Collection Directions

Five steps to creating a recycling collection program that is easy to use.

As consumers increase their focus on sustainability, recycling initiatives are becoming an integral part of government and business strategies. Municipalities, communities, public agencies and even retailers are racing to develop programs to keep up with recycling legislation and the desires of residents, but few are taking the time to design programs that optimize collections.

Recent research by Call2Recycle, North America’s only free battery and cell phone collection program, shows that, in many cases, recycling programs that collect multiple items need to be re-thought in order to be more effective. The study’s findings indicate that many collection programs underperform due to fundamental design flaws.

Below are five ways that municipalities and organizations can enjoy greater recycling results, according to the study:

  • Avoid designing bins and kiosks that resemble trashcans, or expect to find trash. While people actively looking for a place to recycle a specific item may not make the mistake of throwing trash into a recycling container, if it looks like a trash can, some people will. The result? Contaminated recyclables and additional labor needed for sorting, which diminishes overall recycling performance.

  • If possible, the collection kiosk should be shaped to fit the materials that will be disposed. Often, collection containers are not designed to accommodate the specific items they are ostensibly meant to collect. For example, poorly designed receptacles for fluorescent bulbs can cause the bulbs to break and hazardous chemicals to be released. By understanding how recyclables should be collected, stored and transported, municipalities and recycling programs make it easier for people to recycle the correct items, and help to ensure that the materials remain intact until they arrive at the recycling facility.

  • Collection centers and kiosks should be easily accessible, preferably together at the front of a drop-off location. As convenience increases, so does participation. Recycling facilities should be centrally located and easily accessible. Additionally, when people arrive at the recycling facility, collection kiosks should be front-and-center so there is no challenge in finding them. Placing instructions near a bin's opening clearly indentifies where recyclables should go.

  • Employees must be properly trained to effectively implement the recycling program. Employees that interact with residents trying to recycle should be educated about each item that can be collected. Communicating all of the necessary information in the beginning of the process can help reduce sorting time, ensure that items will be handled properly and verify that the items collected are the items that the program can recycle. Similarly, a poorly-trained employee could, for instance, reduce a program's effectiveness by inadvertently obscuring signage.

  • Information and signage should be based on pictures rather than relying on words. The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" holds a lot of truth when it comes to educating people about what can be recycled and where. If an organization collects power tool batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and laptops, using words like "batteries," "light bulbs" or "small electronics" to inform people of what can be recycled will result in a lot of extraneous items showing up in the collection bins. However, if photos of the exact items accepted are used in all promotional materials and in signage at the collection location, there is a much better chance of only collecting the desired items.

There are certainly several other unique factors that must be considered to make any individual recycling program successful — deciding which items will be accepted, how the program will be staffed and how participants will be educated. However, by using these five tips, municipalities and recycling programs will be well on their way to creating an intuitive, successful collection system.

Carl Smith is the President & CEO of Atlanta-based Call2Recycle, which is operated by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation. Call2Recycle helps organizations promote green business practices through its free battery and cell phone recycling program.

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