Waste reduction and recycling at the city level will acquire greater significance in the near future due to rising global volumes of waste. This paper seeks to identify policy-relevant drivers for successful promotion of waste reduction and recycling. Factors influencing the success of waste reduction and recycling campaigns are identified. Two case study cities in Japan which depict the successful use of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) at the municipal level are presented. In these cases, the existence of incinerators, which are generally considered as disincentives for recycling, was not functioning as a disincentive but rather as an incentive for waste reduction. Owing to the high cost of incineration facilities, the movement to close incinerators has become a strong incentive for waste reduction and recycling in these two cities. The study suggests that careful consideration is necessary when making decisions concerning high-cost waste treatment facilities with high installation, maintenance and renewal outlays. In addition, intensive source separation and other municipal recycling initiatives have a high potential for producing positive results.