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Is standard signage enough?

It would be a wonderful world if recycling were standardized wherever you went. If it were the same everywhere, you’d always know what is recyclable/compostable, confusion would be reduced, and many fewer items would be placed in the wrong container.

The fact is that recycling has never been that perfect--and won’t be, at least in the near future.

Instead, we live in a world that’s a bit messier (hey, it keeps things interesting), but it’s hardly by design. When it comes to recycling, we’re often hemmed in by regulations, waste haulers, local disposal facilities, market dynamics, and requirements imposed by others within the organization.

Sometimes, “standard” signage provided by a hauling company, trade group, government agency, bin manufacturer, or advocacy group will suffice in relatively uncomplicated situations, or where expectations are lowered. However, facilities often need to step up their messaging game and tailor signage to fit their unique circumstances and needs.

From our background as waste consultants who assess facilities’ waste practices, make recommendations, and implement changes, we’ve seen that most places that want to take waste diversion seriously find it necessary to create their own custom signage systems. While we’re sure the below list is not completely exhaustive, we’ve found that these are some of the most common reasons for custom signage.

Why use custom signage?

1. You have facility standard serveware.

If you serve food or beverages at your facility, you probably worked with your purchasing department to find service wares--disposable plates, cups, bowls, utensils, etc.--that meet your needs. With materials like these so ubiquitous at your facility, it’s often a good idea to incorporate them into your signage.

2. You have commonly disposed branded items.

For companies or institutions with their own branded disposable materials, it should be a no-brainer to highlight your unique items in custom signage. It’s even better for your green credentials if you can highlight that most of your branded materials are recyclable or compostable.

Similarly to reason #1, your facility may have an exclusive contract with a food service provider that offers certain food and beverage brands. It only makes sense that your recycling messaging reflects these commonly seen items.

3. Your facility standard wares or branded items were recently updated.

Your recycling messaging was going great, but now a bunch of the standardized items were just updated. Maybe materials were updated to the next generation, or maybe the sourcing contracts changed. Now you need to reeducate users on the new materials and whether they are recyclable, compostable, or trash.

4. Your waste hauler or your disposal facility changed.

A facility’s ability to recycle is only as good as the hauler who collects recycling and compostables. In turn, a waste hauler should only accept materials that their disposal facilities (MRFs, organic processors) can handle and accept. A well coordinated system ensures a flow of communication between all parties. That communication should start with a list of accepted materials which is reviewed regularly and updated when changes occur. A waste hauler and/or disposal facility change often means changes to acceptable materials, and waste signage should be updated accordingly.

5. Recycling market changes have moved items from one stream to another.

Here’s a reason that we’re all too familiar with these days. China’s National Sword policy had huge direct and secondary ripple commodity markets effects that have varied across regions and haulers.

Those changes have generally hit commodities at the bottom of the market - mixed paper, mixed plastic, glass, etc. On the ground, that’s often meant changes to glass, rigid plastics #3-7s, flexible plastics, and poly-lined paper materials like coffee cups, cartons, and wrappers.

While the trend for many years was to move from dual-stream to single-stream recycling collection, that flow has reversed with the tighter contamination standards from National Sword. Not only do a facility’s waste receptacles change, but signage can benefit from the message “Yes, this is new and different!”

Depressed commodity markets have also affected organics processing, too. With the ever present threat of contamination and low price of petroleum, many facilities that previously accepted compostable wares in their organics mix decided it was easier and more cost effective to focus solely on food waste.

6. There are materials unique to specific locations within your facility.

It hardly makes sense to focus on office paper or e-waste in a cafeteria setting. Nor does it make sense to highlight food or beverage packaging in a facility location where that packaging is unavailable. on one side of the facility that is only available at a location on the other side of the facility.

Even if you have your own facility-wide custom signage, consider adding hyper-custom signage to locations that warrant it.

7. You need temporary event signage.

Like signage for specific fixed locations, waste signage for events should focus on items that are generated and disposed at that location. The good news is that events generate a defined and limited number of items for disposal. Take advantage of it!

8. You have visitors to your space.

Locations or events with visitors unfamiliar with facility-wide recycling “rules” can be especially challenging. Without the opportunity for any educational sessions, all information must be communicated entirely through signage and on-bin messaging.

9. You have commonly misplaced materials that need extra messaging.

Coffee cups are often at the top of this list, but other commonly misplaced items include plastic utensils/cups/plates, food wraps, metal foils, styrofoam, plastic bags, and the myriad other plastics out there these days.

A waste audit can be a great way to determine which materials are accurately separated by users and which are the tricky ones.

10. You have items that are difficult to describe via off-the-shelf signage.

Quite often the most commonly misplaced items are the ones most difficult to describe to users. Most available signage won’t even address those commonly misplaced items from above because they are such a gray area for recycling materials.

11. Your facility has unique waste stream colors.

Some facilities use blue for recycling. Others use green. Locations with dual-stream recycling usually need to choose between green and blue for their paper and metal/glass/plastic. If you’re a dual-stream facility that composts, you likely need to choose another color to use like brown, yellow, or orange.

Sometimes the colors used aren’t standard because they instead match your brand or school colors (especially for athletic events). The scenarios and reasons are many.

12. You need a better attention grabber and more effective user “prompt”.

It’s a best practice to co-locate recycling/compost/trash bins together, but how do you grab a user’s attention and highlight the difference between streams? Some methods include colors, different opening shapes, even STOP signs or smiley/frowny faces.

Whatever other methods you choose, eye-catching and clean-looking custom signage is always a good method of grabbing users’ attention.

13. You need to show the world your commitment to sustainability.

At the recycling bin, one of the best ways to show users your green commitment is to convey that you’ve thought seriously about waste. Not only are you trying to divert as much material away from landfills/incinerators as possible, but you’re also making it *simple* for users.

We can help with custom signage

Here at Dyvert, we offer a way to supercharge your custom signage. We utilize the most effective signage technique (real-life items) in the most visible and effective location (closest to the bin opening).

Best of all, Dyvert custom signage WORKS WITH your printed signage. When located vertically behind the bin, printed signage is the perfect complement to Dyvert signage near the opening. The combination has it all--it’s eye-catching and simple, yet detailed and easily understandable.

Additionally, the Dyvert display ties in with many of the above 13 reasons and makes UPDATING your custom signage easy. Just swap in the new example materials for the old, and you’re done.

No matter how complex or unusual your material and waste system may be, the Dyvert system can be customized BY YOU to meet your specific needs. In fact, we like to think of our system as a tool for you to reach your very best recycling program.

Do you have questions on how to optimize your customized signage? Want to know how Dyvert can work with your existing signage? Check out our How It Works or Contact Us to set up a time to talk and learn more.

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