Zero-Waste Initiative

In June 2018, ARO joined AIANY’s Zero-Waste Challenge as one of 27 design firms developing strategies to reduce our waste in the workplace. Intersecting with ARO’s Materials Working Group, we formed an internal Zero-Waste team of nine to overhaul and make visible the office’s waste streams. We set an office goal of 75% waste diversion from landfills and 10% reduction in all waste.

Over the course of four months, we dove into our trash and recycling bins – in front of our colleagues – to understand what we were tossing and if we were sorting correctly. A Baseline Waste Audit revealed that only 63% of our waste was being properly diverted from landfills and that most of the trash was organic and could have been composted. We closely tracked our data and progress with subsequent assessments, reporting back to Think Zero LLC, and keeping the office up-to-date throughout.



The team implemented several changes that became office standard:

  • introduced a new organics collection stream – after taking turns hauling a 5 gallon bucket of coffee grounds during the Challenge, we engaged Reclaimed Organics, a bicycle-run micro-hauler that processes food scraps for compost
  • removed all personal desk bins to reduce cross-contamination of landfill and recyclables, and to centralize waste collection in the kitchen
  • introduced a new collection stream for plastic bag recycling
  • updated all waste stream signage to ease sorting and reduce common mistakes
  • shared ideas and discussed behavioral changes to reduce consumption
  • for Lunch & Learns, we implemented a silverware policy and order food delivery with compostable packaging


We exceeded our waste diversion target of 75% to ensure that more than 90% of our waste was diverted from landfills. The Zero-Waste Challenge reinforced our understanding of waste as a reflection of who we are, our appreciation for maintenance staff, and pushed us to further integrate low-waste management in the design process on future projects. The more we rummaged, the more driven we became to lower our consumption on both the project scale as well as on a day-to-day level.

Read more about ARO’s actions and initiatives.