About Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose’s Zero Waste Initiative

This Zero Waste toolkit will provide resources to help museums gain an understanding of where their community is on a zero waste spectrum, what their institutional aspiration for waste reduction is, and how they can begin to develop an action plan.

When the City of San Jose set the ambitious goal of diverting 100 percent of its municipal solid waste from landfills within 15 years, the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CDM) stepped forward as a key partner. The Museum has expanded its recycling program, provided compostable service ware, launched a new food waste composting system and educated families about adopting zero waste practices.

Since Earth Day 2008, CDM has had an active recycling and composting program to keep materials out of the landfill. Its most recent “trash audit” conducted by the city of San Jose’s Environmental Services Department showed outstanding results in reducing waste to the landfill from the cafe, exhibit galleries, and staff spaces, and also uncovered issues that continue to be addressed.

Environmentally, diverting waste from landfills helps reduce toxic pollution. Economically, for cities paying by the ton for landfill usage, recycling saves municipal dollars.

The extent to which a museum can reduce its waste to landfill depends in part upon the availability of local programs, like commercial composting; however, every museum can get started simply by re-thinking some of its practices, such as replacing single-sized bottled water with a large water cooler. As new waste management services are introduced in their local communities, museums can then phase in the next level of waste diversion.

Critical to success are:

  • An institutional commitment to reducing garbage to the landfill so that the question about waste is part of the organization’s decision-making framework in all areas from the onset. As staff develops new visual arts programming, for example, they would source materials that would not end up in the landfill.


After visiting CDM, staff from the Madison Children’s Museum (MCM) convinced the city of Madison to make MCM a pilot demonstration site for recycling and composting for the public modeled after CDM’s program.

Inspired by MCM’s replication of its program, CDM has developed this on-line toolkit for other museums to use to replicate waste reduction practices. Visitors in San Jose report that the experience of placing a single serving juice packet in the TRASH bin (as opposed to the COMPOST or RECYCLE bin), going directly to the landfill, led them to eliminate these purchases-- an example of the positive change CDM’s management team wants to make possible in communities across the nation.


The Zero Waste Initiative is sponsored by


San Jose Environmental Services

Association of Children's Museums

and would not be possible without the implementation partners of

Hope Services Kids' Cafe Kids' Cafe