Recycling can get pretty complicated at times, but successful recycling is based on two fairly straightforward concepts:
- Getting as many people as possible to put the right stuff in the right bin as often as possible.
- Getting that stuff picked up and transported to the proper manufacturing facility as efficiently as possible.
Sounds simple right? Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can make that a lot harder than it sounds. But with effective planning and the right bins, you can maximize the effectiveness of your recycling program and overcome most of the obstacles that would otherwise inhibit your program.
There are some basic principles that are critical to successful operations. The degree to which you can implement these principles will go a long way toward making your program a success.
You Have to be able to Find the Bins
You’d be amazed how easy it is to miss this step. That is why aesthetics can be so critical. If your recycling bins don’t meet the aesthetic expectations of a space, they are likely to be relegated to areas that are hard to find and hard to see. If you can’t find a bin, you can’t use a bin. Investing in bins that meet or exceed the aesthetic helps to ensure that they are placed in areas where they get noticed and therefore get used.
Have Parallel Access between the Recycling and the Trash
Parallel access means having trash and recycling bins co-located together but visibly different than each other. I can’t stress enough how important this is. If someone only sees a trash bin, too often too many people will throw recyclables into the trash. Conversely, if someone sees only a recycling bin, too often too many people will throw trash into the recycling bin. Such contaminates may result in a bin’s recyclable contents being discarded as trash. When you have parallel bins together, it only takes someone a fraction of a second to participate in the program correctly. This increases the likelihood that more people will recycle more often.
Get Restrictive Lids
In all the years and for all the programs that I have been managing recycling, restrictive lids have proven to be the single most effective tool to ensure that the right material ends up in the right bin. The concept is similar to the children’s shape sorting game in which they discover that they can’t put the square peg through the round hole. With restrictive lids, you can’t put a round can through a paper slot (well technically you can, but you really have to work at it and the only way you are going to get that cross-contamination in your bins is if someone is deliberately contaminating your bin, which very rarely happens). Does a language barrier affect some of your staff from easily understanding signs and labels? Restrictive lids still work.
How Will You Empty Your Bins?
Remember that anything you put into your recycling bins eventually has to get emptied out by custodians or some other staff. The more viable you make it for them to empty the bins, the more they will do so correctly. If you make it difficult for staff to empty your bins, you typically end up with bins that don’t get emptied, recycling bins dumped into the trash, disgruntled employees, injured custodians or some combination of the above.
Emptying Your Bins
How does someone empty your bin? Do they have to lift a liner or bag out the top? If so, you really have to worry about the height of your container. Consider that a 3ft high container requires someone to dead-lift a bag or liner 6 ft in the air to get it out of the bin. If your bin is 4ft high, you are talking about an 8 ft dead lift. That makes it difficult for staff to service your bins and can lead to problems. It can also lead to a variety of safe-lifting issues. The last thing you want is injured staff. I recommend looking for bins that have front-opening service doors with liner bins inside.
Label Your Bins
If you have a recycling bin, inevitably, someone is going to have a question about what goes into it. The combination of a good label and a restrictive lid will go a long way toward ensuring that the proper stuff gets into the proper bin. So too will incorporating pictures into your label. The old cliché is often true that a picture is worth a thousand words. A simple picture can make it much faster and easier (especially in areas where you have multi-lingual waste generators or collection staff) to figure out what is supposed to go into a bin. Given that you often only have a few seconds of opportunity before someone throws something into any bin, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, conveying information quickly with a picture can help reduce cross-contamination.
Keep in mind though: high-aesthetic bins are a little trickier to label than other bins. Whereas a poster on the wall or a sticker placed on the side of a bin may work for most recycling bins, that same sticker or poster will often completely defeat the aesthetic you are aiming for. Be sure to work with the architect and folks that police the aesthetic of a given area (you might be surprised that there actually are aesthetics committees for many places). If your aesthetic allows for something with more of a poster-style label, look for ways to mount that signage into a frame to dress it up. You don’t want it to look like a sticker or poster on the side of the bin. For the text of your label, try to stick to fonts that are both easily readable and which convey the gravitas of the aesthetic. The same goes for any graphics that you use. The funky fonts or graphics that you might choose for a bulletin board in a residence hall typically should never be used on a high-aesthetic bin. Remember, recycling and trash bins in high-profile public areas are more than just a bucket into which stuff gets dumped. Effectively planning your public area recycling and waste collection system, and investing in the right bin for a given space goes a long way to determining the success of that program. That means choosing a bin that both matches the aesthetics of a given location and enhances your collection operation.
Join the conversation and tell us about the bins you’re currently using.