For many people, the notion that blue bins are meant to hold recyclables is old hat. But that familiarity is absent in communities that have never had residential recycling. How do you teach residents to make that association and get them in the habit of placing their recyclables in that strange new container?
That was the question faced by El Paso, Texas, before the city debuted its first curbside recycling program last April.
“We had done a pilot, but we had never done a full-fledged recycling program,” says Martin Val Verde, El Paso's solid waste superintendent. “Of course, we decided on the famous blue containers. We were trying to come up with a slogan that would be kind of a catch-all (no pun intended): ‘Drop it in the blue.’”
Several months before the recycling program launched, the phrase “Drop it in the blue” began appearing everywhere, including billboards, TV commercials and pamphlets. But Val Verde says one of the most important places the ads appeared were on the sides of the city's collection vehicles, including its side loaders — manufactured by Peterbilt, Condor, and Autocar with bodies by McNeilus.
Thanks in large part to this information campaign, residents were more than ready to recycle when launch day finally rolled around. “We had started putting out the bins in the middle of January, getting prepped for April,” Val Verde says. “By the time we hit routes, it was unbelievable. … We had guys going home at [8 p.m.] the first couple weeks because there was just so much.”
Discussing long-term goals, Val Verde says his department hopes to expand recycling services outside the city to the entirety of El Paso County. In the meantime, they will continue to drill the color blue into residents' heads with advertising and events. “The blue cupcakes went over really well at the picnic,” he says.
Best Overall - City of Philadelphia
Best Front Loader - Abitibi Consolidated, Recycling Division Houston
Best Side Loader - City of El Paso, Texas, Environmental Services
Best Rear Loader - Texas Disposal Systems Buda, Texas
Best Container Delivery Vehicle - E.O.M.S. Recycling West Bridgewater, Mass.