The Benefits of Community Recycling Programs

Establishing a community recycling program might look different from community to community, but one common thread is the benefits of recycling each community reaps.

Recycling is a service residents have come to expect all over the country. Communities want to recycle. Without a program in place, their baseline expectations are not being met. Convenient and effective community recycling programs can act as a bonus for new residents to move to the area and
for current residents to stay in the area.

The benefits of community recycling programs include the following:
» Waste stream reduction and sending less waste to landfills
» Minimizing community impact on the environment and climate change
» Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy consumption
» Improving water and air quality
» Increasing the number of recyclable materials in the circular economy
» Fueling the local and regional economy by creating jobs and increasing tax revenue
» Minimizing costs and saving money on waste management
» Moving toward sustainable growth in a community

We only have so much land for landfills. Implementing more successful recycling programs has many benefits for communities and creates a brighter, cleaner, healthier future for us all.

The Recycling Partnership has worked with thousands of communities to capture more recyclable materials, institute curbside recycling, reduce waste, and control landfill costs.
Get your community recycling program started now

How to Start a Recycling Program in Your Community

When starting a new recycling program, communities must understand their specific needs. Talk to your residents about their interest in recycling.
Look into the local government budget and identify funding opportunities. Examine the solid waste management system as a whole and do a total cost assessment. Identify savings you’ll gain in your garbage and other waste services from implementing a recycling program. Consider whether the
municipality will manage collection and hauling or if you will contract it out. Determine the options and locations of local or regional materials recovery facilities (MRFs). Once you establish a baseline understanding of your program, you can get further into the details and recycling efforts of what type of program you’ll be implementing.


Curbside Recycling Programs

A curbside recycling program refers to placing items in recycling bins or carts that are picked up by a collection service and then sorted at an MRF. To start a new curbside recycling program, your community first needs to identify the funding required, engage community stakeholders, and get buy-in from elected officials. Once that’s established, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate containers for residents. At The Recycling Partnership, we recommend cart-based curbside recycling. Recycling carts have several benefits, including cost savings, ease of use for residents, worker safety, and increased recovery.

The Recycling Partnership’s Residential Curbside Recycling Cart Grant Program presents communities with the opportunity to apply for grant funding to convert bin- or bag-based curbside recycling programs to carts or to implement new cart-based curbside recycling programs.
Apply here

If you manage hauling in-house, you may need to consider purchasing recycling trucks depending on how automated you want your collection to be.
Automation with your truck allows you to dictate the type of solid waste haulers you’ll need and the frequency of collection and routing.

If you contract hauling services, the contract between your program and the MRF is one of the most impactful legal documents you’ll manage. The Recycling Partnership’s Guide to Community Materials Recovery Facility Contracts offers best management practices to help.

Don’t just let the recycling carts show up at driveways. For the program to be successful, you need a long runway of informing and educating your
residents about the ins and outs of curbside recycling. Stagger educational materials with the roll-out of the new program, but ensure an ongoing annual educational budget beyond the roll-out. Ensure you have the budget to improve the quality of your materials and capture data from residents
for years to come.


Multifamily Recycling Programs

Multifamily dwellings (MFD) are a classification of housing where multiple separate housing units for residents are contained within one building or
several buildings within one complex. Think apartment complexes and townhouses. A multifamily recycling program must incorporate tactics and tools
beyond what’s needed for a recycling program focused on single-family homes.

Multifamily recycling programs are usually not provided by the local municipality, but private services can be offered to these units led by the
management company. This has the same beginning steps of starting a drop-off or curbside program—finding funding, organizing stakeholders, and
getting buy-in.

For municipalities that want to ensure MFDs have access to recycling, a multifamily ordinance is also crucial to consider. First, see if your state already
has an ordinance. If they don’t, consider putting together a team to pass an ordinance, including ambassadors to inform the community of the new
ordinance and an education team to influence the adoption of it.

Examples of potential multifamily recycling ordinances include:
» A local ordinance requiring the management of MFD complexes to offer recycling services to their tenants
» A local ordinance that includes requirements in building codes that new development and renovations of MFD properties
include provisions for recycling

Multifamily recycling programs pose unique challenges due to a need for more necessary collection systems, differing levels of awareness from
property managers and residents, and logistics for the required infrastructure.

Multifamily recycling programs pose unique challenges due to a need for more necessary collection systems, differing levels of awareness from property managers and residents, and logistics for the required infrastructure. Learn how to launch, promote and enhance multifamily recycling in your community.
Download this free multifamily toolkit

Drop-off Recycling Programs

A drop-off recycling program allows your residents without curbside recycling access or an excess of materials to drop off their recyclables at a centralized location. If you already have a drop-off program for waste, add recycling. Your drop-off location should be in a high-trafficked area near major thoroughfares and retail shops. Provide opportunities for residents to drop off their recycling while doing their daily tasks or driving to and from work.

Keep in mind the components required for a drop-off program. Consider if the location will have dedicated staff on-site to maintain the drop-off location and whether materials will be comingled. Consider the operational costs, such as hauling (which can be minimized with compaction) and security to watch out for illegal dumping. Consider the capital costs, such as formulating an educational budget. Having this new drop-off location doesn’t mean residents will automatically use it. You need education so residents know where it is and what materials can be dropped off, as well a clear signage at the locations. Measure the participation along the way to see where you can improve.


Community Recycling Best Practices

Here are some best practices if you’re looking to improve your current community recycling program or start a new one off on the right foot.


For Your Community Recycling Program

Incorporate educational outreach every step of the way. Before, during, and after the roll-out of a community recycling program, send education to residents. Educational information can be sent via mail, billboards, flyers, email, social media, door hangers, etc.

Have a maintenance plan for contamination. Know what the most common contaminants are in your program. Have the drivers on the recycling routes keep education information in their trucks to pass to residents when contamination is seen. Regularly campaign for curbside and multifamily recycling programs focused on contaminants. Install focused signage at drop-off locations.

Make sure all residents have access. For a curbside program, access means everyone in the community has a recycling cart. For multifamily dwellings, access means a location on-site for their recyclables.

Institute a recurring annual recycling budget. Your recycling budget should include funds for education, maintenance, training, and campaign development.

Hire community recycling coordinators if necessary. Depending on the size and scope of your program, you may need to hire a recycling coordinator. A community recycling coordinator provides direction, participates in the coordination of recycling activities, and promotes recycling programs within the community. If you’re offering a robust service and need staff to keep up with the needs of your community, having a coordinator who specializes in each service (drop-off, curbside, etc.) is a good idea.


For Your Drop-Off Location

Add clear signage at your drop-off locations. Your drop-off locations need way-finding signage that makes it easy for residents to find and navigate and clear signage about what materials can and cannot be recycled at that location.

In drop-off recycling, location is everything. Make sure it’s located in an area where residents are already traveling, it’s easy to get to, and it’s clear what the residents should do when there.

Maintain your drop-off location. If you decide to have your drop-off location unstaffed, you still need someone to maintain that location regularly. For security, install bright lighting, fencing, and cameras, if possible.

To start your community program or take it to the next level, sign up for a free account in The Partnership’s Recycling Program Solutions Hub.
Sign up here

How to Encourage Residents to Recycle in Your Community

Awareness is essential when instituting a community recycling program, but it’s not enough on its own for a successful program. You must take your residents through a process from awareness to knowledge to engagement to advocacy. Start by sharing basic information (i.e., billboards, social media posts) and end at a point where your residents advocate for and endorse your recycling program.



You want your residents to be champions of your recycling program and to encourage their neighbors and community partners to recycle.

Here’s how to move residents through the journey:


Show the “Why”

Why should residents recycle? Explain the recycling process and how materials go into the circular economy and are created into new products. Show your residents that they’re not just dropping off their recyclables or putting them into their carts— they’re doing something critical for their city’s sustainability. Show them the local or nearby landfill. Show them where their recyclable materials are being taken. Show them how materials move through a recycling facility and how we reuse them. Having the right budget to educate your community sets successful programs apart.


Behavior Change

At The Recycling Partnership, we emphasize behavior change before anything else. Behavior change can take dysfunctional programming and make it functional. There will always be something you’d like your residents to work on: recycling more often, differently, or better. Creating that behavior change can often entail a magical combination of art and science. It starts with a container and an educational budget; from there, behavior change happens.

Residents make or break your residential recycling program. These tips and tools, combined with your local knowledge, will keep residents spellbound.
View the tips and tools

How to Educate Your Community About Your Recycling Program

Recycling education is No. 1 when it comes to creating a community program. With an educational budget, framework, and plan, your recycling
program will succeed.

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to education:

1. Be conscious of your methods for explaining different concepts. Identify what you want to educate your community on and
think about the best place to get your specific points across. Use the concept of the 1/5/50 rule: There are different marketing
materials for explaining one topic, five topics, and more than five topics.

For example: The information on a recycling bin would explain only what to recycle in that bin (one topic). An informational mailer
sent out to residents would explain a few different types of recyclable materials allowed at local drop-off locations (up to five
topics). Your city’s website would list everything a resident would need to know about recycling (more than five topics).

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Residents may worry they have to rinse every jar completely and can until it’s spotless. Or that
there’s a little bit of grease on the pizza box, so it isn’t recyclable anymore. Or they should bag recyclables to reduce litter. Keep the
education simple for residents and be direct. Hit the basics over and over again.
» “Don’t bag recyclables.”
» “Pizza boxes can be recycled; pizza can not. Empty your box and recycle.”
» “Empty, rinse, and dry.”

3. Keep it simple. The less you say, the more impact you’ll have.