- The Recycling Partnership shared new results from 2017 pilots, with the biggest changes coming from Atlanta which initially had a 37% contamination rate. A multi-week education program, focused on reducing plastic bag contamination, led to a 27% increase in capture rate and a 57% decrease in contamination for pilot routes. A key takeaway was seeing that cart rejection didn't discourage participation among residents.
- In Denver, the focus was on improving capture rates for a city that was performing relatively well already and targeting education around aluminum cans. The overall capture rate went up by 15%. For households on routes that received cart tags, the aluminum capture rate went up by 25%. Those that didn't saw no noticeable change.
- Like Atlanta, Chicago also had a high contamination rate problem and bags were a primary source. As previously reported by the city, the local pilot led to a 32% decrease in contamination. Educational efforts for the "It's All You" campaign included mailers, social media, videos and an appearance at a Chicago Bulls game where PET T-shirts were shot into the crowd.
The Recycling Partnership's contamination reduction efforts have grown in scope over the past couple years, based in part on initial pilots in multiple Massachusetts municipalities, and have become increasingly adaptable. The goal in each case is to help cities develop a deeper understanding of their programs and find solutions that can be adopted full-scale.
"Not only did we see these results, but in each of the cities we tried to create this roadmap for the city to take it citywide," said Cody Marshall, vice president of technical assistance for The Recycling Partnership.
As seen in these three examples, how each city crafts their educational program largely depends on local stakeholders and resources.
In Atlanta, the city's collection trucks were already using an app developed by Rubicon Global, so the technology company worked to develop a new contamination tracking app for inspectors. That will be available to Atlanta going forward and could potentially be used as a standalone in other cities.
The initial plan for Denver was to focus on cardboard, but the city decided that cans were a higher priority after finding large amounts of them in the baseline characterization study. Among many takeaways from Denver, Marshall noted traditional mailers and cart tags were more effective than social media campaigns.
For Chicago, which has publicly struggled with its curbside recycling efforts in recent years, the education campaign was an even bigger focus. Working with Recycle By City this went citywide, and was boosted by additional grant funding from Target and Coca-Cola.
Going forward, The Recycling Partnership will be presenting more of these findings at events such as the recent Measurement Matters Summit and integrating them into existing community toolkits. Marshall estimates a robust education program like the ones in these cities costs $1.50-$2 per household. That number factors in all the educational materials, waste sorts and cart inspections, so he said the number shouldn't scare local officials.
Lower spending amounts can also lead to results and the return is seen as worthwhile for any concerted contamination reduction program. Material recovery facility operators are often supporters as well. The Recycling Partnership worked with Alpine Waste & Recycling, Lakeshore Recycling Systems, Resource Management Companies and Waste Management, among others, in these three cities.
"There's a clear ROI for the city and the MRF," said Marshall. "Increasing capture could get value. Decreasing contamination is a huge value."