How Wasteful Is Your City?

New List Ranks Top 25 Most Sustainable Cities

Written by Green Chip Stocks
Posted April 26, 2010 at 3:38PM

The people have spoken and the results are in. The least wasteful city in America is...

San Francisco.

There's a shocker. Don't they publicly flog you there for throwing coffee grounds in the trash?

Anyway, while it's no surprise that San Francisco — home of the toughest recycling laws in the country and the first city to ban retailer distribution of plastic bags — came out on top, there were certainly some interesting revelations that emerged from the other 24 cities on the list...

Houston found itself in the basement, replacing Atlanta has the single most wasteful city in America. They ranked dead last in recycling, buying local foods, and utilizing reusable grocery bags. They also created the most weekly garbage of any city in the study.

It wasn't all bad news for Texas however, as Dallas made the greatest leap in terms of waste reduction, jumping from 24th to 10th place. Dallas citizens created significantly less trash than their Lone Star State counterparts and made great strides in reusing both beverage bottles and cloth grocery bags.

Green Chip Living's hometown of Baltimore managed a mediocre 16th place, but we did manage to land first place in saving our leftovers! We seem to love our cold pizza a lot more than Miami residents, who were the least likely to save their leftover food.

This year is the second year that Nalgene, a reusable water bottle company, has ranked the 25 largest American cities on everything from second-hand shopping to composting to public transportation use.

The rankings were calculated using a point system. Almost 4,000 survey participants were asked 23 different questions about their sustainability practices, and the answers were weighted and rated accordingly.

"Minimal impact behavior," such as reusing plastic Ziploc bags and tin foil, was awarded one point. "Extremely high impact," like taking public transport, was worth 25 points.

Here's the ratings rundown:

Minimal Impact (e.g. reusing wrapping paper) - 1 point
Low Impact (e.g. turning water off when brushing teeth) - 5 points
Moderate Impact (e.g. energy efficient light bulbs, reusable bottles) - 10 points
High Impact (e.g. recycling) - 15 points
Extremely High Impact (e.g. taking public transportation) - 25 points

So, how did your city stack up? Here are the top 25:

wasteful cities bottle

Now, before your start bragging about how well your city did, keep in mind that this is a ranking of wasteful American cities...

As Green Biz put it last year, "being the least-wasteful U.S. city, compared to waste levels in European countries as just one example, is about as proud an accomplishment as being the greenest mountaintop-removal coal-mining company."

We do have a ways to go in order to slash waste in this country. But surveys like these at least bring sustainability into a comparative light, so we can all see how we stack up against our neighbors. And competition as a motivator has proved effective for less important matters.

How's your waste management? Have you lost your heart in San Francisco, or is it more like Georgia on your mind?

Take the survey yourself at Even the most eco-friendly of readers may find a suggestion or two to improve their score.

Be Well,