Abstract How an economically affordable, environmentally effective and socially acceptable municipal solid waste management system can be developed is currently unclear. Considerable research has been carried out on the practical aspects of municipal waste management (i.e. transport, treatment and disposal) and how citizens feel about source separation, recycling, incineration and landfill but the perspective of the waste manager within the context of long term planning is often ignored. In this study, waste managers from 11 different leading-edge European municipal solid waste programs in nine different countries were interviewed. The economic, social, political, environmental, legal and technical factors of their specific programs were explored and analyzed. The transition of municipal solid waste management to urban resources management was observed and key ‘system drivers’ for more sustainable waste management practices were identified. Programs visited were: Brescia (I), Copenhagen (DK), Hampshire (UK), Helsinki (FI), Lahn-Dill-Kreis (D), Malmö (SE), Pamplona (E), Prato (I), Saarbrücken (D), Vienna (A), and Zürich (CH).