How Can Communities Improve Their Curbside Recycling Programs?

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The effective function of curbside recycling programs is an important consideration in the success of municipal solid waste and recycling strategy.  According to EPA, communities with effective enforcement of curbside set out requirements and a strong recycling ethics have enjoyed more effective and less costly programs than solid waste services. With curbside recycling programs being the better option of diverting waste materials, it is crucial that lagging community programs embrace best practices regarding kickstarting their waste diversion efforts.

Let’s take a look at some of the commonly recommended steps for improvement.

Making Perfect Use of Big Bins

One tact to cut costs of garbage and recycling pickup is to reduce the frequency of delivery through the use of larger bins. Such an approach goes hand in hand with investment in automated side load trucks to handle the larger bins. Of course, this approach is not without controversy, especially when it comes to single stream recycling. A Washington Post article identifies the big blue bins as the reason for the current crisis of U.S. recycling industry. Consumers and households too often fail to understand that everything they think recyclable isn’t necessarily accepted by their local program, and as it takes extra effort and equipment investment to separate valuable materials. So, it’s the job of the consumers to sort the materials and put materials in separate bins so that it takes less time and effort for Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to process the materials.

Effective Communication

A foundation of any policy change effort is through effective communication about ineffective practices, the implications of those practices, and a call to action with corrective measures which can be undertaken to resolve them. Community authorities in the communities where curbside recycling programs have not been cost effective need to ensure that they are taking appropriate steps to raise awareness, create a call to action and to clarify set out requirements.

Increasingly, recycling and solid waste administrators, in particular, are stressing the importance of communicating what “Not” to put in the bins.

Introduction of Dual Stream Recycling

While single stream recycling has been viewed as a positive solution concerning public convenience, increased recycling recovery, and reduced collection cost, it has proven problematic at many material recovery facilities. At such facilities, the level of contamination makes it difficult to sort materials. The introduction of Dual Stream Recycling can improve the quality of materials collected from the curbside recycling programs. Dual stream recyclables collection lowers the level of contamination thereby ensures recovery of valuable and high-quality materials. Most importantly, dual stream recycling can lower the sorting and processing cost.

Investment in Advanced Material Recovery Facilities

One approach being taken by communities to improve curbside collection is through investment in state of the art or advanced material recovery facilities. For example, the new $45 million Covanta Advanced Recycling Center projected to open in 2016 in Indianapolis should generate savings through commingling trash and recyclables together, thus requiring only a single bin pickup rather than recycling and trash collection.

At the same time, it takes the guesswork out of the equation for the public, not needing to sort different types of material in different bins. Based on a successful installation in the country of Cyprus, the operation relies on improved sorting technology to recover recyclable material, with residual garbage being converted to energy. Covanta says it will be able to recover 80 to 90 percent of the recyclable material, although detractors argue that commingling will result in contamination

Benchmark and Evaluate Performance

Communities with less effective curbside recycling programs should identify one or more neighboring communities with more effective curbside recycling programs and look to use for the purpose of benchmarking performance. So, knowing how a given community became successful in reducing the cost of collection, sorting and processing costs can help a community understand the flaws in their processes.

Setting quarterly and semi-yearly targets of increasing collection of quality and non-contaminated materials and evaluating performances at the end of the period can improve the community curbside recycling program.