Reduce, reuse and recycle is a mantra often repeated and taught to children from a young age. Marketed as an easy, eco-friendly simple gesture, recycling is a sustainable way to create items using less energy and fewer resources. The reality, however, is that it’s much more complicated than people give it credit for.
Recycling standards vary drastically from one municipality to the next. This often results in contamination: when non-recyclable material or garbage finds its way into the recycling system. This can include leftover food, non-recyclable plastic and other obvious garbage, and sometimes results in a whole load of recyclable material diverted to the landfill. At the taxpayer’s expense, no less. Contamination can have deep economic impacts on municipalities, not to mention being harmful to the environment. When recyclable material inadvertently ends up in the landfill, it takes up room for waste that needs to be buried and shortens the landfill’s lifespan.
Because these standards are so different from one city to the next, the best remedy is citizen education. The most common issue with recycling is that, although people have good intentions, they are not up-to-date on the right recycling standards. Some coffee cups are biodegradable, and some go in the trash because of the plastic lining on the inside.
The best way to ensure individuals adhere to municipal recycling standards is to supply them with the right tools and information. Luckily, there is no shortage of information.
Without fault, a city’s website will have the clear guidelines on what can and can’t be recycled and what additional steps should be taken to ensure the material doesn’t contaminate other recyclable materials. Most major cities now also have apps, where you can select an item that may be confusing you, and it will give you the exact details of where it needs to go.
For individual households, a fact sheet or billboard on top of where the household recycling bin is located is a great way to remind people where to put items during the sorting process.
Cities can also create recycling programs that can be integrated into schools, so young children can become familiar with recycling standards and help teach their families how to adhere to them. It also ingrains the habit from a young age, shaping the next generation of eco-friendly citizens.
Even though contaminated recycling is rampant, it rarely stems from malicious intent. Instead, contaminated recycling is usually a by-product of ignorance, laziness, or apathy. Some citizens may even think that it is better to throw garbage in the recycling, just in case it can be recycled once arrived at the facility. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
This is where data is very important. Using data, municipalities can see what the biggest pain points of their waste management chain are. Once these are classified, they can identify solutions and then communicate those to the public. Data gives the municipality a way to course correct when need be and look at the big picture. As progress is being made, they can rely once more on that same data to calculate any improvements.
To help you with this, Wastack’s Material Identification Camera is the best-in-class tool to mitigate the amount of recycling that inadvertently ends up in the landfill. By installing it in your transfer station, it can automatically detect items that do not belong in your waste stream and send email notifications with pictures of the contaminated load to the customer who brought it. It can also generate a weekly report for you to overview, so you can see what is happening in your facility. This can allow you to leverage this data and send insightful communications and targeted education. Contact a Wastack representative today to set up a demo! The system is quick to set-up and will help streamline your waste process.