6 Steps to Starting a Community Recycling Program

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Your city doesn’t have a recycling program, and you want to do something to change that — so where do you start? It’s a big task, but it can be done. Let these six steps be your guide.

Step 1: Build a team

To create a recycling program, the first thing you’ll need is a team of motivated and environmentally minded community members, including politicians. You’ll need help in many areas to build a program, such as with issuing the best collection bins and equipment, choosing and negotiating with the recycling hauler, and understanding and negotiating different contracts and budgets.

Step 2: Create a plan

Outline the program’s objectives, keeping them as focused as possible. As a recycling team, you have many things to determine: Will you include businesses and apartments in the program, or just houses? What are you going to recycle? What recyclables do the haulers want? How often will you pick up recyclables, or will you have a drop-off center? Can you offset some of the costs by partnering with a neighboring community? The goals need to be specific to your community’s size and what you decide to recycle.

Step 3: Choose which materials to recycle

Deciding which materials to recycle seems like the easy part. It can be a slippery slope, though, if you aren’t specific about the materials that will be part of the program — you’ll have community members who want to recycle odd items like phone books and electronics . . . and then they’ll try to set out an old washing machine. The team needs to focus on not only removing materials from the waste stream but finding a market for them.

To start with, what recyclables does your community generate in the greatest quantities? To better answer this, conduct a waste assessment to see what is currently being thrown away. The most common items include aluminum, steel food containers, certain glass and plastic bottles, and various acceptable papers. Also check with your state’s recycling office about restrictions regarding materials such as recycling yard waste and household hazardous waste.

 

Step 4: Figure out collection and processing

Check with your state’s recycling office regarding what collection systems have worked best with large and small communities. Your collection system is an integral part of your entire program. Consider things such as:

  • Will your recycling program be collecting the recyclables curbside or will you have drop-off centers?
  • Will you include businesses?
  • Who will do the sorting?
  • Depending on the size of your community, would it be best to outsource the recycling to a contract hauler?

Step 5: Plot a plan for preventing waste

People get so focused on recycling that they forget that eliminating waste at the source is even better than recycling. Look at ways you can prevent waste production, then look at managing the ongoing waste to determine the best recycling options.

Once you’ve outlined your recycling goals, negotiated your recycling hauler and put a collection system in place, it’s time to get the community’s buy-in. This will take the effort of your entire team, and it’s crucial to your program’s success.

Step 6: Educate the community

Your team will have to educate members of the community on what can be recycled and why it’s important to participate. The quickest way to get community buy-in is to align with community leaders who will champion your efforts. This is an important step in implementing your recycling program. You will need local and state leaders to help fund your recycling endeavors and assist you in maneuvering through any unforeseen governmental red tape that could prevent you from succeeding.

Once you’ve gotten a feel for how the community is responding, you’ll be able to divide your community into two groups: those who are environmentally friendly and those who may be a little more difficult to persuade. Begin by marketing to and educating the individuals who fall into the first group. Explain and simplify the program so it gets off to a positive start. Once the program is building momentum, start focusing your message on the people who may not believe that recycling is important. To this second group, emphasize the economic benefits of recycling over the environmental values.

Recycling is more than a feel-good tree-hugging movement — it’s a growing industry with positive results for our economy. Get your local council members and politicians involved by reminding them that, in addition to helping the environment, your community’s recyclables have a monetary value.