community recycle bins

Five Steps to Starting a Community Recycling Program for Good

Is your community lagging behind in the recycling movement? Do aluminum, glass, paper and plastic still make their ill-fated trip to the landfill? If you answered yes to these questions, you may be asking yourself another one: Why should you care?

There are plenty of reasons why you should be recycling. Here are just a few:

  • Roughly 20% of the nation’s most hazardous sites are solid waste landfills.
  • Landfill liners will eventually leak, causing garbage juice to seep into and contaminate soil and groundwater supplies.
  • Landfills are the largest source of human-caused methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
  • Greenhouse gases like methane cause global warming, which in turn causes catastrophic effects like extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, animal extinction, human displacement and a host of other devastating consequences.

Starting a Community Recycling Program

Well, unless you’re living in the Arctic tundra, you can probably implement a recycling program in your community. (Our apologies if they do have recycling programs in the Arctic tundra.) It may take a little planning to execute a program, but it’s well worth. You’ll not only protect the environment; you’ll also feel the pride of personal achievement and gain a greater sense of community.

The first thing you need is support. Reach out to your community to find the people who can help you implement the program and provide guidance and expertise.  Consider including the following on your team:

  • Local businesses and organizations that have either already started an internal recycling program or share your desire to start a program.
  • Neighbors and concerned citizens who can help you do some of the legwork.
  • Local politicians who will support you and help you reach out to the right people.
community team

Once you find people to support your efforts, get the team together for a meeting to answer the following questions:

  • Will you include all businesses, apartments and houses outside your residential community in the recycling program?
  • What items does your community currently recycle?
  • What items or materials do you want to recycle?
  • What is the market for recycling in your area? In other words, what do haulers and recyclers really want?
  • Will you offer drop-off centers or recycling pick-up?
  • Who will do the sorting?
  • Would it be best to outsource the recycling to a contract hauler?
  • Would any neighboring communities be interested in partnering to offset some of the costs?
  • What are the specific goals you want to accomplish with your recycling program?

If you can’t answer all of these questions at the meeting, designate individuals who are willing and able to follow up by making phone calls and finding answers. You should also conduct a waste assessment in your community. The EPA outlines several ways this can be done.

sort recycling

The recycling coordinator is the glue that holds the whole recycling program together. Some of the duties of a recycling coordinator include:

  • Orchestrating collection, transportation and processing of recycled materials
  • Guiding recycling and waste reduction efforts for public events
  • Drafting and overseeing collection contracts
  • Administrating local recycling programs and projects
  • Acting as the main contact with the public, schools, community groups, businesses and local government agencies
  • Providing assistance on recycling-related issues
  • Developing and distributing promotional and educational materials
  • Directing the work of recycling center attendants, program assistants, volunteers and temporary staff
  • Applying for grants
  • Processing or marketing recovered materials
  • Monitoring commodity market prices
  • Reporting to elected officials on the success and needs of the program
  • Developing and managing budgets

Given the long list of duties, a full-time coordinator is the most effective solution if you can secure funding. Here is a list of financing contacts offered by the EPA to get you started. If you cannot afford to hire a recycling coordinator, recruit a dedicated volunteer or a team of volunteers to split the duties. Just make sure one person is assigned to coordinate everything and keep all paperwork in order.

running a meeting

Public support is so important when starting a recycling program. If the public either doesn’t know why recycling is important or isn’t aware there is a recycling program available, they won’t recycle. The key to public support is outreach or public relations. Inform your whole community through:

  • Town hall meetings or public forums
  • Flyers dropped in the mail
  • Posters displayed in local businesses and community centers
  • Articles and announcements in local newspapers
  • Local radio station announcements
  • A website or a web page with details of the program
  • Emails to local residents and homeowners associations

North Carolina is an example of a state that does an excellent job of providing local communities with outreach tools and information.

checking the mail

To keep your community recycling program going strong, either you, your recycling coordinator or someone else from your team should:

  • Stay in the public eye with events, public meetings and other outreach tools, and progress updates
  • Check in with your recycling service provider to monitor progress
  • Schedule monthly meetings with your community recycling team to ensure each member is accomplishing its goals and objectives
  • Inform new community members about your recycling program.
follow up

Additional Information

Here are some helpful links that provide additional information and tools to help you get your recycling program started:

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