo Alto landfill closed in 2011.
Recycling in Palo Alto began in 1971 with a drop-off recycling center. In 1978, curbside collection of newspapers, cans, glass, corrugated cardboard, motor oil and small scrap metal items began. The same year, a pilot drop-off composting program for yard trimmings was initiated. The drop-off composting program went full-scale in 1979, and went to curbside collection in 1990. The drop-off recycling center and composting facility closed in 2012, to allow for final closure and capping of the landfill and the area's transformation into Byxbee Park.
Today, between the programs for both recycling and composting, hundreds of thousands of tons of materials are diverted from landfills every year.
Zero Waste Strategic Plan and Zero Waste Operational Plan
On November 15, 2004, the City Council directed staff to develop a zero waste policy and implementation plan for the Palo Alto community. In January 2005, a task force composed of Palo Alto residents and businesses was formed to assist in the creation of a zero waste policy and the development of a Zero Waste Strategic Plan to act as a framework to guide City officials in the planning and decision making process towards achieving zero waste goals.
The task force met eight times over six months. Meetings were open to public participation. The task force and City staff obtained input from a wide cross-section of the community through a variety of means. In addition to the public meetings, surveys were sent to at least 1,000 businesses throughout Palo Alto. Surveys were also sent to over 400 reuse, recycling and composting service providers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. All residents received information about a residential survey in their utility bills. Both the commercial and residential surveys were posted on the City’s website. Community participation was encouraged through news releases, attending local business meetings, door-to-door visits with Palo Alto service providers, a special zero waste web site, newspaper ads, Community Recycler newsletter, utility bill inserts, flyers (at local libraries, May Fete parade, and the City landfill), and the Recycling Center kiosk.
Based on input from the community, businesses, and industry experts, the resulting Zero Waste Strategic Plan(PDF, 949KB) identified the key objectives and strategies needed to reach zero waste. This included developing policies and incentives designed to eliminate waste at the source, and maximizing recycling through expanded collection programs, processing facilities, education, outreach, and technical assistance. In October 2005 the Council approved the Strategic Plan and adopted the goals of 73 percent waste diversion by 2011 and zero waste by 2021 (CMR:382:05). Council also directed staff to develop a Zero Waste Operational Plan (ZWOP) to identify the policies, programs and facilities needed to achieve these goals.
Using the Zero Waste Strategic Plan as a blueprint, over the next 18 months staff and the Zero Waste Task Force built an operational plan. The Zero Waste Operational Plan was completed in June 2007, and identified a number of programmatic, policy and infrastructure-related elements to guide the City’s short and long-term Zero Waste efforts. The City Council approved the Zero Waste Operational Plan on September 17, 2007.
In 2017, the City started developing an update to the 2007 Zero Waste Operational Plan because many of the policy, program, and facility initiatives in the plan had been implemented. On August 27, 2018, the City Council accepted the 2018 Zero Waste Plan.
Palo Alto's Zero Waste Plans