11/04/2009 08:21 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Zero Waste, Italian Style

Zero waste is not an impossible goal.

But Americans generated 254 billion tons of waste last year -- that's a 300% increase over the past 50 years.

Many cities are determined to do their part, however, both in the U.S. -- San Francisco, Seattle, and Sedona, Arizona, to name a few -- and several cities in Canada, the U.K. and Asia.

In Italy, only the city of Caponnari in Tuscany has formally adopted a zero waste strategy.

Yet up in the Italian Alps in a section of the Dolomite Mountains, a group of 11 villages in Val di Fiemme are getting the best waste diversion in the country, says BioCycle magazine.

How does the region, which six years ago didn't even have curbside pick up of any garbage, now get diversion rates of more than 80 percent?

Well, they charge residents every time a garbage can of "residual" (i.e. non recyclable waste) gets tipped into the garbage truck. Meanwhile there's no charge for collection of sorted kitchen waste collected for compost. Vegetable oil gets collected for an Austrian biogas plant. Tourists, numerous summer and winter, get special kits for their trash.

RFID tags on trash bins record how much waste is being generated.

In Val di Fiemme, however, curbside collection is the end of the road.

Back at the beginning of the road, the towns have come up with lots of ways to reduce waste long before it is headed to the landfill. The municipality sends new parents "starter" cloth diapers; while the supermarkets have banned plastic bags, and have moved to bulk bins to slim down packaging trash -- for wine, detergent, grains, cereals, and even local raw milk!

Italy has high bottled water consumption, so the municipality also gave kids stainless steel water bottles and promotes water use from the tap.

None of these is rocket science, yet when promoted together they add up to a leaps-and-bounds difference when it comes to creating a (near) zero waste city.

If Val di Femme can do it, we certainly can, too.

Read more at TreeHugger about zero waste initiatives:
A Challenge for Toronto: Go Zero Waste
UK Zero Waste Policy Might Mean Wayyyyy Too Many Sort Bins
4 Radical Solutions to Packaging Waste
MIT Using Electronic Tracking on Trash to Change Consumer Habits
RecycleBank, the Recycling Program that Pays You Back, Heading to Europe

For more articles by Graham Hill click here.