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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Growing Pains in Recycling Programs

recycling bins w/o trash
cans nearby or any signage
Many well-intended recycling efforts result in costly trips to landfills due to unnecessary contamination.  Most individuals are happy to place their recyclable material into appropriate bins yet cause contamination due to lack of education, bin placement and consistency in programs.

The real estate adage "Location, Location, Location" also plays a vital role in successful recycling programs. Recycling Bin 101 teaches: ALWAYS place a trash receptacle next to a recycling bin, preferably closer to first consumer contact.  In CleanRiver's informative blog post, Placement of Recycling Bins, industry experts discuss in detail the integral role bin placement has on program success .  Additionally, CleanRiver recommends to NOT place bins in crowded areas and validates recycling center visibility as key to clean material collection.
trash cans @ park far away from
recycling bins

Simple signs educating via pictorial language prove effective in most recycling programs.  With many common languages in use, communicating through pictures proves effective.  

During a recent urban walk pictures proved consumers assumed ALL plastic items are recyclable.  An old thermos along with a couple other items landfill bound were mistakenly placed in the ample recycling bins.  At the park, there was no signage communicating appropriate placement of disposed items and trash cans were not close to the recycling bins. 
oops, plastic not meant for single-stream
recycling put in bins

Contamination happens with the best intentions in many cases - it is the industry's responsibility to provide the educational tools so the consumer may dispose of items in alignment with recycling programs.

At the December Sustainable Foodservice Packaging meeting at the National Restaurant Association's offices, an emerging theme was the necessity of a consistent recycling voice to the corporate and personal consumer. The ZWZ Blog post, Sustainable Foodservice Packaging Meeting, gives an overview of the gathering.

Yikes, look @ the valuable PET in trash
can located far away from recycling bins
Consistency is integral to shifting human nature and habits when disposing of spent items.  The common challenge is there is minimal consistency in recycling programs AND what is accepted by the local recycling companies.  

When touring an Atlanta MRF (materials recovery facility), the destination of a strong portion of the city's single-stream recycling, the touring team learned that only #1 & #2 plastics were segregated for sale.  The remaining plastics were either sent to a landfill as trash, sold to a local company for incineration, or baled as mixed plastic for oversea shipment.  Wow - what an eye opener!  The Ei FB album, 03-11-11 SP Recycling Tour, gives a pictorial overview of the informative, excellent tour.

What is the solution?  Elemental Impact says applaud success, encourage strong educational tools, invite all to participate in recycling efforts and ,most important, stay optimistic.  Remember, if it was easy, effective recycling system would already be mainstream.  Let's each do our part, no matter how big or small, with a cheerful heart.

1 comment:

  1. One issue is that the term "single stream recycling" sounds so easy and foolproof when it is neither.