10 Tips for Designing a Plastic and Can Recycling Program
In recent years there has been more drive towards expanding recycling opportunities to public settings such as parks, sports venues, schools, and other areas. One of the main reasons for this slow development has been the difficulty of getting people to use recycling bins properly. Faced with low participation and overly-contaminated bins, public works administrators and facility planners have been hesitant to invest in bins and collection infrastructure under the belief that people simply aren’t willing to make the necessary effort to recycle properly. Behavioral research and experience over time, however, have shown that recycling in public spaces can work when programs are designed with a greater appreciation for the user’s thought process. Keep America Beautiful (KAB) put together a set of "design elements" to help organizations and groups start and maintain a successful recycling program and encourage people to use the right bins. No single practice outlined in this guide will guarantee success; rather, it usually requires a combination of them. Also, keep in mind that each setting is unique; what works well in one location may need refinement to work in another.
1 RECYCLING MUST BE SIMPLE AND CONVENIENT
Most people are inclined to recycle when presented the opportunity. The key is to remove the two primary barriers that stop them: lack of convenience and confusion over what and how to recycle.
2 KNOW YOUR WASTE STREAM
Before selecting bins or locations learn what materials are discarded in the target area. Waste audits or even visual surveys of trash bins help inform what the lid message should say, where to place bins and even what size they should be.
3 PLACE RECYCLING BINS DIRECTLY NEXT TO THE TRASH BINS
Bins located by themselves attract both trash and recycling regardless of the label. Options for recycling and trash must be placed immediately next to each other anywhere you want to capture recyclables without excessive contamination.
4 USE RESTRICTIVE LIDS
Small openings reduce contamination. Restrictive lids just large enough for common recyclables (round for containers, a narrow slot for paper) force people to slow down and read what the label says.
5 USE CLEAR, SIMPLE LABELS AND SIGNAGE
Get the essential information across to users in simple terms. Use keywords like “Cans & Bottles” or easy to recognize images. Avoid cluttering the label with too much detail.
6 CHOOSE THE RIGHT BIN
Select the bin and accessories that are best adapted to the setting. Capacity, ergonomic design for servicing, resistance to wear and abuse are just some of the factors to consider. Make the recycling bin visually distinct from trash bins. Blue is the most common color used for recycling.
7 BE CONSISTENT
Pick a uniform bin style, color scheme, and label message and stick to it. Coordinate with nearby residential recycling programs and other public settings to standardize bin colors, design and messaging. Familiarity reduces confusion as people move from home to work or just being out and about.
8 KEEP BINS CLEAN AND WELL MAINTAINED
Dirty and dilapidated recycling bins turn people off. The same is true for overflowing or badly contaminated recycling bins. Keep bins in good working order with fresh labels and regular cleaning.
9 EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH
Include special signage with the bins. Face-to-Face interaction with frequent visitors trains them for the long term. Recruit people who interact with users to be recycling ambassadors, such as team coaches at athletic fields or attendants at community centers.
10 BE PREPARED AND READY TO IMPROVE
Pilot your program to learn what works best before investing in the full infrastructure. Monitor the bins and be prepared to make adjustments. Track the quantity and composition of collected material to benchmark and improve the program over time.