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Recycling… the subdivision way

Kerb-side recycling collection is a reality in many parts of Australia and other countries, and is being suggested or introduced in many areas that have depot drop-off sites or no separate collection at all. Often at depots, people expect to be paid to bring in their recyclables, or at least some of them, and with kerb-side collection, people expect to be offered the service for free or a very small nominal sum as there is a perception that someone is making money off the recyclable materials being well… recycled into new products.

And fair enough, if council is willing to collect all that material, do some rudimentary sorting of it, then finds a market to sell it to, well they should be entitled to make money off it right?

Well it seems that the problem is two fold, people are not recycling enough of what they are disposing, (some reports suggest it is less than 50%), and secondly, the markets are not taking up the recycled material as content in their products.

Simplicity

Kerb side recycling has gone a long way to exposing people to the ease of recycling their waste, but even with the dispose and forget about it simplicity from the householders perspective, there is a definite lack of awareness as to what products the local council area actually does accept and in what state. Regular waste reporting back to the community might help, informing them of percentage improvements in waste disposal practises, even rewarding sections of the community for the greatest change in habits over a given time frame. Rewards could include reduction in council rates, (which won’t necessarily work for rental properties) or vouchers for free products or services. Current collection practises would probably need to modified slightly to achieve this, however, most landfill areas where this could work would have a weigh bridge facility capable of recording the distribution of waste over the time frame.

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The market for recycled content seems to be under minimal regulation from authorities. Some industries have self regulated, such as the newspaper publishers decision to include 75% recycled material in all newspapers, (the paper not the content). However, in many industries the cost associated with changing production equipment to accept recycled materials, or the requirement to provide further quality control over the material that is coming into the process generally means less profit margin. Most customers today shop on price-point and quality before social conscience takes over, and as such, so called green products, even those developed by reputable companies have a hard time marketing products of comparable quality that obviously contain recycled materials.

Community as the Market

This comes back squarely to the community, both as the purchaser of goods, and the disposers of waste. Communities can petition supermarkets and suppliers to provide a greater selection of products with recycled packaging or recycled content. Communities can set up annual recycling days for products that can’t be thrown in the recycling bin, but often end up in landfill. Cell phones, electronic goods, toys, computers, printer cartridges all contain recyclable materials, but the average householder has few options to recycle these rather than dispose. It is even possible that communities could earn money from the sale of the recyclable materails that could go toward community improvement programs.

These are just a few suggestions for how to improve recycling efficiency from within communities. I’ll follow up next time with some links to more information on recycling options and technologies.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.