Recycling problems take the form of contamination – that’s trash in recycling bins – and uncaptured recyclables – that’s recyclables in the trash. The causes of both problems take many forms and can be addressed by prevention, monitoring, and adjustments of the program.

Prevent Problems

Choose containers and operations with input from others.

  • Choose recycling bins with features that contribute to success.
    • Get input from cleaning crew members to verify that your choice is easy and safe to empty and maintain, without adding cumbersome new steps to the existing system for waste removal.
    • Look for bins that have a different look from the trash receptacles and that visitors are likely to recognize as recycling bins.
    • Choose containers with holes shaped like the materials to collect, both to remind visitors of the bin’s use and to make the bin unusable for discarding certain unwanted materials.
    • Consider the conditions at your site and choose bins that have needed features such as the ability to withstand strong winds, a top that can’t be stood upon for a view and storage considerations.
    • Learn more about selecting the right bins for your site in the section of this guide entitled, Considering Containers.
  • Arrange logical and convenient operations.
    • Ensure that there are no obstacles or difficulties that would prevent crew members from emptying trash and recycling bins when needed; a visitor will put materials in the wrong container if the correct one has no room.
    • Provide for adequate grounds crew staff and make sure the system works when the site is crowded.
    • Always have a trash barrel next to every recycling bin.
    • Put bins where recyclables are discarded and do not place them where only nonrecyclable materials are discarded. Use cleaning crew input and knowledge of what vendors will dispense in each location.
    • Authorize staff members to make changes to solve problems and give them instructions to do so effectively. Download Instructions for Monitoring and adapt them to share with your cleaning crew.
    • Secure the supplies where crew members can access them and where visitors cannot (as in, “Look, free plastic bags!”). Know how to order more supplies quickly and identify vendors open on weekends to call upon if needed.

Communicate

  • Inform staff members of the plans.
    • The success of recycling can be influenced by the way trash is handled, since a recycling container must be located next to a trash barrel and proper maintenance of both is important. Recycling and trash crew members should communicate and be able to ask each other for assistance. Much of trouble-shooting involves making adjustments to both trash and recycling set-ups.
    • Let vendors and others who use the site and interact with the public know how the program will operate.
    • Some recycling processors do not want plastic liner bags in the mix. Find out and make sure crew members know if they are expected to dump the contents of the bags into the loading area container or if full bags are to be tossed in.
  • Inform the public.
    • Use clear, highly visible signs to let the public know where to recycle and what to place inside of bins. Adapt the sign templates on this guide’s “Tools and Templates” menu for your use.
    • Check the section of this guide entitled, “Involving the Public” for strategies and tips.

Monitor and Adjust

Keep an eye out for contamination (trash in recycling bins)

  • Adjust bin placement
    • Make sure that trash and recycling containers have not been moved apart, as a recycling bin that is not next to a trash barrel will receive unwanted trash.
    • Notice what the unwanted trash is and where it may come from; then move containers to avoid the material. For example, a recycling bin near a product tasting area may fill with sample cups, indicating that it may be best to have only trash barrels in the location. It is usually bad to have a recycling bin near a corn-on-the-cob stand or a place where only drinks in non-recyclable cups are consumed.
    • Make sure that signs are in place and easy to see by people using the containers.
  • Empty the trash
    • When the trash barrels are full or overflowing, people are likely to put trash in the recycling bins. If this seems to be the problem, arrange for the trash to be emptied more frequently or bring extra trash barrels to locations where they fill quickly.
  • Note problematic times
    • If certain activities coincide with contamination problems, consider taking the recycling bins out of service at those times. For example, a craft activity may yield scraps that visitors don’t know are trash, like paint-soaked newspapers. If sales of bottled drinks wind down and cups predominate at certain times, that’s another potential contamination problem.
    • Recycling bins can be taken out of service by temporarily moving them to locations away from the problem activity, moving them to behind-the scenes areas, or simply turning empty bins upside down. An “out of service” sticker on the bottom of the bin is handy for ensuring that visitors don’t turn it over again.
  • Know what’s acceptable
    • It may be that no recycling program has achieved perfection. But it is important to know what level of contamination is considered unacceptable by the recycling hauler and processor. Unacceptable levels of contamination can cause the whole load to be disposed of as garbage, adding expense and undermining the goals for the environment and the community.
    • Some recycling efforts direct staff members or volunteers to remove contaminants they see. If contamination can be kept within acceptable limits, the processors can usually remove the unwanted materials with greater ease and safety than can your crew.

Spot uncaptured recyclables (recyclables in the trash)

  • Move bins
    • Put a recycling bin next to a trash barrel where many recyclables have been discarded.
    • If a recycling bin is already present, ensure that the instructions sign is in place and that the recycling bin is not full or overflowing.
  • Motivate
    • Step up the message to ask guests and others for their participation in recycling.
    • Ask vendors to tell customers to recycle with each sale of a bottled drink.
    • Check the “Involving the Public” page of this guide for ideas.

Adjust for convenience

  • Notice where bins fill quickly
    • If one recycling bin repeatedly becomes full before it is convenient for crews to empty it, bring a second bin to the location.
    • Redirect staff duties to respond to the program’s needs.
  • Identify hassles
    • Ask cleaning crew members to report difficulties they encounter and take appropriate measures.
    • Keep a supply of zip ties, clips, elastic bands, gloves, clear mailing tape, extra liner bags and miscellaneous fasteners and tools for improvising repairs and adjustments to the way containers work (for example, some bins may suffer the problem of liner bags that fall down inside). Avoid fixing bins with screws or other fasteners with sharp points that could scratch hands or tear bags.
    • Realize that some hassles can be resolved on the spot and others may persist for some time before a solution can be made.

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