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
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
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
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 large crowds.
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 the store.
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 non-recyclable refuse.
economic 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 environment.
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.
resources 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 e-mail email@example.com.
- 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
- 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:
- 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