Philly's New Day

For a Recent Event Announcing the citywide implementation of single-stream residential recycling, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter pulled out all the stops. Called “BINdependence Day,” the City Hall celebration featured games, a percussion team that performed on blue recycling bins and the wacky hijinks of the Phillie Phanatic and Swoop, the mascot of the Philadelphia Eagles pro football team. I don't know about you, but having to endure the antics of those two might make me resolve to never recycle another item.

All tacky snark aside, though, it's hard to blame Nutter for doing whatever he can to try to drum up some enthusiasm for recycling. According to media reports, the city's residential recycling rate pathetically hovered around the 5 percent mark for years. For comparison's sake, several particularly aggressive cities on the West Coast have rates well above 50 percent.

But Philadelphia may be on the verge of turning the corner with the citywide adoption of single-stream collection. Sad to say, but putting any sort of recycling obstacle in front of people — such as requiring them to place different kinds of items in different bins — makes them much less likely to participate. Allowing them to put all of their items in the same bin makes the process seem like much less of a chore.

Two years ago, the city began testing the collection method in certain areas. Officials report that recycling tonnage increased by 35 percent in those areas, and, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city's overall recycling rate has inched up to 8 percent. City officials are looking to increase the rate to what they say is the national norm — 18 percent — by 2012, the Metro Philadelphia newspaper adds.

“Single-stream recycling has proven so effective in increasing the amount of recyclables collected, and we will build upon that success as we expand citywide,” Nutter said at the BINdependence Day celebration. “Philadelphia's growing number of recyclers now have the freedom to use any hard-sided bin for all their recyclables, as long as it has the word ‘recycling’ on it. The time has come for all Philadelphians to declare their BINdependence.”

Philadelphia's recycling rate certainly bears watching over the next few years, as we could be witnessing a true rags-to-riches story. Plus, if the city is able to reach its goals, I may even have to give Swoop and the Phanatic whatever credit they deserve for inspiring a new generation of recyclers — as much as it would pain me.

The author is the editor of Waste Age