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Partnership Empowers Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver to Measurably Improve Recycling

Less than half the recyclables in U.S. homes are captured: just 14 million tons out of an available 36 million are recycled every year from single-family homes. The Recycling Partnership is working to change that by improving recycling systems in hundreds of communities across America with financial support of nearly 40 companies and foundations, including major brands like Coca-Cola and Target. By working together to help every family in America recycle, and recycle well, The Recycling Partnership’s goal is to double the current recycling rate and capture 22 million more tons of recyclables per year, avoid 50 million metric tons of greenhouse gas annually, and save $250 million in contamination costs every year.

In a major step towards helping achieve this goal, Atlanta, Chicago and Denver teamed up with The Recycling Partnership to help residents in their communities recycle properly. It all started with capture rate data. After diving into both the trash and recycling, teams from the individual cities and Partnership staff determined the best opportunity for improvement in each community. How much recycling was in the trash? How much trash was in the recycling? The Partnership learned that contamination rates were too high in Atlanta and Chicago. In Denver, contamination was low and capture rates high, but there were still plenty of recyclables going in the trash.

Using this data, The Recycling Partnership worked with each city to design targeted community engagement programs supported by strategic communication campaigns to drive consumer behavior change.

In Atlanta, the Partnership and city staff joined forces to “tip and tag” recycling carts and provided helpful reminders about what is and is not recyclable. An awareness campaign reminded residents to put recyclables in the carts loose, not bagged.

In Chicago, an informational mailer went to 630,000 single-family homes, followed by advertising, social media outreach and special events – all created to build a culture of recycling. In Denver, the Partnership and city staff used mailers and cart tags to encourage residents to recycle more aluminum cans.

In a matter of months, residents in all three cities got the message loud and clear, and the results were significant.

  • Atlanta: 62 percent decrease in bagged recyclables and 27 percent increase in overall capture rate.
  • Chicago: 32 percent drop in overall contamination.
  • Denver: 25 percent increase in capture of aluminum cans.

“Our results in Atlanta, Chicago and Denver confirm that residents need information and feedback to recycle right and that this information is effective,” says Cody Marshall, VP of Technical Assistance, The Recycling Partnership. “Through infrastructure, education and strategic communication, we can drive measurable change in consumer behavior and recyclable material recovery.”

The programs in Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver, were funded through a mix of city resources and funding from The Recycling Partnership. In Chicago, both Coca-Cola and Target provided additional funds through The Partnership to help the City share its “It’s All You” messaging campaign throughout 77 neighborhoods – building a citywide culture of recycling.

“Partnership is powerful,” says Marshall. “By combining the insights and services of cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Denver with our staff’s technical and communication expertise and support from our funder’s investments, we’re empowering cities and communities with roadmaps for continued recycling success. We’re also further developing a strategic blueprint to scale similar recycling solutions nationwide. The more we work together, the more families we can help recycle properly – ultimately creating healthier communities, a healthier economy, and a healthier planet.”


Additional quotes:

William Johnson, Deputy Chief Operating Officer/Department of Public Works Commissioner, City of Atlanta
“We are pleased that the City of Atlanta had the opportunity to work with the Recycling Partnership to improve our recycling program. Our results were incredible, and we’re excited to build upon them. This partnership, which included a grassroots public education strategy, resulted in a 57 percent overall decrease in recycling contamination. Atlanta is committed to increasing recycling participation, and now we have demonstrated a great template to help move the needle faster.”

Charlotte Pitt, Manager of Solid Waste Management, City of Denver
“Denver is committed to quickly improving its recycling rate by 2020. Maximizing our existing programs will be critical to reaching that goal, and our work with The Recycling Partnership to improve recovery through our residential recycling program has set us on an impactful course.”

Sarah Dearman, Sustainable Packaging Program Director, Coca-Cola North America
“As part of our vision to lead to a World Without Waste, Coca-Cola is advancing efforts to recover our packaging. This great work by The Recycling Partnership shows that when we work together, we can meaningfully improve recycling, helping lead to stronger, more sustainable communities.”

John Tully, Commissioner of Streets & Sanitation, City of Chicago
“Educating residents on how to recycle properly has long-term effects on Chicago’s sustainability objectives. Our recent collaboration with The Recycling Partnership showed that targeted, on-the-ground work could have a tremendous impact on reducing contamination that extends beyond the campaign timeframe; we’re teaching our residents lifelong recycling habits.”