New ways to reduce local waste and improve recycling habits
Cities across the nation have a lot of innovative programs to consider when spending tax dollars on more efficient and eco-friendly efforts.
Monday, August 9, 2010 - 00:50
HIGH-TECH RECYCLING: BigBelly Composters use solar power to compact trash while built-in wireless technology alerts waste haulers when recepticles are full. (Photo: George100/WikiCommons)
In the midst of a hot summer, keeping cool with plenty of beverages has recently made me think about my recycling bin and recycling habits. While living in New York City for the summer, I've noticed many people who collect empty plastic and glass bottles by the hundreds to bring to local recycling centers for cash. Wouldn't it be great if more areas had similar incentives to encourage Americans to recycle? Apparently, many companies and local governments have picked up on this idea and have partnered with different cities across the country to improve local waste recycling.
Reward for recycling
One interesting company that I became interested in was RecycleBank, which allows homeowners to earn points for every pound of recycling. The program provides homes with bar-coded receptacles that its workers weigh and scan at pick-up. The points people earn per pound of recycling can be used toward discounts at local stores.
Many cities across the nation, currently about 250 cities, have been participating in RecycleBank, including many local business and companies. Though RecycleBank is a great new program to encourage better recycling practices among households, many local governments have yet to adopt programs like it to their recycling routines.
Pay as you throw
Another way for towns to encourage citizens to uphold better recycling habits is a "pay as you throw" garbage program. Instead of paying for garbage services by flat fee, consumers will pay for garbage by weight. Thus, homeowners who compost more and throw less garbage out will pay less for garbage services.
A Duke University study found that the "pay as you throw" program generally increases recycling participation by 32 to 59 percent. Though this program would definitely save cities some money (the EPA reported that the program saved the town of San Jose, Calif., approximately $4 million annually upon implementation) and would increase recycling habits, research found that illegal dumping rose in cities using these programs. A recommendation to avoid illegal dumping for cities using a "pay as you throw" program was to encourage local governments to implement new or higher dumping penalties.
High-tech trash cans, such as the solar-powered BigBelly trash compactors, have also appeared in many cities wishing to improve recycling habits and reduce drive-around time required by waste transporters. The BigBelly trash compactor uses solar energy collected through small solar panels to compact the trash while wireless technology built into the compactor notifies waste haulers when the compactor is full. This increases the amount of waste garbage cans can collect before filled and reduces the number of times haulers must come to collect trash from a particular can. The downside to this new technology is the expensive price tag BigBelly compactors boast which makes many local governments hesitant to invest.
Additionally, some cities allow consumers to group all recyclables together into one bin to make the recycling process less troublesome and encourage more citizens to recycle. This "single-stream" recycling program may make it easier for citizens to practice recycling and save cities a bit of money, but the downside is that, overall, this method yields higher costs upfront in order to add more city staff to sort recycled items and to adjust existing recycling infrastructure.
Like most American cities today, New London, Conn. (my college town), and my New Jersey hometown both participate in single-stream recycling. New London has recently implemented single-stream recycling in which residents no longer need to separate recyclables for the weekly collection. Residents are able to recycle items into one 16-gallon container provided by the city and do not have to worry about separating between different types of plastics, cardboards, paper or cans. Items that are not acceptable to be included in this single-stream program are plastic bags, garden hoses, light bulbs, paper towels, Styrofoam, food waste in containers, needles and syringes.
Single-stream recycling is a good way to get citizens to participate in recycling and it is not as costly as other programs. Though there are benefits to single-stream recycling, one downside is that people may not think twice about the things they are recycling and may overlook the recycling process (i.e. include items on the no-recycling list) because someone else does the separating.
As far as increasing the number of citizens recycling, single-stream recycling has proved beneficial for my town, encouraging more people to recycle due to the simple and easy process.
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