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Sarasota County, Florida is awarded Recycling Program of the Year

During the August 2 Program of the Year Awards Winner Announcement Webinar, hosted by Resource Recycling, The Recycling Partnership was thrilled to join to co-host and announce Sarasota County, Florida as the recipient of the 2023 Recycling Program of the Year—Large Community.

Read on to learn more about why this program was chosen, and its best practices that can be applied elsewhere.

The Making of a Successful Program

The Recycling Partnership was excited to have Sarasota County host one of our Center for Sustainable Behavior & Impact research projects in 2022 to better understand the drivers and barriers to residents’ participation in recycling.

In fact, our collaboration with Sarasota County goes back to 2018 when The Partnership provided funding to support 133,000 new, 95-gallon single-stream carts. After the cart roll-out, the  County conducted a survey with 325 responses and found that they had a net positive impact to their participation and capture. Of the users who did not previously participate in the curbside bin program, approximately 96% participate in the curbside program, post-cart delivery. Plus, the County also recognized a 16% increase in recycling carts being set out for collection.

Most recently, a study was conducted in 2022  in which we measured participation and capture over three county routes (2,962 households), interviewed solid waste and recycling staff, and conducted a focus group with residents.

In short, the data showed that 94% of the households participated in recycling collection; an excellent participation rate, indeed! Of the participating households, 82% were deemed to be frequent recyclers, setting out their recycling at least twice over four collection cycles, and 18% were labeled as infrequent recyclers, setting their recycling out just once in over four collection cycles.

Interestingly, as was revealed through the focus groups, infrequent recycling participation did not necessarily equate to infrequent recycling. The infrequent-participation group was characterized by small household sizes, older residents, and those who simply generate less waste.

Beyond the Cart

And the County’s work extends beyond the cart. One of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was that they had to suspend their Liberty Cleanup event. And when they re-launched it on July 5, 2022, with the assistance of 95 volunteers and 138 volunteer hours, the county was able to divert over 20,000 pounds of trash and over 30,000 pounds of recyclables from nearby waterways.

Gaining access to recycling through carts is only a piece of the puzzle for improving recycling. One big part of Sarasota’s success is its communication and engagement work. The solid waste staff attribute high participation in large part to residents’ interest in the environment and keeping their beaches clean. But it’s also true that the department has done a great job of leveraging existing community values to shape its outreach and messaging.

The department’s comprehensive suite of campaigns and tactics strikes a balance between providing basic information about how to recycle with compelling messaging on why it is important. Its programs include school lessons, multimedia campaigns, speaking directly with community members, and partnering with community organizations to reach new audiences. Of note, the team is also not afraid to take risks and use humor to engage residents in recycling.

Learning by Example

Overall, the adoption of recycling carts into regular service, the use of data to continually improve recycling, and their continued engagement with residents are key factors that stand out in Sarasota’s example for key factors to improve a program.

There are many lessons to be learned from Sarasota County and inspiration to be gleaned for communities across the U.S. Some best practices that can be implemented in other programs include:

  • Collect data on the recycling program performance including capture rate and participation to set a baseline and monitor progress over time.
  • Use this data to identify opportunities for improvement and to inform outreach programs.
  • Encourage recycling participation through various education and outreach efforts to build and maintain enthusiasm for recycling and reassure residents that recycling is worth the effort.

Listen below to hear The Partnership’s Director of Community Programs, Michelle Metzler, talk with Wendy Crisp, Coordinator for Keep Sarasota County Beautiful and Oland Stokes, Solid Waste Manager for the County.

Read the full case study on Sarasota County here, or download the comprehensive Accelerating Behavior Change report here.

And also a congratulations to the Small Community category winner, Denton, Texas. We’re excited to see the official award ceremony at the Resource Recycling Conference later this month.