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May 26, 2009 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about the best and worst elements of recycling in your town so you can help me set up my recycling (collection) business.

In a few months I'm going to be launching a service to collect people's recycling, both from residences and offices. We will be collecting paper, glass, plastics, metals, e-waste and other household waste, except for hazardous materials and compost (for now).

You recycle, someone collects stuff from your house or your business, what do you like the most about the service, and what do you like the least or hate? What seems like a waste of time? What could they do that would make the whole experience better for you?

I'd love to hear anything you have to say but mostly I'm looking for any small details that you find really add value or detract from it from your point of view. (I have the broad strokes of the various systems in place but I'm looking for gems here, stuff that falls between the cracks and usually doesn't get noticed.)

(Please assume for the purposes of this question that I don't need advice on getting permits or how to set up the business or whether recycling is better or worse for the environment etc.)
posted by HopStopDon'tShop to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing that happened when I had curbside recycling was when they switched to single stream. They provided one of those big bins on wheels and you could toss any paper,cardboard,plastics,glass, etc. into it. Previously we had to separate out each, and further separate out brown glass, green glass, etc.

Currently I have to drag my recycling to a central location, but at least it is single stream.
posted by mikepop at 8:40 AM on May 26, 2009

I have a piece of paper that I can put on my fridge that says in very simple words what they do and do not take. If I have questions, almost always I can look at this piece of paper and it answers my question. It also has the hours of the transfer station on it (I have to drive my recycling away), and information on how to get rid of some of the stuff that can't be recycled (i.e. how to get rid of paint, where to take old computer parts). I'd also love an FAQ about things that I think become part of recycling folklore but that no one really knows the answer to like "how much do I really have to rinse out my glass bottles?" and "which lids do I remove and which lids can I leave on?"
posted by jessamyn at 8:45 AM on May 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Single stream is very key if it's residential recycling. I used to live in an area where you had to bag or bundle newspaper and cardboard in order to recycle it; much as I try to be a good person, a lot of times it just wasn't worth it.

In a commercial environment I think it's easier to ask people to separate out aluminum and glass, and perhaps even office paper, because there's typically more space and people don't mind having collection bins around as much. I've been told by our recycling guy at the office that separated aluminum cans are worth much, much more than cans mixed in with other recyclables. (We actually have a recycling container for cans that has a can-crusher attached to it; I think this makes people who wouldn't normally recycle cans do it, just for the satisfaction of crushing the can into a small pancake. A lot more cans fit into the bin, too.)

So in the home, I think single-stream is key, and not asking people to sort or really pay too much attention to their recyclables is key. Lots of people are just not going to do it if they have to "wash their garbage" (as a family member of mine referred to it) or if any more effort is involved in recycling than just throwing the container in the trash.

In the office or other public space, I think providing specific containers for the types of material you want to collect helps remind people to recycle rather than just tossing it. Insofar as this raises the value of the recyclables, it's a win-win.

Just make sure that you actually recycle the stuff that you collect; a lot of people at my office were turned off from recycling when we discovered that for several months the "recycler" was just tossing a lot of our recyclables because they weren't cost-effective to recycle. Be honest with people about what's worthwhile to collect and what's not. A lot of people feel like they're doing you a favor, especially if they're sorting, and they want to know it's going to good use.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:52 AM on May 26, 2009

Here the town has a recycling program and they come to pick our recycling on a weekly basis. What I like is that they always come at the same hour, so if I forget to bring them to the side of the road at night, I'll know the next morning if I can still make it. Also, I second both the single stream and the paper that tells you what to recycle. Ours also include the a calendar with all pick up dates. Basically you have to make it as easy as possible for the user, or else they won't do it, or you'll end up with a lot of non-recyclable material.
posted by ddaavviidd at 8:52 AM on May 26, 2009

Our city makes us cut down cardboard boxes into 3 foot squares. Key word is cut - they will not take the box if you just fold it down to fit in that side - and that makes me nuts. I'd encourage you to make it as easy as possible for the consumer - no washing trash, no hunting for a utility knife, etc. - otherwise people will say screw it and throw stuff in the regular garbage.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:57 AM on May 26, 2009

My recycling is picked up by an automated truck, which I'm sure saves time and money, but one small detail annoys me: the truck doesn't put the bin back where it was. Instead, it puts it back about five feet from where it was, which happens to be directly behind my car. So a few times I've backed into my recycyling bin.
posted by scottreynen at 9:04 AM on May 26, 2009

Our community recycling program is in trouble. There's no longer recycling available for plastics; paper is still accepted, but we have to pay "them" to take it. The haulage costs for the recyclables that are taken have gone up considerably.

There's some chance that a market will be found for plastics in the near future, but in the meantime we're stuck. We have to just store it. Some people are now upset about the success of the campaign to get the local landfill to ban plastics, but it was successful. We still can use opaque trash bags, but if a waste disposal load is found to have those plastics in it, our trash haulage fees for this whole island immediately double. Irony rules.

My point, in your case, is to warn you to not guarantee that you'll take the recyclables this week that you took last week if the market for something disappears. You could end up having to store it until you find a market.
posted by reflecked at 9:06 AM on May 26, 2009

Recycling at my residence: Pick up curbside every other week - one bin for glass and plastics and the other use paper bags to put paper recylables in. We also have to cut up big boxes down, which is the only really tedious part of it all. Other than getting it out the door.

Recycling at work is more limited. I wish they would take plastics in addition to bottles, however I do notice that no one seems to know what goes in the conatiners because they throw anything in there sometimes. I guess truly lazy folks who can't notice the giant blue container separated from the grey garbage container isn't the trash can't be helped - but it makes me mad. Also, we have recycling containers at each of our desks so I just recycle through the day quickly and easily.

Good luck.
posted by Carialle at 9:18 AM on May 26, 2009

Ditto on the single stream. Where I lived previously it was glass/plastic one week, paper the next. That requires the people who are only half-heartily recycling to do some work sorting, and the paper bins given two weeks are bound to get soaked by rain, and the glass/plastic given two weeks gets full quickly.

Where I am now, it's different. It's single stream which is convenient, they delivered a new box, which I was able to do online. However, after just moving across country, I have a lot of boxes, packing paper, etc. and I don't know how to get rid of it all. It would take forever doing it by weekly bin, dumping it in a stores large bin is akin to trespassing, so besides weekly pick-up, making it clear where there's a drop-off depot would be helpful.

Make it clear which plastic recycling numbers, the ones on the bottom, are accepted.

Consistency in pick-up time is often appreciated.

It would be useful to have a beer/wine bottle service, which given the deposit may pay for itself. Some of us can't be bothered to take them back, but don't want to toss them in recycling either.

Plastic bags have become a problem. They made them thinner, which just requires more bags, defeating the purpose. They forced us off of paper bags, which is sustainable, just plant more trees which also help the environment. Cloth bags, you forget at home, or don't think to bring them, then decide to stop at the store on the way home and don't have them. I think I'm ranting, but take a look in the garbage, it's plastics and compostables. Now, I don't want to compost in my apartment, but plastics are a big issue right now.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:28 AM on May 26, 2009

If possible, make sure that you provide containers sufficient to handle the anticipated volume of recycling. When people really get into the program, they will generally get to a point where they have more recyclables than anything else, so that container should actually be BIGGER that the garbage, ultimately.

In Cambridge, MA, it was the other way, with huge garbage dumpsters and moderate-sized recycling bins. The recycling would fill up within 2 days of each weekly collection, it was very frustrating. Sometimes I would hoard recycling and essentially compete to be the first one to get it to the bin, but that's a ridiculous thing to expect - many times I just threw it in the garbage.

In San Francisco, on the other hand, we have large blue bins for recycling and relatively smaller ones for trash, and it's just peachy. I think it helps that we also have curbside composting, but we don't generate SO much food waste; I think even with a 2-bin system the recycling should be much bigger than the garbage.
posted by rkent at 9:34 AM on May 26, 2009

What I like:
- single wheeled bin for cardboard, paper, some plastics, some metals, some glass picked up every second week
- wheeled bin for compostables picked up weekly, and waste may be bagged
- getting free garden compost back in the spring at weekly recyle days around the city
- collection centres for old paint, varnish, car oil, metal, etc.
- free collection of old appliances; where they go is unknown
- on-line collection calendar and lists of what's acceptable and what isn't; also delivered in hard copy twice a year

What I don't like:
- the people who collect dump the bins anywhere - on the road, in the middle of the sidewalk, in the driveway, but so far, they haven't broken any unlike the old collection bins that were lucky to survive a year
- may not recycle list: batteries, most metals and foil, light bulbs, crockery, the list is long and complicated and changes a couple of times a year
- they keep changing the day of the week they do pick-ups
- bin lid must close tight and nothing beside the bin will be picked up; try this after Christmas; I'm planning to debox/unwrap everything I can in the store and leave them to recycle unnecessary packaging.
- computer and electronic equipment handed in on recyle days doesn't have a stated recycling destination; I'd hate to think that we tried to do the right thing and ended up sending our old gear overseas to poison someone.
- recycle day said computer gear would be rehabbed and donated, but it was tossed in a dumpster instead; not good.
- recycling collection centres record the license plate of your car and the amount of liquid paint/oil you brought in as you're only allowed so much every year.
- so far, we pay for the garbage bin depending on size ($200 and up a year); since the city is broke, I'm wondering if/when/how much the recylcing bins may cost in the future; the garbage bin is not optional and the cost is added to your property taxes.
posted by x46 at 9:36 AM on May 26, 2009

I like that the people collecting my recycling gave me a box to store it in. This box has a snap on lid, and is of a decent size for a weeks recyclables. It is a sober black colour, and fits in with most decor. The only problem with this box is that it's so nifty that people steal them from the kerbside :-(

So provide good containers but not too good otherwise people will see it and take it for storage, moving house etc. Or perhaps just factor a number of replacement boxes into your scheme.
posted by Tapioca at 9:47 AM on May 26, 2009

Along the lines of what others have said: provide a magnet that people can stick on their fridge, spelling out what can and can not be recycled.

We have single stream service and they're good, but it still bothers me that so much plastic can't be recycled (only 1 and 2) and the lid/no lid and foil/no foil questions come up all the time.
posted by widdershins at 9:48 AM on May 26, 2009

Frequency: Our recycling is every two weeks and it's really not enough. Once a week would be a lot better. If I have a party or anything, forget it. There's just too much to haul out to the curb and I end up having to take it all to the center, which is a drag.

Single Stream vs. Sorting: I actually don't mind sorting things - I feel weird tossing everything in one bin because it makes my cynical side believe that it's all just going into the landfill with the trash. OTOH a lot of people seem to be totally clueless on how to sort, so I suppose it all has to be resorted anyway.

My big problem is that our recycling in Asheville will no longer deliver bins. WTF? I mean, they come right to my house once every two weeks, but no, to get an official recycling bin - the kind I'm supposed to use, according to the City Elders - I have to drive way out to some mysterious destination at a certain very limited time and then pay for them. So I'm just using a plastic bin from K-Mart and an assortment of dying cardboard boxes with the result that the recycling guys hate me.

I will nth having a helpful guide as to what can and cannot be recycled and stick to it. Ours says they will not take pizza boxes, but they do, and that they will take cans (like soup & dogfood cans) but they won't and instead throw them all over the lawn. Ah yes - hire nice people please?
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:15 AM on May 26, 2009

I don't mind sorting actually, but it's what I grew up with.

Our local recycling company is very web-savvy which is nice.
- website has pickup schedules, route maps
- pay online by PayPal
- email reminders the day before pickup
- quick responses to any questions I've had

There is no mandatory company-dictated bins, which I like, because the first bins we bought got stolen! Now I just bring home empty cardboard boxes from work to use as recycling bins.
posted by radioamy at 10:22 AM on May 26, 2009

I hate dealing with the fifty zillion cardboard boxes we seem to accumulate prior to recycling date. Anything you can do to crush the boxes when they get loaded onto the truck (so people don't have to hack at them with a utility knife in their bathrobe early in the AM while the truck is slowly wandering up the street) would make people's life easier- not sure if such a gizmo exists.
posted by jenkinsEar at 10:33 AM on May 26, 2009

One place I lived got a lot of people to recycle by charging by the volume of trash you put out. You'd buy stickers at local convenience and grocery stores according to the size of your trash can. Once people realized they could save time and money, more started to recycle.
posted by electroboy at 11:19 AM on May 26, 2009

I'd like to be able to recycle any plastic with the Recycle symbol on it. 5s and 3s...Hell,even 17s! Also I'd like to be able to recycle the waxy boxes that frozen foods come packaged in.

Please note: I know this may be out of your control.

Finally I'd recommend that you follow the local trash pickup schedule. I know I would hate to have to remember to do trash on Wednesdays and recycling on Mondays.
posted by Overzealous at 11:31 AM on May 26, 2009

We have paper bins which get collected every 4th Thursday - but we can never remember when that is and miss it all the time. We can look up the dates on the internet, but we have to remember to check them in time, so, if you aren't going to be collecting every week/every second week, it would be handy to provide a list of collection dates, either on a fridge magnet or on a sticker that gets stuck to the bin by the collection guys.
posted by pocketfluff at 11:37 AM on May 26, 2009

Our city does not have curbside pickup (they're talking about it, but no love so far) so I use an independent company. All they required was that you separate paper from beverage containers in separate garbage bags. Pickup is every two weeks at home, there is a schedule given out, and it costs about $18 a month. We use the same company at work and pickup is weekly.

No bins, either, which was a bonus. Every few rounds they'll leave a bunch of stickers in your mailbox (to stick to the bags so they won't accidentally grab your garbage should the days overlap).

They were pretty good overall and all the information you might need was on the website. The only negatives were the fact that is was impossible to get a hold of them, and they had no way to pay without cutting a check or paying in cash at the depot. I would have preferred Paypal or Visa over the phone. Also, there was a waiting list of about six months and apparently the recycling was done in another province, so there was a carbon footprint issue there...
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:38 AM on May 26, 2009

We have to separate our recycling into "paper" and "everything else." I don't know if this makes the recycled material much more usable than if it were all lumped together, but it's not a hardship in our household. It might help people mentally differentiate between "recyclables" and "trash" as well.

I like it that we can now recycle milk cartons. I also like it that the recycling truck comes on the same day every week no matter if there's a holiday.

I wish egg cartons were recyclable. It seems like the molded-cardboard kind should be, but our recycling service says no.

A detailed pictorial "recycle this, not this" guide would be helpful as to plastics. We have a guide but questions still come up. It would be good for the guide to have a phone number or email so people could inquire about questionable items.
posted by lakeroon at 11:44 AM on May 26, 2009

I like our recycling.

Here, we pay for all refuse removal. We can either pay the city to do it, or go with a private company. We went with the private company because it was marginally cheaper and they do bins for recycling (the city just does clear plastic sacks.)

Things I like:

* The system is simple: garbage in one bin, standard recycling in another, glass in a third.

* The bins are well made and are quite smart. They are rain-proof and tip-proof. They are auto-hoisted into the truck, and they are chipped. If your payment is out of date, they won't hoist.

* They provide a color-coded calendar of their quite complex pick-up schedule that is easy to follow.

Things that annoy me:

* They never, ever put the bins back neatly. Sometimes they don't even put them back at the right house. Arrgh.

* Holidays throw the schedule off by some mysterious offset not indicated on the calendar. Arrgh.

* If we miss a pick-up because we're on vacation, or have extra stuff because of a party etc, there is no option to schedule an additional pick-up even for the outrageous amount of money I'd be willing to pay. Arrgh.

The whole thing would be vastly improved by a better website and some customer-oriented web 2.0 thinking. Whoever gets text alerts the day before a pick-up: colour me jealous.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:51 AM on May 26, 2009

Provide as much information as possible about what can and can not be recycled. Pictures (PDF) are great. Websites with huge, exhaustive, searchable lists are great. Also, links to current information on what to do with things that you don't recycle but another organization might (e.g., batteries) are helpful.

Consider providing a free iPhone app (iRecycle?) that allows a user to take a picture of something, sends it to a staff account who then responds with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down (preferably with alternative disposal options).
posted by funkiwan at 12:00 PM on May 26, 2009

* When our neighbours took our recycling box, or our landlord's employees threw it away because it wasn't on the inventory, we got a new one at no cost, no questions asked.

* One place I lived the front garden had a wall about the height of a trash can, and the recycling people were quite happy to lean over/walk around the wall to pick the box up - so we didn't have to put it out, just store it in the front garden.

* It would be nice to have a recycling service that could get rid of compact fluorescent lamps.

* Sometimes one has so much recycling, it makes sense to load it into the car and drive to the recycling centre with it. For people without cars, you could offer a one-off larger-than-normal pickup service.

* At one point I had a bunch of aluminium box lids from a personal project, but the local recycling collection left them behind (until I put them inside aluminium cans).
posted by Mike1024 at 12:33 PM on May 26, 2009

what do you like the most about the service?

- I like that they pick up from the curb on the same day as the trash, so we don't have to remember to put it out on a separate day.

- I like that I don't have to crush the cans and that everything goes in the same bin.

what do you like the least or hate?

- That we can only recycle #1 and #2 plastic, glass and soda cans at the curb. There's so much more we could recycle, but everything else we have to drive to a separate recycling facility ourselves.

- If pick up day falls on a holiday, they don't tell us 1) if they're picking up anyway or 2) if they're not picking up because of the holiday, if there will be an alternate day for pick up or if we will just have to wait until the following week.

- (On preview, I would LOVE if our bin had wheels like others have mentioned!)
posted by geeky at 1:30 PM on May 26, 2009

Here in Los Angeles, scavenging recycling is a second economy. If you were in a large urban area, most of the stuff left on the curb bins will be scavenged repeatedly before collection. Can't even put something out an hour before the truck arrives or it will be snatched away.

I pay about forty dollars a month for solid waste fees, and as a single person it seems rather unfair that I pay the same as a large family. I recycle as a personal commitment, but my neighbors say they feel they are just sorting trash for the bums, so I wish this dynamic was more ecologically focused.

I sort my materials in the following way: I sort newspapers into a paper bag so I can recycle the whole organized paper bundle. I sort plastics into a plastic bag and recycle the whole plastic bundle. I take haz mat to a collection area roundup, including electronic stuff which is open reliable hours.

The city recently began encouraging us to put food garbage into the yard collection green bins, but provide no method to do this. I now sort my organic material into another bag, and dump this into the yard bin, but I would love to have a biodegradable bag of some sort I could put my organic material in and pop the whole thing in the bin. Since I started this practice, the amount of garbage I send to the landfill is less than a handful every week. The city plans to send food pails to Angelenos, but I don't think they will collect and wash pails every week.

Anyway, I hope some tidbit is useful there.
posted by effluvia at 3:45 PM on May 26, 2009

Be really clear about which questionable items you will or won't take. Things like aseptic beverage containers (like soup and stock and soymilk come in), tin foil, thin #1 plastic containers like the ones strawberries come in, envelopes with plastic windows, glossy magazines, juice boxes, pizza boxes... that sort of thing.

Also, there are always rumors going around that if you leave even the teeniest speck of a bean in your bean can, the recyclers will throw it away instead of recycling it. If that's true, tell everybody!!! If it's not, debunk the myth.
posted by Cygnet at 3:56 PM on May 26, 2009

Nthing all the comments about giving people information. I really wish recycling companies would tell you WHY you can/can't recycle certain items. For example, I was really interested to learn the reason why you can hardly ever recycle #7 "other" plastic is because #7 can actually be any number of different materials, so you can't really just melt it down and turn it back into #7. Now when I see "Other", I don't have to try to remember if that's one of the good kinds, or is it only #1-6 we can recycle, now where'd I put the list... Nope, now I know, and I just toss it.

If all recycling could be that straightforward, it would be great. I really hate how recycling rules always come off as mysterious and aribtrary. Why can you recycle newspapers but not phone books? What is it about glossy magazines that's so bad? What about non-corrugated cardboard? I know there's a good reason for the rules, but I have a hard time following directions when I don't understand WHY.

It's like if you went to the doctor and he says you're healthy, but you need to stop eating stuff like eggs and meat. But fish is okay. And olive oil is good, but not butter. And eat lots of cheerios. Wouldn't it be a lot more effective to tell you you need to lower your cholesterol?
posted by gueneverey at 6:10 PM on May 26, 2009

I have weekly curbside recycling - and I like that. Having less frequent service or not having curbside pickup would make things significantly more difficult. It's also nice (but not critical) that my recycling day is the same as my garbage pickup day.

My recycling is NOT single stream - but all I have to do is separate cans/glass/plastics from paper (all sorts), so that's easy.

We were provided with stacking bins when the service first started, which works fine for me. I had to get extras, since I usually have more recycling than fit in the bins provided, but the service was good about getting them to me. I think the newer bins are not designed to stack, and that would be a bit of a problem. The rolling bins that some other cities have are nice, too. (We have those only for yard clippings, for compost.)

NOT having to tie up the cardboard (or newspaper) is important. Accepting shredded paper (in a paper bag, stapled shut) is very nice, too. NOT having to remove the windows from junk mail envelopes (and other envelopes) also makes things a lot easier.

I'm with everyone who says to provide clear information as to what you accept for recycling and what you don't. I'd like that on the web site, please!

Often after our recycling is picked up I find little shards of glass in the road. I sure wish that didn't happen.
posted by jeri at 10:06 PM on May 26, 2009

Our recycling is run by the local government.
It is single stream (now) in a big wheelie bin collected weekly on bin night. I gather volumes have increased substantially over the previous setup that used a plastic crate you had to lug to the curb. Memail if you want me to find a link to some reports for before and after.
They take everything that can be recycled, except green waste. We can dump green waste for free for composting, but it takes a car trip.
Twice a year they run a free woodchipping/mulching service if you leave branches out on the curb on that day. A nice green perk.
The gov also collects waste, and they offer a rebate if you switch to a smaller bin, so avid recyclers and the frugal see a financial benefit as well.
They sent out a fridge magnet sheet with do's and don'ts for both services.
There is also a central waste depot for larger volume waste/recycling including a freecycle style re-use shed to drop off unneeded but still usable stuff.
We get charged by weight to dump waste, but recyclables is free. The re-use shed charges by weight for stuff you take away.
Once a year there is a 'clean-up' or 'hard rubbish day' where you put out junk for collection. Typically old whitegoods, worn out garden furniture, a roll of carpet, busted TVs etc. All the locals, and some enterprising second hand dealers, scour the neigbours heaps for things they can use.
My finds? Some old doors, one of which is now a workbench, a replacement regulator hose for my grill, various lengths of timber, a kids swing set.
Its a nice solution to managing waste.
posted by bystander at 10:43 PM on May 26, 2009

Our city has been recycling/composting for about 15-20 years now. I think its great!!!! By the time our trash is divided up between the three places ( garbage, compost, recycling) we only have a small grocery bag of garbage most of the time.
We love that just about anything that isn't natural goes into the recycling. They take metals, plastic ( # 1 or 2), glass, aluminum foil and pie plates. Except of hazardous materials and building materials of course.
Our compost company used to NOT accept cardboard, but since the company has changed, they now take all cardboard materials (cereal boxes, paper coffee cups, molded paper, tissue boxes minus any plastic, etc.) except for corrugated boxes.
I dislike the compost being taken only once every two weeks all year. They alternate between recycling and composting each week along with the usual garbage pickup. By that I mean the garbage is picked up each week by the city and the recycling and composting by a contracted out company. It should be every week for the composting in the summertime because of the smell.
There can be a problem with pests coming out on garbage night though. The composter can bring them out because of the odor even though they usually don't get at the compost, just the garbage.
I hate it when the recycling box is tipped into the truck and some lids (tin can, plastic tops) are left on the street after they've fallen out.
Some cartons contain foil liners. I'm still not sure about them in my composter.
There is a controversy over whether they should and will be taking Christmas trees.
I have seen people driving by ( 3:00 AM or so) and going through the recycling looking for aluminum cans I think. Thats money from your pocket.
posted by Taurid at 6:42 PM on May 28, 2009

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