Not Your Grandma’s Recycling Program
By Erika Diamond, SVP, Community Solutions and Sustainability at Recyclebank
Much like other environmental industries, recycling has been getting a makeover. While the central recycling collection, processing and brokerage markets continue to move forward, consumer engagement when it comes to recycling collection is becoming the most vital spoke in the recycling lifecycle. Innovation in this space has picked up the pace—but as concerns about things like the green fence expand, the question remains, what else can we do to move the needle? To figure out where we need to go next, let’s examine the history of recycling innovations leading up to today.
The Origin of Curbside Recycling
Innovation in the recycling industry got its roots in organized community curbside recycling programs—with California being the first state to launch a program in the early 70s. As the nation came to realize the environmental, social and economic benefits of recycling, curbside programs steadily spread across the country. However, until recently, this generally meant requiring residents to sort materials into different bins—large boxes without wheels. A cumbersome task, residents not only had to understand where to put each material, they then had to drag these heavy bins to the curb. The time and effort this required made it much more difficult for recycling to become a habit.
Luckily, for most of us, haulers and cities recognized that providing residents with larger carts with wheels made a huge difference in making recycling easier and in ensuring more materials were collected. In addition, single stream facilities began to emerge eliminating the need for residents to do the sorting. These infrastructure changes had a tremendous impact, with some communities seeing their recycling rates more than double within the first year of these changes.