Can clean, marketable plastics be collected at unattended drop-off sites? Yes ... if the program is designed with attention to program logistics and an understanding of human behavior.
People are eager to recycle, and many are willing to take their plastic containers to specials drop-off centers if their communities cannot provide curbside collection. With clear, simple instructions and convenient, well-designed sites, householders will readily separate, prepare, and deliver market-quality materials.
Even communities that already collect plastics at drop-off sites can improve their success by making a few low-cost, common-sense changes in their collection strategies. Whether you're starting from scratch or fine-tuning an existing program, this document offers practical suggestions. It has been developed from actual experiences in Tampa, Florida, and Chatham County, North Carolina.
The old real estate maxim applies to drop-off sites, too. Even the keenest recyclers are more likely to participate if drop-off sites are easy to access. Most people consider about two miles a convenient driving distance to a drop-off site, especially if it's near a destination point such as a busy supermarket or a convenience store. Retailers may find a recycling site attracts drop-in traffic, and shoppers simply put bagged recyclables in the car, along with the dry cleaning and library books, as part of the weekend errand circuit.
Drop-off sites should be clearly marked, attractive, and easy to reach. Try to place facilities on well-known, heavily traveled streets or intersections to attract both frequent and occasional travelers. (You can get information about traffic patterns and volume from local planning or public works departments.) Distinctive signs at major intersections will help direct people to the site.
Look for potential sites in high-density population areas. (Again, local planning departments or state commerce departments can furnish population and demographics data.) Residents and businesses in districts without nearby recycling facilities may welcome a well-designed and well-maintained drop-off location.
Plan the site layout with convenience in mind. Allow plenty of room to park and unload recyclables; a drive-through arrangement is ideal. Provide adequate lighting for evening users and place clearly marked trash containers beside the recycling bins for unacceptable materials and incidental waste, such as the bags people use to carry recyclables to the site.
The public's understanding of material requirements can make or break a drop-off program. People must be thoroughly familiar with the specific containers wanted before they arrive at the site, or they may deposit unacceptable materials just to avoid taking them back home for disposal.
At Home Leaflets or posters for home use will help people select and prepare material correctly. Use simple, active language in instructions. Explain why certain materials are not acceptable; the knowledge will help people make correct decisions, and that will lower contamination.
Combine written and visual elements in printed material. Specify exactly what containers (not resins) are acceptable; avoid using technical names such as "HDPE" or "polystyrene". Also specify "bottles with necks" if you don't want to receive tubs or other containers.
A list or graphic showing "Yes" containers on one side and crossed-out "No" containers on the other can be particularly helpful in the decision process. Be sure to include a telephone number to call for further information.
Line drawings communicate better than photographs because they emphasize important information and eliminate distracting details (shadows, backgrounds, and so forth). Depict the containers as you want them delivered. For example, show containers without their screw-on caps.
At the Site When people arrive at a drop-off site, they need to know exactly what to do. They'll generally be in a hurry so signs, graphics, and instructions should be visible, brief, and easily understood. Signs, facility layout, and container design should not only encourage appropriate action, but also deter incorrect action.
Make sign instructions clear and specific. A sign calling for "Plastics Only" or showing the resin identification code is likely to be interpreted as "any plastics" and that's just what you'll get. It's even more helpful to hang on the collection bins actual examples of the types of containers that are acceptable.
If signs picture acceptable and unacceptable items, make the two groups readily distinguishable from one another. Use bigger, brighter illustrations of the "do" containers or perhaps show "don't" items in black and white, or behind the familiar red-barred NO symbol.
Paint collection bins with bright, attractive colors. Use consistent colors and graphics at all sites to promote awareness and participation.
Set up your bins so that they are user-friendly and conductive to proper participation. Many people find lids heavy and awkward to hold while they place materials inside the bin. This encourages them to "bulk unload" - to toss recyclables into the bin in the boxes and paper or plastic bags used to transport them. This not only introduces contaminants in the form of bags and boxes but also prevents double-checking to make sure that an individual container is acceptable.
Cutting a 12-inch diameter hole (big enough for a 2-gallon water jug) in the collection bin lid both eliminates the need to lift and forces recyclers to deposit containers one piece at a time. Circle the hole with a bright-colored warning such as "Stop! Not for all plastic!" Then, direct attention to a graphic or list showing acceptable containers. To further discourage bulk unloading, lock the bin's access door.
Make sure a trash bin is handy and clearly marked for "trash only". Paint the trash containers a different color from the recyclables bins.
Keep the site clean and tidy. Over-flowing trash and collection bins attract pests, annoy neighbors and property owners, and discourage participation. If necessary, clean the site daily and arrange for more frequent trash pickup and recyclables collection.
Drop-off plastics recycling can be a cost-effective alternative to curbside plastics collection, without sacrificing product quality. With strategic siting, forceful signage, and minor bin modifications, the public will consistently deliver material comparable to what would be expected in more costly curbside programs.