Guide to recycling

Starting a recycling program? Improving an existing program?

For clarity and content, you can’t beat the Recycling Guide put out by Keep America Beautiful.

Designed for facilities large and small, the guide has the breadth and depth of information to keep both the recycling newbie and professional engaged. It focuses on the balance act between increasing diversion from landfill/incineration, while reducing contamination. Fully exploring every topic in a quick guide is difficult, but an emphasis is clearly placed on bin selection and user messaging.

The highlights:

  1. Recycling should be simple and easy for the user.
  2. Each waste stream is unique. Know yours.
  3. Pair recycling and trash cans together. This may be easiest step to improving your program.
  4. Restrictive lids and visual bin “prompts” encourage users to pause and consider their disposal.
  5. Labels and signage should be simple and non-mind-numbing.
  6. Not all waste bins are the same, and features do matter.
  7. Consistency across a program is key.
  8. Bin appearances matter. A decrepit bin discourages recycling, while a well maintained bin shows a commitment to sustainability.
  9. Education is vital. It’s also hard, and can differ between spaces.
  10. Recycling programs are never perfect. The best ones continually adapt and strive for greater improvement.

The most important takeaway

The guide’s last point is the most important: the need for education is constant, and program managers should know that unless they’re moving forward and improving, they are backsliding.

A program in its infancy can make big gains through a few simple fixes, as outlined above. Only after the program builds community buy-in and begins to capture a significant percentage of traditional recyclable materials (bottles, cans, paper) should leaders contemplate adding new collected materials, like food waste and compostables. Nothing will destroy an entire recycling program faster than a poorly executed organics program that stinks and attracts vermin.

The final, and never-ending step of a recycling program is material reduction. Of course, it can be a goal throughout the program building process, but once you’ve begun capturing most of the recyclable materials, that’s when reduction begins in earnest. Behavior and system change, along with sustainable procurement, becomes the primary focus.

A recycling coordinator’s job is never well and truly done.

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