Report aims to help reduce recycling contamination

A new report developed by the Solid Waste Association of North America’s (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation (ARF) addresses the issue of increased contamination in curbside recycling programs in recent years and its effect on costs and safety at material recovery facilities (MRFs).

The ARF report, Reducing Contamination in Curbside Recycling Programs, identifies and addresses the key reasons why residents place contaminants in their recycling bins.

A better understanding of what causes these recycling behaviors should enable recycling and sustainability program managers to develop and implement more effective anti-contamination programs that address the underlying reasons for curbside recycling contamination.

Different levels of commitment

The report found that one factor often overlooked in responding to the curbside recycling contamination issue is different levels of recycling commitments of the residents who use curbside recycling collection services.

“Recycling and sustainability program managers often overestimate the commitment of certain residents, and mistakenly assume that contamination issues can be resolved through increased spending on recycling public education programs,” the report said.

It examines the results of a study conducted in Ohio, in which households were given larger recycling carts, followed by a corresponding increase in compliance rates.

Reduce contamination

“This new ARF report provides useful and actionable information to recycling managers throughout the United States and Canada that can be used to reduce contamination and program costs,” said David Biderman, SWANA’s executive director and CEO.

“We hope local governments and companies take full advantage of the insights and analysis in the report.”

In response to contamination concerns, many state and local governments are implementing “recycle right” programs that provide clearer and simplified instructions to residents on what recyclables are included in their curbside programs. SWANA supports these efforts and anticipates this report will serve as an important resource.

The report looks at local governments that have implemented cart inspection and tagging options to reduce contamination and increase public awareness as well as what to do to enforce rules for non-compliant households.

“We appreciate the support and involvement of our Sustainable Materials Management Group subscribers who submitted and voted for this important research topic and provided funding support for the research effort,” said Jeremy O’Brien, SWANA’s director of applied research.

The full report, Reducing Contamination in Curbside Recycling Programs, is currently only available to SWANA ARF subscribers. SWANA members receive free access to ARF industry reports one year after publication.

To learn more about the report and to download the executive summary, click here.