Improving Your Recycling Program
Are you all out of ideas on how to improve your recycling program? Do you know the econmonic gains, energy savings, and greenhouse gas GHG reductions associated with recycling, but need help making it happen? Running a community recycling program is more involved than putting out bins and waiting for material to come. It's more important for program managers to ensure that they regularly evaluate operations, making the program run as efficiently as possible. Below are eight different programmatick approaches that should be evaluated for prime program potential.
Case Study: Town of Clayton, North Carolina, Sees Recycling Surge
Clayton residents more than tripled the amount of waste they recycle thanks to an expanded collection program the town implemented at the beginning of 2008. The waste contractor is hauling an average of 11 pounds of recyclables a week per home - more than two and half-times the amount per home in 2007. The revised recycling program included the replacement of 18-gallon bins with 64-gallon rollcarts, which are easier for residents to use.
Several more items were also added to collection, including magazines, catalogs, phone books, cereal boxes, junk mail, office waste paper, and plastic bottles and jugs numbered 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. The waste collector also accepts corrugated boxes if they are cut down for easy transport. Expansion of the Town's recycling program, coupled with the collaboration of the City Council and waste collector, has set the stage for a highly successful recycling program.
Source: The Clayton News-Star, Clayton Sees Recycling Surge
This sounds like a simple start, but regular communication with the public helps reduce contamination and increase participation. Those two factors immediately lead to a more cost effective collection program. As North Carolina's RE3.org REACT training manual points out, participation is one tool a community can use to decrease cost per ton.
When conducting recycling outreach, it is important to think of the public in two different groups – those who recycle, and those who don't. When communicating with current recyclers, focus on telling them where, when and what to recycle. It is less promotion and more instruction. Appealing to non-recyclers takes a little more creativity. With either group, your best bet is to avoid heavy handed environmental messages and guilt-based approaches. Instead focus on appealing to their positive gain. More on connecting to non-recyclers can be found below.
When the public perceives that their community's recycling program is active and well supported, a greater number of people will want to participate at a higher rate. By helping to establish social norms and conveying to a resident that it's easy to recycle and that many people do it often, a recycling program will benefit from the resulting form of mild community peer pressure. Understanding that the public feels a need to fit in and showing the positive gains from participating in a program is the best way to promote your program.
It is important to make sure that recycling outreach messages are properly crafted and focused. Research conducted by the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, as well as other groups like the American Beverage Association, shows that the environmental guilt messages traditionally used by many recycling programs are increasingly ineffective. Instead, messages should focus on the positive gains made through recycling. It is critical to make sure your program is as accessible to the public as possible.
How can you achieve that? Here are some low-cost ideas:
- Are your drop off centers as clearly labeled as they should be? You might be surprised. Spend a few minutes at your drop off center talking to residents - ask them if they understand.
- Make sure you publicize program changes. Add a new material? Get the word out! Not only will this reduce contamination, it helps the public to understand that their community is committed to having a fresh program.
- If you collect curbside, have your collection employees distribute promotional materials as they empty the bin. A piece of masking tape will keep the promotional materials in place until the resident brings his bin or roll cart back to their house.
- Highlight top notch recyclers in the newspaper or in your newsletter. This provides a positive light for your campaign while subtly encouraging participation.
- Does your community have a service that welcomes new residents? Make sure they distribute your brochures.
- If you maintain a website, consider that only the committed recyclers are going to find it. It is a great place for people who may be new to town and looking for recycling or for housing in-depth information that your more-active public might like to know.
Looking for free recycling materials to use to help your public recycle? No need to reinvent the wheel.
- EPA's Resource Conservation Challenge has public service announcements (PSAs) available to download.
- North Carolina's RE3 recycling promotional materials are available for download and include designs and patterns for shirts, stickers, and posters.
- North Carolina's RE3 recycling clip artsite has free images of recyclables such as bottles, cans, paper products and some of the products into which they can be recycled.
- Download the award-winning the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control's (DHEC's) Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling.The Recycle Guys Promotional Materials. The award winning Recycle Guys Posters and Fact Sheets from South Carolina DHEC's Office of Solid Waste Reduction are available as well.
- The Curbside Value Partnership was created with two simple goals: to increase participation in residential curbside recycling programs and to measure growth to enable better decision making. Check out their marketing materials and success stories.
- Earth 911 offers a search tool for residents to find recycling centers for items not commonly collected in curbside or drop-off programs, such as tires, paint, oil, appliances, electronics, etc. This service is free for residents and communities alike.
- Earth 911’s Recycling PSA Clearinghouse shares PSAs on a variety of environmental topics so that all local communities have the opportunity to promote environmental messages on local radio and television. Access numerous PSAs through the multimedia PSA library.
- The American Beverage Association’s Recycle It Now website contains resources for beverage container recycling campaigns, such as music and billboards that are available royalty-free.
- Georgia’s P2AD Sustainable Office Toolkit is a great tool for assisting business recycling.
Case Study: Assessing Participation Impacts
Want to see the direct impact of increased participation in your program?
The following statistics were derived from RE3.org (13 pp, 1046K, About PDF). The table presents hypothetical data from the Town of Harrison. Use the table to explore the answers to the scenarios presented below.
Town of Harrison
Curbside or Drop-off
Price Paid For Recyclable Materials
$25 Per Ton
Solid Waste Tip Fee
$30 Per Ton
Average Collection Per Participant
Would it be better to try to get 10 percent more for recyclable materials or increase the number of participants by 10 percent? (Assume that changes in recycling and solid waste collection costs will, for the most part, offset each other.)
If a town receives 10 percent more for recyclable materials, the new revenue from materials will be $27.50 per ton. The existing revenue of $15,468.75 would then increase to $17,015.63 with a total improvement of $1,546.88.
But if the town got 10 percent more participants for a new participation total of 3,630 households (60.5 percent), what would the effect be?
As we see above, before the increase, the Town of Harrison managed 618.75 tons at $25 per ton for a total revenue of $15,468.75. The new participation rate would take them to 3630 households recycling 375 lbs for a grand total of 680.63 tons (or 61.88 new tons). That 680.63 tons at $25 recycling revenue rate would equal $17,015.75 or an increase of $1,547 in revenue. In addition, the town would save $1,856.40 in avoided disposal costs. Greater participation has a two-fold impact – more recycling revenue and less disposal costs.
In short, increasing participation is more effective than securing a stronger market value. The net improvement over the old program is $3,403.37, or about $1,856 more than if the price paid for the materials alone went up.
While increasing participation may be the most effective way to boost the economic impact of your recycling program, it is still important to see what kind of marketing pricing your materials are getting. Evaluating your markets is often as simple as taking the time to stay current on market trends and taking a good hard look at your operations. What is the easiest way to do that? Working through these steps can ensure that you are as market savvy as they come:
- Waste News and Recycling Today magazines both offer regular updates on material prices paid – generally by bale price.
- If your community bales and works directly with a reprocessor, the bale prices listed in the above magazines are an estimate of what you can expect to receive. Similarly, if your community works with a contractor who bales the material, this is the price that they can expect to make off the commodity. If your community sells sorted but loose material to a materials recovery facility (MRF), you can expect that price to be less by at least $0.05- $0.10/pound . If your community sends mixed, loose commingled material to a materials recovery facility (MRF), you can expect your price to be even lower or to be charged about $0.05/pound.
- Now that you understand the market prices, call a local MRF and ask them how you can make the most from your collection. Ask them what neighboring communities send their materials there.
- Follow up with neighboring communities to see if they have any lessons learned about the local markets that they would like to share. Remember it is completely acceptable to use ideas from other programs! No need to reinvent the wheel.
- If your community doesn’t have access to a near by MRF and will need to process directly to a reprocessor, what resources exist to help your co-op your materials with neighboring communities. Your state recycling office will have the best ideas for your region, and often can provide lists of MRFs in your area
- Don’t be afraid to call a reprocessor directly. Many buyers of commodities will work with you to help your program increase efficiency, co-op (or partner) with neighboring communities, or improve collection technique. How do you find a reprocessor? Contact one of the following commodity groups for a listing of reprocessors in your area:
- Glass: Glass Packaging Institute
- Plastic: National Association for Plastic Container Recovery or The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers
- Paper: American Forest and Paper Association or Official Board Markets
- Metals: Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries
- Stay in contact with your state recycling office and ask for any current market trend documents.
- Attend relevant conferences when able and establish a professional network for collaboration purposes. Check out some of the following organizations for information about industry meetings you may find helpful:
For more information on state-specific waste exchanges, visit EPA Region 4’s Waste Exchange site.
If you’re serious about evaluating your markets, then you have to be ready to know the ins and outs of your program. How do your crews handle the equipment and bins? How clean is your equipment? What contaminants are ending up in your collection? Are your drop-off attendants supportive of recycling? Be prepared to participate in the business economy side of recycling.
What’s in your bin? In order to evaluate your market potential, it is important to have an idea of what’s in your waste stream. If your budget is not robust enough to conduct a formal audit, compare your totals to Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs’ Statewide Waste Characterization Study. Completed in 2005, the report provides an accurate snapshot of Georgia’s waste stream as a whole, as well as broken down by regions.
The study found the following breakdown of a solid waste stream:
Most Southeastern communities can use these numbers as a general overview of their own programs. State recycling offices can often provide insight into the specifics of a state or region. Keeping these numbers in mind, a community can then plan on the best way to divert materials from the landfill.
Remember that in the Southeast, demand for recyclables outweighs supply. That means that you should continue to expect strong markets. For example, the demand for aluminum food packaging is shrinking because of an increased use of plastics in soda bottles and other beverage packaging applications. Information like this may be discouraging to some communities that fear the profitability of future aluminum markets will decrease. However, awareness of market trends will also show that the increased demand for fuel-efficient, lightweight cars is expected to make aluminum more popular in automobile manufacturing. According to a study conducted by the North Carolina DENR, aluminum is a desirable material in the transportation industry because of its relative strength and lightweight properties. The average aluminum content per passenger car increased from 191 pounds in 1991 to 252 pounds in 1996, according to the North Carolina DENR. If the use of aluminum in automobiles continues to grow, then the prosperity of the transportation industry might determine the demand for aluminum.
Managing a hauler contract can be hard work. But it’s a job that needs to be done. When was the last time you evaluated your hauler contract? Here are some considerations that can get you started:
- Are the services and deliverable specifications detailed enough? Discuss with colleagues to learn from other people’s mistakes. It is appropriate to include a glossary of terms so you can be sure everyone is on the same page.
- Do you feel that your community is well educated when it comes to recycling? Communicating with your public only once a year is not enough! Does your hauler supply the education? Perhaps you’d rather develop your outreach materials in house but would you like the contractor to deliver the materials in each bin? Will the contractor offer incentive programs to boost participation? What resources can they provide your drop off center attendants? Think through potential scenarios and include flexibility.
- Does your contract reflect current market value. What prices are materials recovery facilities (MRFs) currently paying? If haulers market materials privately, do the prices they report match national averages and regional trends published in monthly recycling publications?
- Have you left room for adaptability in your contract? If a new apartment complex or business park emerges, will your hauler be expected to alter routes to accomodate pick-up? Make sure it does! One way to increase volume and save on transport costs is to infill residential routes with business parks and commercial complexes already on the way. A higher density of pick-up points on the same route can a smart move, increasing valuables collected and decreasing tipping costs. However, don't forget to reach out to those facilities and communicate goals and instructions for recycling.
- If your hauler supplies bins, carts or other equipment, are you getting the best price possible? Could you find a better price through a state contract? Many state recycling offices offer grants to help with developing a program. Be sure to check with yours.
- How does your contract compare with that of your neighboring community? Reach out to your state recycling office for help identifying similar communities who have developed strong contracts.
- Are you prepared for growth? Does your contract have flexibility to add other materials or expand routes to include small businesses or new apartment buildings? Remember that as participation in your recycling program increases, the fixed costs of collection will begin to be offset by the value of the material. Higher participation equals more materials. More materials equal fuller trucks. Fuller trucks equal greater economic return. Ensure that your contract is flexible enough to reflect those changes.
- Who fields complaints and/or feedback from your community? If it is your hauler, do they report back to you? Do you feel your contractor responds to feedback well?
- What sort of prices does your MRF currently pay? Are current prices reflected in your contract? If your hauler also markets your materials, do the prices they’re reporting match national averages and regional trends published in monthly recycling publications? For pricing, check out EPA's Pricing Resources.
- Education is the key to a successful recycling program. Consider requiring your hauler to participate in recycling education.
Even in small cities, the returns from an efficient recycling program can have quite an impact. For example, in 2006-2007, the City of Oxford, Mississippi made $72,551 off their recyclables and saved $21,030 in tipping fees for a combined total of $93,581 to help offset their 2006-2007 budget of $137,442. Another consideration when it comes to market value is to auction materials off to the highest bidder. Recyclables are valuable commodities with local, national, and international demand. By auctioning off materials, the highest bidder wins, which can be an even greater win for the community.
Minimum Contract Considerations
Remember your recyclables have value! A poorly written contract can break a program. At a minimum, your contract should:
- Include incentives, like revenue sharing, in your contract for the materials recovery facility (MRF) and/or hauler to maximize recycling. This will encourage proper handling of recyclables, and you will be building a long-lasting partnership with a common goal, to increase recycling.
- Consider embedding education for your target audience into the contract. This way your program will have the educational funding needed regardless of future budget issues. Prepare for growth. Make sure your contract has the flexibility to add other materials, small businesses, or new apartment buildings. Consider that your program will grow.
- Carefully consider collection techniques, equipment techniques, capacity, and residue management. Curbside Value Partnership reports that wheeled carts are best for optimizing tons recycled because 2/3 of the recycling cost is in collection, 1/3 in processing. The automated trucks used for wheeled carts cut some of those collection costs.
- Include a measurement requirement have haulers report back to you the amounts recycled and other pertinent information. South Carolina uses Re-Trac, a software program that keeps track of their numbers.
Flexibility. Markets for recycled materials are strong in the Southeast. Paper, plastic, cardboard, and metals fetch strong prices in most Region 4 states. Instead of sticking to only traditional materials, such as newspaper, bottles, and aluminum cans, for your curbside or drop-off collection, examine local and state, regional, and even international markets for materials. Do you have a polystyrene end user nearby or an oil filter recycler? Consider incorporating a wider range of plastics into curbside collection and other materials that sometimes get excluded, such as corrugated cardboard. Your recycling program is unique to your community and recycling markets fluctuate. Ensuring that your hauler contract makes room for modifications to collection will keep your program up-to-date and poised for growth.
Incentives. You may have heard about incentives for increased participation in recycling, but what about incentives for your hauler? Once you sign a contract, what motivates the hauler to not only pick up recycling, but to encourage greater recovery? Incentivized contracts, such as one developed by Decatur, Georgia, put pressure on the hauler to return high volumes of material. Instead of paying haulers a fixed fee for each house serviced or a city-wide set fee, Decatur actually implemented a fee paid for each tonnage recovered. This tactic motivates the hauler to provide efficient services with more impact on the bottom line.
Rigid contracts can represent barriers for change. Recycling is an ever changing and dynamic industry, which necessitates adaptability and thus a creative approach to contract agreements. Remember to think outside the box and consider all the opportunities you have to collaborate and utilize your hauler for the utmost efficiency.
One way to change the way you think about solid waste management is to consider the phrase Resource Management . The concept of resource management takes the focus off solid waste disposal and instead considers the whole picture with recycling a strong part of the management process. Read more about the concept of resource management in this Resource Recycling article or at the WasteWise Website.
Learn from your neighbors. One way to begin the process of evaluating your contract is to compare your services and contract benefits to neighboring municipalities, particularly ones with highly successful programs. If you are in an area with little recycling activity, seek out a mentoring community coordinator by contacting someone in your state recycling office. Your state recycling office may be able to direct you to other communities your size who have successfully re-evaluated their contract. In addition, North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, as well as the Georgia Department of Community Affairs maintains a collection of request for proposals (RFPs) and contracts.
After you’ve done your homework, outline what you’d like your contract to achieve, review examples of other communities who have done the same, and call up your hauler for a meeting.
Case Study: City of Decatur, Georgia, Designs Incentivized Hauler Contract
The City of Decatur has worked to improve their recycling program by creating a hauler agreement that best suites the needs of its citizens. Decatur opted for city-operated hauling of recyclables until August of 1997, when it privatized collection of recycling. According to the 2008 City of Decatur Recycling Services Request for Proposals (RFP), the introduction of privatized recycling also coincided with a 14 percent increase in per capita reduction of landfill deposits from FY 91-92 when compared to 1997-1998. Although other factors may have also played a role in this increased reduction, Decatur has continued to push for a hauler contract that encourages interaction and outreach to citizens, as well as incentives for the hauler. For example, in 2002, Decatur switched from a contract requiring payment for recycling pick-up services based on a fixed-fee per household to a contract that pays the contractor based on tonnage hauled. This setup is innovative since the hauler has an immediate stake in the recycling process and an incentive to recover as many recyclable materials as possible.
The recent 2008 RFP released by the City also includes the addition of materials to the collection routes, such as #1-8 plastics (typically, only #1 and #2 are collected). The hauler can also opt to pick up more materials, such as electronics and work with the City on a price for collection of these materials. Another interesting aspect of the 2008 RFP is the City's requirement that the hauler provide not only collection from single-family residences, but also provide recycling at no-cost for all City operations. Lastly, the City has also provided flexibility in their contract that will allow it to address potential future changes in City ordinances regarding commercial recycling.
By ensuring that their contract is incentive-based and allows for flexibility, the City of Decatur is proactively improving their recycling program and maximizing the potential for future success.
It is easy to get caught up in the day to day demands of collection. But a strong program must take time to evaluate current operations and plan for the future. Strategic planning starts with asking yourself some hard questions.
Curbside Collection: These questions apply to programs who collect curbside:
- Are your trucks running at full capacity? If there’s room in the transport trucks, it might be time to add a new material. Since the route and manpower costs stay the same, adding a new commodity to your list of recyclables can improve your program efficiency. Determining which material to add starts with a look at your local markets. Your state recycling office and magazines like Resource Recycling, Recycling Today, Waste Age, and Bio Cycle can provide information to keep your program current.
- Maybe the materials you’re collecting are all good options so would it be a good time to infill your route with businesses? If you have trucks that travel near business parks or downtown, what sort of business recycling programs can you implement to help take advantage of materials available for recovery? Georgia’s P2AD Sustainable Office Toolkit is a great tool for assisting business recycling.
- Still operating a curb sort program? It might be time to switch to an automated, commingled collection, or the ability to collect numerous different materials types without sorting and separating by consumers. EPA's collection efficiency fact sheet may be helpful in planning how to automate your program.
- What sort of curbside container are you using? When considering curbside containers, keep in mind that many communities find that larger bins are a better option. Automated recycling collection using large recycling bins or roll carts (often in the 80-95 gallon range) helps to keep participation rates high in two ways:
- Full size containers supply enough storage space for the recyclable materials. Many families recycle until their bin is full and then the overflow ends up in the trash.
- By supplying containers that match the size of waste collection containers, communities are expressing that recycling is as important as trash collection.
Case Study: 95-gallon Wheeled Carts
In November 2006, the city of Kinston, North Carolina revamped its recycling program. After brainstorming about how to improve their program, one change they made was giving residents 95-gallon wheeled carts. Also, instead of workers collecting the recycled materials once a week, they switched to once a month. The covered bins offer plenty of space and protection for recyclables as well. Once a month collection requires less fuel and automated collection makes it possible to reuse the same trucks used for waste pick-up. Also, according to Rhonda Barwick with the Kinston Department of Public Services, residents are more likely to participate since the carts are easier for the elderly to wheel to the street and offer a cover to keep rain and pests out. Kinston says they have realized $60,000 in fuel savings and the need for fewer collection personnel.
Drop-Off Centers: These questions may apply to programs who collect recyclables at drop off centers:
- How are your drop-off facilities performing? Do your site managers support the public? Do they encourage recycling?
- Have you provided the public with adequate facilities to drop off recycling? Where are these facilities located? Schools are a prime spot for recycling with the opportunities to educate children and easy access for parents to drop off home recycling. School yards also often have large parking lots and ample space for storage bins. Fire Departments are also a popular spot, as they receive high visibility in the community and the funds are often returned to the community through charitable purposes. Washington County, Kentucky has seen success with their drop-off bins located at local churches. Members of their community often frequent the local church they attend upwards of twice of week. This tactic targets all ages.
- How many drop-off facilities do you have throughout your community? Does everyone have easy access? The Mississippi Guide to Community Recycling Programs provides some helpful guidelines to collection. They suggest that communities have one drop-off location per every 3,000 to 3,500 people. Regardless of whether your community is extremely remote or just the opposite and in an urban location, drop-off facilities can make an impact on recycling numbers. In Oxford, Mississippi, the city saw a 308,750 pound boost to their recycling numbers in 2006-2007 simply by adding in a second drop-off center.
- How many drop-off facilities do you have throughout your community? Does everyone have easy access? Regardless of whether your community is extremely remote or just the opposite and in an urban location, drop-off facilities can make an impact on recycling numbers. In Oxford, Mississippi, the city saw a 308,750 pound boost to their recycling numbers in 2006-2007 simply by adding in a second drop-off center.
Event Recycling: Ideas for success when planning for away from home recycling:
- Runs, walks, and fundraisers often draw big crowds with large volumes of bottles and cans disposed in one place. Diversified collection helps to remind the public of your program’s diversity.
- Recycle on the Go is an EPA initiative to encourage recycling in public places such as parks, stadiums, convention centers, airports and other transportation hubs, shopping centers, and at special events.
- To address away from home recycling, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs developed the Recycle 4 Georgia event trailer grant program. Cities like Bainbridge, Georgia, can use the trailors, which are packed with event collection bins, for festivals and major events. .
- Rural communities can benefit from partnering with their neighbors to increase recycling efficiency of scale. The Recycling Marketing Cooperative of Tennessee has been doing just that since 1993.
- Looking to set up a co-op? No need to reinvent the wheel – learn from The State of Georgia’s hub collection program. Hub collection allows rural recycling programs to pool materials, increase efficiency, and hopefully expand services.
Case Study: Georgia’s Regional Recycling Transfer Hubs – Improving the Economies of Scale
Many rural communities do not generate large enough volumes of recyclables to effectively market their materials. To avoid the high transport and separation costs being imposed on the smaller, low-volume rural programs in Georgia, a novel concept of regional hubs was initiated. A Regional Recycling Collection Hub is a facility that accepts truckload quantities of recyclables from several surrounding communities and transfers them (serves as a transfer station) to long-haul transport vehicles bound for the materials recovery facility (MRF).
Four communities; the City of Griffin, the City of Savannah, the County of Bulloch, and the County of Lowndes, won a total of $2.2 million in state grants from the state’s Solid Waste Trust Fund (SWTF) to implement innovative regional recycling collection programs. The four facilities will serve as regional collection hubs (or transfer points) for commingled recyclables throughout the state, from which material will be picked up and transported to larger, more efficient MRFs. The State’s recycling initiative is designed to promote the development of single stream collection centers within 50 miles of every community in Georgia.
These collection hubs and regional processing centers will lower transportation costs for Georgia recycling markets, enabling a greater share of Georgia’s recyclables to be marketed in-state. The planned recycling hubs are also slated to have a significant statewide impact in other ways, including the expansion of single stream collection beyond metro-Atlanta and a continued focus on the re-use of recycled items by Georgia industries.
The four hubs have projected an average of 185% increase in recovered materials in their communities, which calculates to a projected $514,500 savings in avoided landfill tip fees at the current statewide average tip fee of $35 per ton. The increase in recovered materials will also benefit the hub communities and many of Georgia’s strong recycling markets, with projected annual revenues of $370,000. The estimated return on investment of SWTF expenditures is less than three (3) years for this project.
Under this program, the applicants have estimated that almost $5 million will be matched by local partners, mainly the private sector, and an additional $3 million will be supported by local government match. The public-private partnerships between communities and private- sector recycling markets provide a balanced approach to the recycling hub concept. The concept was so popular that Macon Iron and SP Recycling Corp. partnered to create a fifth recycling hub in Middle Georgia, referred to as the Macon Iron/Middle Georgia hub. A hub map (1pp, 173K, About PDF) is available showing the regional hub zones.
Collection Creativity: Every program should maintain collection creativity. Whether you collect curbside or with drop-off centers, collecting recyclables is the most expensive aspect of a recycling program. Labor, fuel, and equipment costs add up quickly. Designing efficient routes and filling routes in with businesses and retail centers aid in lowering fuel What about labor? Instead of hiring a commercial contractor to manage their recycling collection and sorting efforts, Marion County, Kentucky, a sparsely populated, rural area, makes use of their prison inmates as part of a prison work program. The inmates assist with collection routes and sort recyclables. Marion County is also partnering with nearby Washington County, Kentucky, to share resources in a regional approach to increasing recovery of recyclable materials.
Now that you have evaluated your markets and contracts, touched base with your current recyclers, and beefed up your collection and routes, it’s time to look for the communities who just aren’t recycling. Sometimes targeting or focusing a recycling message can result in more collection impact than speaking to the whole community all of the time.
This idea may seem simple, but it’s one that is often overlooked. Why should you make it a priority? When you increase participation in your program, your trucks come back fuller. That means your program is operating more cost efficiently. When your public understands that recycling is part of the community and how they can be involved, not only do your collection rates go up but your contamination rates go down. Wondering who isn’t recycling? Talk to your drivers. They’ll know where the empty bins are.
When speaking to non-recyclers, it’s often better to appeal to their sense of positive gain more than address what they’re missing by not recycling. How can you achieve this? Here is a list of ways you can help make recycling the social norm:
- Non-recyclers often don’t see the immediate benefit of recycling so getting your message across via a different voice can be influential. How can you help church leaders, civic group leaders, and business bureaus to voice your information? Hearing a message from a respected, but unexpected person can make a world of difference.
- What is on the side of your recycling trucks? If they are not promoting recycling, they should be! This serves as a reminder, or prompt, that recycling is available in your community. It also helps to stress that your program is current. Remember that people pay big bucks to advertise on the sides of busses and trucks – you get to do it for next to nothing!
- Encourage a commitment to recycling – and then publicize it! Getting permission to print a new recycler’s name in the newspaper (or your newsletter) can help form a long lasting commitment.
- Have you thought about incentives? Some communities offer monthly cash prizes to randomly selected citizens who put full, contaminate-free recycling containers on the curb. Do you work with a hauler? Write a citizen incentive program into your contract.
- Recycling factoids appeal to current recyclers but rarely do they sway the mind of a staunch non-recycler. Make sure that your outreach materials use diverse approaches. EPA Region 4’s Municipal Government Toolkit offers current information on recycling impact on your community, the climate and energy use, and the economy.
- Consider that elected officials might fit into your non-recycler category.
Are multi-family dwellings your sore spot? How are you addressing space restrictions, and contamination issues? Use EPA's multi-family recycling study and guidelines published in 2001. North Carolina's Pollution Prevention Pays Program also has a robust resource for recycling at multi-family residences.
Case Study: Reaching All Audiences
(From Curbside Value Partnership)
Hispanic Recycling Campaign
In 2004, The City of Charlotte Solid Waste Services launched “Meta Un Gool Reciclando” (Score a Goal Recycling) – a three-month grassroots public relations recycling campaign aimed at increasing recycling in Charlotte’s Hispanic/Latino community, which has low recycling rates. City officials partnered with Latin American groups to gather feedback about the best ways to communicate with the Hispanic population. The feedback indicated that the topics most important to the Hispanic community include family, healthcare, faith and religion.
The initial pilot outreach campaign in 2004 resulted in a 12 percent increase in recycling rates in just three months. City officials looked at ways to incorporate what they learned to launch a new, city-wide campaign during the 2007 fiscal year. The new campaign retains the same name, but now targets the city’s entire Hispanic population. The campaign continues to partner with third parties and, based on the 2004 findings, focuses on recycling messaging and themes that came up as a top priority to the Hispanic community, including a clean environment, clean space for gathering and meeting, sanitation, and healthcare. The new campaign also addresses language and cultural barriers and looks for ways to make it easier for residents in multi-family homes to recycle. For more information, visit City of Charlotte Solid Waste Services.
Disposal Fees Fund Recycling and Allow Cities to Receive Rebates for Tons Recycled Broward County, Fl
Recyclables collected by Broward County, Florida residents are processed at a materials recovery facility (MRF) located in Davie, FL. The MRF is a 40,000-square-foot center that processes more than 450 tons of Broward County’s recyclables per day.
The material recovery facility’s operational costs are covered through a surcharge on the disposal fee at the county's Waste-to-Energy plants, state grants, and other funds. Revenues raised from the sale of the materials are returned to participating cities based on the tonnage they deliver. This cooperative agreement gives Broward residents a great opportunity to recycle in a cost-effective way.
Building support from elected officials is crucial to developing the upper-level program support needed for your recycling program to flourish. When looking to improve your program, consider the following questions:
- Does your city and community council have a good understanding of the current state of recycling? Sure recycling is good for the environment but do your city or county officials understand its impact on energy use? If not, EPA Region 4’s Municipal Government Toolkit has extensive climate and energy information that can help ensure your governmental partners understand the modern picture of recycling. The EPA WARM model can further evaluate your community’s energy and green house gas savings.
- Do they know that regional markets are strong and that recycling has a strong impact in the local and regional economy? EPA’s Jobs through Recycling site reports that for every job collecting recyclables, there are 26 jobs in processing the materials and manufacturing them into new products. The Southeast has a strong focus on manufacturing and recycling supports local jobs. Remember that recycling adds up to tax revenue. EPA Region 4’s Municipal Government Toolkit can help you teach your elected officials about the economic side of the picture.
- Do your leaders know of recycling businesses located within or near your community that benefit from your recycling program? Partnering with a reprocessor or an end user/manufacturer in your area can help capture the ear of an elected official.
- Your elected officials might be interested to learn that recycling helps improve your public’s perception of their community. For more information on the social impact of recycling, see EPA Region 4’s Community Development and Recycling link. This resource is part of the Municipal Government Toolkit.
Remember, recycling is a growing industry with strong potential. Your council members are interested in growing businesses that result in more tax revenue and jobs. Conveying the value of recycling to elected officials is not always easy. Many officials are not aware of the powerful dynamics of the recycling industry. By arming yourself with the facts, you are one step closer to getting the support you need to make recycling a reality. Below are some quick facts and figures to help you make a case for recycling in your community.
Quick Facts & Figures to Support Recycling Programs
Numbers from EPA’s Recycling Economic Information (REI) study show that the United States is home to more than 56,000 recycling and reuse establishments that generate an annual payroll of nearly $37 billion.
The same study also indicates that beyond the 1.1 million people directly employed by recycling in 2001, there are an additional 1.4 million jobs with a $52 billion payroll in businesses that support the recycling and reuse industry.
According to North Carolina’s Recycling Means Business, the more than 500 recycling businesses in the state employ more people than either the state’s bio-tech industry or the state’s agricultural livestock industry. In addition, recycling jobs as a percentage of the state’s total employment have increased 40 percent in 10 years.
According to the Curbside Value Partnership, an estimated $1.2 billion worth of recyclable materials were disposed of in Region 4 states in 2006.
According to Georgia’s Statewide Waste Characterization Study completed in 2006, Georgia estimates that each year it spends $100 million to throw away $300 million worth of recyclables.
In 2005, the South Carolina Department of Commerce released The Economic Impact of the Recycling Industry in South Carolina, which determined that the state’s recycling jobs pay above the state average. With an estimated 12 percent growth over the next five years, the number of good recycling jobs in South Carolina is expected to grow.
Kentucky lost an estimated $17.7 million worth of aluminum cans due to disposal instead of recycling according to Kentucky's 2003 Statewide Solid Waste Management Report.
Looking for something more concise than the full toolkit? EPA Region 4 also offers three fact sheets, The Economics of Recycling in the Southeast: Understanding the Whole Picture (PDF) (11 pp, 524K, About PDF) and Source Reduction and Recycling: A Role in Preventing Global Climate Change (PDF) (8 pp, 564K, About PDF), and Recycling: A Component of Strong Community Development (6 pp, 65.2K, About PDF), which focus on the Southeast and can help you fit your community’s program into the larger picture.
Recycling legislation can go a long way in providing incentives for recycling and disincentives for landfilling. Legislatures are getting creative with recycling bills, such as advanced disposal fees, electronics initiatives, landfill bans, and even recycling legislation that partners along Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) permitting lines? By supporting smart disposal and waste reduction on a state-wide level, state and local elected officials have the opportunity to support municipal programs with guidance and funding. This sort of approach opens up municipal recycling programs to be more efficient and have a greater economic and environmental impact on the local region and the Southeast.
One unique piece of recycling legislation can be found in North Carolina’s Senate Bill 1492, which mandates that 8,000 ABC permit holders now must ensure that their recyclable beverage containers are separated, stored, and recycled. The ABC Commission and Department of Environment and Natural Resources have been charged and funded to develop a recycling guide and assistance program that permit holders can utilize and have been available to help bars and restaurants make the switch. Approximately 50,000 additional tons of recycled glass is expected per year. This creation of a steady, dependable stream of recycled glass and other recyclable containers will have an economic impact in North Carolina, perhaps even leading to the relocation of material reprocessors.
Recent Legislation in the Southeast
Kentucky House Bill 172, 2002: Kentucky instituted a fee of $1.75 per ton of solid waste sent to the landfill, which goes into the Kentucky Pride Fund. The fund helps finance the cleanup of illegal open dumps and abandoned landfills. In addition, the bill establishes that waste reduction, recycling, education, and proper disposal of waste are state priorities.
Grant Funding: Governor Ernie Fletcher announced in June 2007 that 26 recycling programs would receive a total of $2.3 million in grants from the Kentucky Pride Fund to finance their efforts. The fund was expanded in 2006 by the General Assembly to include recycling. In June 2008, Governor Steve Beshear announced that 34 recycling and household hazardous waste grants totaling $1.5 million were awarded to expand recycling in Kentucky and reduce the amount of solid waste going into landfills.
Mississippi House Bill 896: In 2006, this legislation expanded efforts to create the State Task Force on Recycling by requesting the assistance of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) in reporting regularly on the recycling industry and pertinent recyclable markets in Mississippi. The bill also requires the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to make recycling a priority when rewarding solid waste assistance grants, to provide technical assistance programs for businesses that will recycle, and to develop reports on the overall status of recycling in the State.
North Carolina (Solid Waste Management Act of 2007) Senate Bill 1492 and Senate Bill 6 A landfill moratorium was enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly requiring a solid waste management study focused on site location, design, and operational requirements for certain landfills. Recommendations were incorporated from the study and developed into the Solid Waste Management Act (SWMA) of 2007, which contains requirements for new landfills to conduct an environmental impact study and meet additional landfill standards for environmental protection.
As part of Senate Bill 1492, state legislators included measures that allowed a tax on garbage, required a fee for solid waste permits along with an annual fee to hold a permit, developed more stringent buffer requirements for landfills type C and D, and created stricter criteria for solid waste permit applicants addressing their environmental and financial qualifications. In addition, the bill strengthened regulatory authority and insurance requirements for permit holders. The new buffer requirements canceled some proposed landfills. In addition, an electronics recycling program was passed which requires computer recycling.
North Carolina (Solid Waste Management Act of 2007) Senate Bill 1492 and Senate Bill 6 Effective January 2008, the state of North Carolina will ban the disposal of beverage containers by certain permit holders. Due to high demand for products made from recycled beverage containers and ready markets both in the state and nearby, certain restaurant and bar establishments must ensure that valuable containers are not discarded. The ban will benefit glass, aluminum, and plastic suppliers. Not only will energy be saved by avoiding the extraction of raw materials for production, but the reduction of valuable commodities from the waste stream will prevent the release of GHG into the atmosphere.
North Carolina House Bill 1518: In order to promote better business and improve electronics recycling in the state, North Carolina is requiring manufacturers of electronics to apply to sell electronics in the state. By making producers pay on the front end, the state is hoping to encourage producers to make more attractive products that are easier to recycle and better for the environment.
- The tipping fee surcharge was increased $0.15 for a total of $1.25 on each ton of material solid waste going into Class I landfills. Ninety cents goes into the Solid Waste Management Fund for grants, technical assistance and statewide services. The remaining $0.35 goes into the Environmental Protection Fund (regulatory offices) for facility inspections.
- The tire pre-disposal fee has been increased to $1.35 per tire, with $1.25 deposited into the Solid Waste Management Fund. These funds will be used to provide additional grant funding to counties for collecting and recycling tires.
- A Waste Reduction Task Force has been established to review Tennessee's waste reduction and diversion goal to make recommendations for changes and to evaluate the methodology for calculating the goal.
While the legislation examples above relate to state-wide recycling regulations, don’t forget the importance of local ordinances that are catered to the needs and desires of your community. For example, Athens-Clarke county in Georgia utilizes a pay-as-you-throw program for downtown businesses and residents. Businesses must pay for their requested frequency of trash pick-up service, as well as $1 for each county-issued trash bag, while recycling bags are free. By requiring the use of the county’s trash bags for pick-up, recycling is a more affordable and attractive solution for business owners. As an added step, all bags are clear and labeled as either “TRASH” or “RECYCLE.” Thus, enforcement is possible and opportunities to educate non-recycling businesses about recycling is feasible.
For a sample of Local Government Solid Waste Management Ordinances, see North Carolina Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance’s Local Government Assistance Page.
Recycling is a fluid industry. A nimble program can most easily react to market changes and continue to serve their public efficiently. Here are some ways your program can grow and change:
Hire Part-Time Help. Don’t feel like you have time to read up on the current collection trends, markets, grants and recycling options? Wish you could conduct an audit or evaluate easy additions to your route? Longing for a new website or Spanish-speaking outreach specialist? Maybe it’s time to hire a college student for a summer internship. Remember, summer interns are a great way to harvest the creative power of tomorrow’s marketing professionals, website designers, business plan writers, or environmental educators, and it’s no harder to hire an intern than it is any other part-time employee. Advertise at local colleges or use your networking techniques to look for students who might be home for the summer.
Grants, grants, and more grants. Many state recycling offices offer yearly grant rounds, or you may consider EPA’s funding by visiting http://www.grants.gov/. Recent grantees from EPA Region 4 include:
- North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance - Municipal Makeover: Improving the Performance of Curbside Programs
- Land of Sky Regional Council - Delivering Training, Outreach and Technical Assistance to ABC Permit Holders: A Recipe for Successful Beverage Container Recovery
- Keep Knoxville Beautiful - Demonstrating Zero Waste Techniques at Outdoor Festivals
- Recycling Marketing Cooperative of Tennessee - Removing Barriers to Recycling in TN: Recycling Marketing Cooperative of TN
Let WasteWise help you help your business. Communities can support business waste reduction and recycling by encouraging partnership in EPA’s WasteWise. This free, voluntary program through which organizations eliminate costly municipal solid waste and select industrial wastes, benefits their bottom line, the environment, and can gain recognition for your community. WasteWise is a flexible program that allows partners to design their own waste reduction programs tailored to their needs. The baseline reporting tool allows partners to evaluate the current state of their recycling program. How much waste is disposed versus recycled? What type of products do they purchase that are made from recycled content? What waste reduction activities are currently in place? Online tools and resources are available for partners, as well as teleconferences to share lessons learned. Partners can learn how to minimize their waste stream and save money from landfill tipping fees (cost to dispose of refuse at the landfill) for each ton of waste disposed.
Have you considered implementing a Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) Program? In traditional solid waste programs, residents pay for waste collection through property taxes or a fixed fee, regardless of how much—or how little—trash they generate. In communities with Pay-As-You-Throw programs (PAYT), residents are charged for the collection of municipal solid waste—ordinary household trash—based on the amount they actually throw away, after reduction and recycling efforts. This creates a direct economic incentive to recycle more and to generate less waste. Most communities with PAYT charge residents a fee for each bag or can of waste they generate. In a small number of communities, residents are billed based on the weight of their trash. Either way, these programs are direct: reduced disposal results in reduced cost for the individual. Research indicates that PAYT can be a very cost-effective tool to increase recycling and waste diversion. The program of “paying as you go” shows national increases in recycling rates of 32-59%. For example, a survey in Iowa found that recycling increased an average of 50% after PAYT was implemented. Other benefits are that the program is flexible, quick to implement, and works well in communities of all sizes. According to the EPA and Skumatz Economic Research Associates (SERA) report Pay as you Throw (PAYT) in the US: 2006 Update and Analysis, PAYT programs in the US have grown from about 100 in the late 1980s to over 7,000 in 2007, representing about 25% of US communities. Collectively, these program are annually keeping 4.6-8.3 million of tons of MSW out of the landfill, and saving 61-109 million MBTU.
Don’t let your recycling program become stagnant. Even if you are running out of ideas or funding to improve your program, capitalize on the talents and ideas of others in your organization or your community. Reach out to other recycling communities whose programs you admire and find out how they achieved success. Lastly, don’t forget to harness the power of community beautification committees and non-profit organizations. The City of Griffin Solid Waste Department in Georgia worked with Keep Griffin Spalding Beautiful to gain support for a cleaner community through recycling. Now, with the only mandatory recycling curbside program in Georgia, they are well on their way to higher community participation in recycling!
Case Study: Downtown Athens, Georgia & Pay-As-You-Throw
Creative Solutions for a More Efficient Recycling Program
Problem: Downtown Athens has too little space for trash and recycling receptacles and few alleyways. As a large college town, the late night bar and restaurant scene requires night-time collection to keep the streets clean. Much of the trash collected consists of recyclable materials, such as beverage bottles and cans.
Solution: The Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department decided to implement a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program which requires customers to purchase clear county issued bags for their trash and to pay for trash collection based on the frequency of collection needed. Due to the space limitations downtown, the commercial business sector turned to an all bag collection program. The cost for the county-required, clear “trash” bags is currently $1 per bag, while recycling bags are free of charge. This setup makes recycling a more attractive and affordable option for downtown businesses when compared to disposing of waste. The use of clear bags also makes it easy to pinpoint which businesses could benefit from outreach about the benefits of recycling.
In addition to the PAYT program, a night shift supervisor was hired in the county’s fiscal year 2007 to communicate with bars and restaurants in the PAYT program and to run the program more efficiently. Since the introduction of a night shift supervisor, the percentage of tons recycled by the downtown businesses has improved 96%.
For more about ACC's PAYT program, check out this Recycling Today Article from 2004.