Recycling and Local Governments
The following article on recycling is the second in a
three-part series on reducing municipal solid waste (MSW).
managing solid waste often tests the limits of a small local government’s
financial resources. Rising solid
waste management costs, decreasing landfill space, and limited budgets can
combine to create unique challenges.
By reducing the total amount of waste that must be disposed, local
governments can simultaneously save money and protect the environment. Recycling is one method that small
local governments can use to successfully reduce the amount of municipal solid
waste that is landfilled.
During the past four decades, the amount of solid waste
produced by the U.S. has increased dramatically, rising from 88 million tons
of waste produced in 1960 to 217 million tons in 1997. (Environmental Fact Sheet: Source Reduction
of Municipal Solid Waste, Environmental Protection Agency, 1999) At the same time, the country’s
capacity to handle this waste has steadily decreased. Many landfills have run out of space
or closed in response to the promulgation of more stringent regulations
governing landfill design and operation, and siting new landfills or
combustors is often met with substantial public opposition. As a result of these trends, MSW
collection and disposal costs have grown increasingly expensive.
Recycling is a series of activities by which discarded
materials are collected, sorted, processed, converted into raw materials, and
used in the production of new products.
While many local governments enjoy successful recycling programs, small
communities often face special challenges due to limited resources. To overcome this challenge, small
communities often incorporate creative approaches into their recycling
program. Some techniques
that small communities have utilized to increase the effectiveness of their
recycling programs include (1) creative public education, (2) establishing
Pay-As-You-Throw programs, and (3) establishing mandatory recycling
Creative Public Education
Education is a
crucial element in generating public participation in a recycling program – an
essential ingredient for success.
However, due to limited budgets, many small communities simply cannot
pay for the same types of educational
programs that larger municipalities are able to afford. Some small communities have overcome this
challenge by developing innovative ways to educate large numbers of people
that are both inexpensive and effective.
One technique that has proven effective for the Knox County Office of
Recycling and Litter Prevention, located in central Ohio, is cooperating with
local businesses, artists, and others to create exciting recycling events that
attract large numbers of people.
In addition to being treated to a variety of entertainment, citizens
are educated on recycling issues.
In one such event,
the county enlisted the aid of “Big Dawg”, a well-known enthusiastic and
eccentric Cleveland Browns football fan; a local animal shelter; and a local
cheerleading squad to host a recycling day/pep rally at a local middle
school. The larger-than-life Big
Dawg, packs of assorted pets, and excited cheerleaders combined to draw in the
crowds and create a fun-filled atmosphere. Participants were treated to recycling
displays, facts, and games, and enjoyed the opportunity to meet Big Dawg, play
with animals, and applaud the spirit of the cheerleading squad. Participants at the recycling day
rally were encouraged to bring in and dispose of aluminum cans, the proceeds
of which were donated to the animal shelter in return for use of the
animals. Big Dawg volunteered his
services at this event in order to support the recycling cause, and the
cheerleaders welcomed the opportunity to perform their routine in front of
The county holds a
similar event on Halloween in cooperation with a local Wal-Mart. The department store allows the county
to host a Halloween recycling carnival on the store’s sizable parking
lot. For the carnival, local
magicians, musicians, and other performers donate their time and the county
again enlists the aid of the local animal shelter. Pets are dressed for the
occasion. Recycling displays,
games, and exhibits found throughout the event educate and entertain the
costumed crowds that consistently show up for this event. Participants again donate aluminum
cans for recycling, the funds from which are again turned over to the animal
shelter. The crowds drawn in by
the event frequently buy items at the nearby Wal-mart, increasing business for
Finally, some small communities have used mandatory
recycling programs to generate high levels of public participation. In these programs, ordinances require
citizens and/or businesses to separate recyclable materials from their
trash. If recyclable items are
discovered in trash, violators may be fined or collection refused. Fennimore, a small Wisconsin town of
2378, uses a mandatory recycling program to achieve 100% participation in
their recycling program. The
program, established in 1989 by a city ordinance, requires citizens and
businesses to separate their recyclables into bins that are provided by the
city. Residents are required to
use clear bags for their refuse.
This allows municipal garbage collectors to easily determine if
recyclables have not been separated.
If recyclables are discovered in the trash, the trash is not collected
and a note is left with an explanation.
Although Fennimore’s ordinance allows for the assessment of fines
ranging from $10-$100 for such offenses, not collecting the trash is nearly
always sufficient in getting the message across. Flyers describing the program are sent
to residents annually.
When combined with public
education and other techniques to encourage participation, mandatory programs
can be extremely effective.
Berlin Township, a small New Jersey municipality of 5672, has developed
a mandatory program that has frequently resulted in the highest recycling
levels in their county and state.
In 1990, Berlin was also presented with a national award for their
recycling efforts. In addition to
a local ordinance that allows for $25-$100 fines for mixing recyclables in
with waste (warnings and/or termination of collection at a residence is nearly
always sufficient punishment – fines are rarely used), Berlin utilizes public
education and residential convenience to generate high levels of
newsletters, informational packets to new residents, and visits to schools
Berlin emphasizes recycling as a way that the average citizen can protect the
environment and lower local taxes.
Berlin also makes recycling very convenient for residents. Donations from local businesses who
wish to improve their environmental image allow the township to distribute
free recycling bins to residents.
All recyclable items are placed in a single container, which eliminates
the hassle of separating materials, and are collected on the same day as
incentives for citizens to recycle can be another effective way to increase
public participation in a recycling program. One way that numerous small
communities have created an economic incentive for citizens to recycle is by
establishing volume based pricing or Pay as You Throw (PAYT). Pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) is a
municipal solid waste (MSW) management practice that charges households based
on the amount of waste they discard. Since recycling is free, this creates
an economic incentive for citizens to reduce the amount of waste they produce
by recycling more, thereby saving the local government money in MSW management
costs. Local governments
frequently document a rapid increase in recycling rates following the
establishment of a PAYT program.
Well-designed programs can often generate the revenues communities need
to cover their solid waste costs, including the costs of complementary
programs such as recycling.
are two basic types of PAYT systems.
In the first, residents must purchase and use special bags or tags in
order to have their garbage collected.
In an alternative system, residents choose among refuse containers with
varying capacities, and pay substantially more for setting out the larger
containers. Both systems reward
citizens for recycling more.
Communities with PAYT programs in place often report significant
increases in recycling and reductions in waste ─ important steps in protecting
The City of Dover, New Hampshire, a rural community of
26,000, has experienced considerable success with PAYT. Before implementing a PAYT system,
Dover collected approximately 24,000 tons of trash each year, of which
approximately 11,000 tons were residential refuse. With no recycling program, the city
struggled to meet their MSW management costs. In response to these problems, the
city opened a recycling center in May 1990 and shortly thereafter established
curbside collection of recyclables and a PAYT program. Dover residents now pay
for the collection and disposal of waste through the purchase of special bags
and/or adhesive tags. The fees generated by the sale of the bags and tags go
into a special revenue fund that has been established to pay for the
collection, disposal, and administrative costs associated with residential
solid waste. As a result of these changes, Dover’s annual production of waste
has dropped from 11,000 tons per year of residential solid waste to only 3,900
tons per year and their recycling rate for their residential waste stream is
over 50 percent.
exist that can assist local governments in their recycling efforts. Some helpful recycling resources
include the following:
Local Government Environmental Assistance Network (LGEAN) provides
environmental information to local governments on a wide range of topics,
including recycling. LGEAN can provide assistance in locating recycling case
studies; identifying available financial or technical assistance; finding
appropriate recycling contacts at the federal, state, and local level; and
more. Local governments who have
specific recycling questions may contact LGEAN toll-free at 877/TO-LGEAN or
- The Solid Waste
Association of North America (SWANA) will hold a Waste Reduction, Recycling
& Composting Symposium in Denver, Colorado, February 26-March 2,
2001. The symposium will
present information on a variety of waste reduction strategies, as well as
information on solid waste collection.
For more information on this event, contact Kathy Haggard, SWANA
Program Manager, at 301/585-2898.
- Waste Prevention, Recycling, and
Composting Options: Lessons from 30 Communities. This Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) publication analyzes the operating experiences of the solid
waste management programs of 30 communities across the country with high
material recovery rates or model waste reduction initiatives. This publication (document #
EPA530-R-92-015) can be ordered from the National Service Center for
Environmental Publications at 800/490-9198.
- The National
Recycling Coalition (NRC) offers a variety of useful publications and other
information on such topics as recycling policy/market development, buying
recycled products and more. To
order these publications, visit the NRC Web site at http://www.nrc-recycle.org and visit
the publications section.
Readers without Internet access can reach NRC by phone at
Handbook for Reducing Solid Waste. This publication provides information
that can easily be used as part of a public education program. The handbook describes how individual
consumers can help reduce MSW by making environmentally aware decisions about
everyday activities such as shopping or household chores. This free publication (document #
EPA530-K-92-003) can be ordered from the RCRA/Superfund Hotline at
800/424-9346 or viewed on the Internet at the following address: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/catbook.htm.
- Recycle: You Can
Make a Ton of Difference.
This short recycling brochure provides information that can be
incorporated into a local government’s public education program. This free publication (document #
EPA530-K-92-003) can be ordered from the RCRA/Superfund Hotline at
800/424-9346 or viewed on the Internet at the following
Program. This voluntary
program targets the reduction of municipal solid waste. Participants range from small local
governments and nonprofit organizations to large, multi-national
corporations. For more
information on the WasteWise program, call WasteWise toll-free at 800/372-9473
or go to the following Internet address: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/wstewise/.
- EPA’s PAYT Web site
contains case studies, publications, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and
more. A toll-free PAYT Helpline
is available at 888/EPA-PAYT (888/372-7298). To visit the PAYT Web site, go to
the following Internet address: http://www.epa.gov/payt.
Again, local governments in need of assistance in locating
recycling resources may contact LGEAN toll-free at 877/TO-LGEAN, or e-mail email@example.com.