Now, I’m not much of an ideas person myself, and the truth is, I can’t claim to take credit for this one either. You see, when I first met my wife Sarah, I was intrigued by this habit she had in bringing home her recyclables from work, and putting them in the blue box. This was despite the fact that her workplace had a recycling program in effect. Asking her about this, she told me that she’s seen what goes on behind the scenes in a few workplaces, where recyclables are collected, but are often disposed of with the regular trash and end up in a landfill. She told me that there are several reasons for this, but mostly it’s because people end up contaminating recyclables by mixing in their garbage with them.
The fact is, we’ve likely all seen this situation in fast food restaurants. We ask ourselves how the restaurant is going to sort through the recyclables and the garbage, and we lament that patrons aren’t a little more considerate in separating garbage from recyclables. And when we leave, we often don’t think much of it again. But often, restaurants just can’t afford to have someone sift through the day’s garbage to pull out the good from the bad. Hence, it ends up in the dump.
It was, and remains, important to Sarah to ensure that the waste she produces ends up going where it should. To that end, she always takes her recyclables with her when we’re shopping or eating out at a restaurant, or doing whatever. For the past several years, I’ve been doing it as well, stuffing pop cans into my jacket pocket, to take them home and fill up our blue box. I’ve always felt good about the cans in particular, knowing that the municipal recycling program makes more from aluminum cans than from other materials. But even with paper, the recycling truck is going to be stopping in front of my house anyway, so if there is some extra packaging in the blue box as a result of my downtown lunch, well, even that in a small way is a good thing. Not only do these materials not end up in the landfill, they generate a little bit of income for my community.
The other day I was at a local pizza place, having lunch. One of the employees came by and helpfully offered to dispose of the tray of waste product that I had generated. I told her not to worry about it as I was going to be taking most of it with me: a pop can, a cardboard pizza container and a cardboard box for onion rings. She looked at me with surprise and told me that there was a recycling program in the restaurant. I indicated to her that it’s great that they recycle, but it looks like it’s just aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Since more than half of my waste was cardboard, if I were to dispose of it at the restaurant, it would end up in the landfill. I told her that I’d rather take it all with me and put it in my blue box. On my way out, I noticed that the restaurant had set out some bags of trash beside the store. These see-through bags were filled with cardboard, and a number of pop cans and plastic bottles as well.
I thought that if more people did what Sarah does, how much more waste can my community end up diverting from landfills? As a result, I came up with the following concept, which I would very much like for someone in my community to steal, run with, and turn into a reality. Maybe you can do the same in your community.
Take It With You, Sudbury!
This is a voluntary program which encourages Sudbury residents to take recyclable materials home, rather than to rely on business recycling initiatives to ensure that recyclable materials don’t end up in our municipal landfill.
The success of this program will need buy-in from local businesses to encourage residents to retain their recyclable waste materials through the use of posters and other messaging (perhaps to be located on business waste bins) on the premises of the businesses. Specifically, small posters will be affixed to waste bins, encouraging those about to use the bins to reconsider, and to take their recyclable materials home.
Take It With You, Sudbury! posters would:
-Identify that participation in this program is voluntary;
-Direct people to take recyclable materials with them when they leave a business;
-Identify what types of recyclable materials can be removed after use;
-Encourage the deposit of recyclables into residential blue boxes or municipal blue bins
-Identify benefits to the community through voluntary participation;
-Provide contact information for residents to obtain more info about the program
Pros and Cons of Program:
-Reduced waste would lead to lower waste removal fees;
-Less garbage for employees to handle;
-Civic pride with participation in program and enhancement of public image.
-Increased civic pride in participating in a green initiative;
-Increased awareness of the lifecycle of garbage and recyclable materials;
-Increased pride in participating in a municipal revenue creation opportunity.
For the City
-Increased public awareness in waste management issues;
-Increased revenues generated from additional recyclable materials being deposited in municipal blue boxes;
-Potential to be a municipal success story to be shared with others;
-Fewer private waste removal vehicles on the road, as demand for business waste removal decreases.
-Reduced recyclable materials may lead to smaller fees collected from waste recyclers;
-Posters and other public messaging in places of business may detract from business’ desired image, or may look too "busy";
-Businesses may confuse residents regarding what level of participation is required (optional vs. you must take your recyclables home).
-Have to carry waste materials around with them for deposit in blue boxes;
-May need to put more blue boxes on the curb.
For the City
-May lead to increased calls for additional blue-box infrastructure and waste removal in high-traffic public areas, such as the downtown;
-May experience increased costs with residential blue-box pick-up as more recyclables deposited in blue boxes may lead to additional demand for waste removal.
In order to demonstrate that the voluntary participation of Sudbury residents in this program can lead to the successful diversion of wastes which may otherwise end up in landfill sites, one area of the City should pilot this program for 6-9 months. Businesses, residents and municipal officials responsible for waste management should then provide feedback in order to ascertain whether the pilot has been successful, and whether the program warrants expansion throughout the City.
A logical location for piloting this program is the City’s downtown, which contains numerous restaurants and a mall. As well, the downtown currently has some municipal blue boxes available for the disposal of recyclable materials. Further, downtown businesses tend to be smaller operations, and which by and large enjoy taking the lead with green initiatives.
A prototype poster and waste bin sticker will be produced, and businesses will be approached with regards to their participation in the program. The Sudbury Downtown Development Corporation could be asked to make their members aware of this initiative, or perhaps act as a partner, champion or leader. Municipal Council will also be approached, and asked to support this initiative, through a Resolution, and potentially through the request of start-up costs, which should be minimal (poster and sticker reproduction). Volunteers associated with a lead agency, such as the Development Corporation, could be used to identify willing business participants. A website containing information on the program would need to be designed and maintained, however a basic-format website would likely suffice.
Media releases and information being made available at public events (such as the Blueberry Festival or the Garlic Festival, or at Market Square or City Hall) would be used to generate exposure for the program. There are many good ways to market an initiative of this sort, and a lead agency will likely know which ones would work best for them.
So, there it is. You can thank Sarah May for this idea. Now, take it and run with it!