Designing for a Zero-Waste City

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Clare Miflin is a former Monthly Programs Committee (MPC) member and Associate Principal at Kiss & Cathcart. Here, she shares how the idea for the recently-launched Design Guidelines for Zero Waste originated from an event organized by the MPC. Applications to join the 2018 MPC are now open—learn more and apply here.

The Zero Waste Design Guidelines were launched on October 18th at the Center for Architecture. “Waste is a design flaw” claim the guidelines, which address the crucial role that the design of our buildings and cities play in achieving zero waste, and how to move toward a circular economy. 


Every day, about 24,000 tons of waste leave NYC. Around 20 percent of it is recycled, and a portion goes to waste-to-energy incinerators, but the majority is transported—an average of 300 miles—to landfills. Organic waste, which makes up over a third of the refuse, decomposes anaerobically in the landfills, generating methane—a greenhouse gas thirty times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Instead, that waste could create energy and compost locally. But that depends on our ability to easily separate and manage it.


In 2015, as the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) was increasing organics collection from both residential and commercial buildings, Urban Green Council held a panel entitled Zero Waste: The Organics Factor. At the panel, Brett Mons from DSNY and Christina Grace from Foodprint Group discussed the need to drastically increase organics diversion within businesses and residences in order for the city to reach its OneNYC Zero Waste goal.

As the panel moderator, I asked what a multifamily building designed ideally for separating organics would look like, but the panelists had no clear answer. The need for these design guidelines led me to put together a group—including Grace and Mons, as well as Ben Miller and Juliette Spertus of ClosedLoops—to develop them.

After receiving support from The Rockefeller Foundation through The Center for Architecture, our team visited over 40 buildings and followed the path of their waste. To evaluate our findings and develop best practice strategies, we held workshops with various stakeholders, including building supers, developers, city agency staff, architects, environmental psychologists and planners.

The result was the Zero Waste Design Guidelines, best practices to design for better waste management in buildings and public spaces. To disseminate the guidelines further, there will be an exhibition and educational program at the Center for Architecture (to coincide with the AIA national convention) in the summer of 2018.


Waste includes discarded materials created during the construction of buildings, as well as the materials that move through our buildings daily. Urban Green collaborated with our team to help develop the Construction & Demolition Waste best-practice strategies by convening a group of stakeholders to build upon a Green Codes Task Force proposal for carpet, ceiling tile and gypsum wallboard recycling.  


The Zero Waste Design Guidelines are extensive and, at 260 pages long, include case studies, recommended policy changes, additional research questions and suggestions for implementation. An interactive waste calculator allows designers to plan for the quantity of waste likely to be generated within their buildings.

Architects are already designing buildings to make better use of energy and water resources, and the materials that make up the buildings’ fabric; but to reach our OneNYC Zero Waste goal, they must design to better manage the materials that pass through their buildings—luckily, the Zero Wate Guidelines can help.

For feedback or questions on the guidelines email

For more information and insight see:
Waste Dive
City Lab


About the authors

Clare Miflin
Clare Miflin is an Associate Principal at Kiss + Cathcart, where she brings a deep understanding of environmentally-sound building practices, techniques, codes and standards. In addition to having served on Urban Green’s Monthly Programs Committee, she is Co-Chair of the AIA-NY COTE, a Certified Passive House Designer and a member of the NY Chapter of the Living Building Collaborative.