Many local governments have implemented “recycle right” programs to help reduce contamination in curbside recycling. The SWANA Applied Research Foundation (ARF) has issued an important new report presenting the costs and effectiveness of these educational programs designed to address and improve recycling behaviors.
The report, Encouraging Better Curbside Recycling Behaviors, follows the ARF report released in March 2021, Reducing Contamination in Curbside Recycling Programs, which addressed curbside recycling contamination.
The first report concluded that while education programs can positively influence high-performing and learning household recyclers, they are generally ineffective in changing the recycling behaviors of under-performers. The primary strategies that have been found to be effective in reducing recycling contamination from this group involve non-servicing and/or pulling contaminated carts, and issuing cart contamination fines.
The new report presents the costs and effectiveness of educational program options designed to address and improve recycling behaviors of high-performers and learners groups who want to participate correctly in curbside recycling programs.
U.S.-based The Recycling Partnership recommends communities implement four strategies to reduce curbside recycling contamination: cart inspection and tagging, contaminated cart rejection, direct mailing; and general
advertising. A fifth strategy, social media outreach, is also recommended and commonly used.
Shortage of data
A research study published in 2020 by the Cascadia Consulting Group found that reliable data on the effectiveness of public outreach strategies is limited. Cascadia also found that, for all of the communities in its study for which data was available, 51 percent reported having a dedicated recycling
outreach budget and spending an average of US$1.16 per household per year. These costs do not include the costs of cart inspection and tagging programs, which are estimated to cost $1.50–$2.50 per household per year.
The Recycling Partnership concluded that providing residents with direct feedback through cart tagging is a key component of effective anti-contamination programs. The Partnership also concluded that programs
relying on education alone are not effective in addressing contamination.
In Snohomish County, Washington, Waste Management employed the Cascadia Consulting Group in 2018 to test the effectiveness of two types of cart tagging: generic cart tagging (without cart inspection), and individualized cart tagging (following cart inspection). The study concluded generic cart tagging without cart inspection to be as effective in addressing contamination as individualized cart inspection and tagging.
A cart inspection and removal program implemented in 2019 in Jackson County, Oregon, resulted in a 21 percent decrease in contamination.
The costs of a cart inspection program in Fort Worth, Texas, which utilized six cart inspection personnel, was estimated by the city’s Assistant Director for Public Services at $500,000 in 2021. In comparison, savings from reduced contamination were estimated to be about $475,000 per year.
The Recycling Partnership recommends direct mailing of contamination-related postcards to residents. This option is considered to be relatively inexpensive when compared to other outreach options, and can cost less than $0.50 per postcard mailed.
The city of Napa, CA tested the effectiveness of using postcards to address recycling contamination issues in 2019. However, it found that the postcard outreach did not result in a measurable change in recycling contamination rates.