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Evolving Ton

What do you buy? Is it the same thing you bought 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Is it packaged the same way? Do you buy it from the same place? Chances are, the answer is no. And because of that, what you have to throw away is different than it was when your trash and recycling program was first set up. And looking forward, what makes you think the stuff you will be throwing away or recycling will be the same?

Does your collection system have the flexibility to adapt to changes in your purchasing and disposal habits?

There was a time, not that long ago, when newspapers were the preponderance of residential recycling by weight and a significant chunk of most commercial and institutional paper recycling programs. If your system was set up then, do you still have the same bin needs now that most students are getting their news on-line and once-daily papers are now at best published weekly or are a fraction of their former size?

There was a time not that long ago when it made sense for a college campus to have a recycling bin to collect used CDs. What are you doing with that collection bin now that students are getting most of their music online and data from USB thumb drives or from the cloud?

Over time what we buy changes, and as a result, so to does what we throw away. So if you are designing a system to collect what people throw away you need to plan some adaptability into that system.

Consider flex space – The hardest part of planning for the evolving ton is planning for what you don’t yet know. To deal with this, consider having an extra been in your system. Initially, when your program is new and you still have more trash, you could dedicate the extra bin for trash. Then, as your program grows, you can convert that flex bin to the recyclable you are getting more of. Or, you can use that flex bin to add an entire stream that you didn’t have at the outset of your program.

Look for changeable lids – if you are using restrictive openings in your lids or color-coded lids, those features may have to change if your waste stream evolves. When designing a system, look for bins with changeable lids. That way, you can update the lids without having to replace the entire bin.

Be careful of color codes – I am not as big a fan of color codes as some of my peers. When you roll out a program, they can be very useful to help folks see that different bins are for different materials. But what happens when your purchasing and resulting waste stream evolve? Too often, after that occurs, I have seen color codes rendered nonsensical (e.g. Two colors meaning the same thing, or two different shades of the same color meaning completely different things, etc.). To prepare for the evolving ton, if you want to use a color code, consider limiting you color code in public area bins to lids (or for cabinet-style bins, maybe doors), which can be more easily and cost effectively changed.

How has your waste stream evolved since your bins were last put into place? Will your current system keep up with changes in your purchasing habits?

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Roger Guzowski

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