Effective signage increases participation in diversion programs and reduces material contamination.
Research suggests depot users spend only a few seconds studying signage/bins before deciding where to place material. Three better practices include:
- Keep text simple, long text explanations are undesirable
- Use large, clear, text supported with photographic instead of pictogram/icon images
- Colour code bins and signs
Use easily recognized, standardized messages such as “Garbage”, “Recycling”, “Organics” that most users understand. Using the same terms as in the curbside recycling program or terms that are easily recognized, such as “Containers” and “Paper” reduce confusion. Avoid using industry jargon, such as “commingled” or “compostable”.
Quinte Waste Solutions Pilot, 2009
A pilot conducted by Quinte Waste Solutions tested “text only” signs verses “image/graphic” signs. The signs were placed above the designated recycling carts in rural depots. The pilot showed that the signs using graphics resulted in lower contamination levels with about 50% fewer contamination errors in carts using the graphics verses text only signs.
Depot users commented that signs with graphic contents were faster to read and the information easier to understand. The graphics also provided additional reminders about which materials could be recycled. See samples of signage tested below.
Specific colours have become universally recognized for waste diversion activities, such as blue for recycling, green for organics/composting and black for garbage/landfill. For decades Ontario communities have been using these colours in their curbside recycling programs; therefore, using these colours for signage and for the bin colours helps build on the Province-wide standardization of existing waste diversion programs and signals.
Communities with a two stream recycling program will typically use blue for the container stream and will use a variety of colours for the fibre stream including grey (Simcoe County, St. Thomas), blue (Durham Region, City of Peterborough, North Bay), red (City of Windsor, Essex Windsor Solid Waste Authority). It is more effective to match the colour already in use in the local recycling program for the fibre stream or consider coordinating colours with neighbouring municipalities to participate in future joint procurement activities. Make sure both the signs and the bins (to the extent possible) are colour coded.
To leave these depot pages and read more about the techniques involved in designing effective signage, visit the CIF Center of Excellence signage web page.
All bins, piles and depot activities should be paired with signage clearly indicating the expected user activity. Signs should enhance depot operations without causing information overload. Use large CAPITALIZED BOLD headings (san serif) with minimal text.
Post signs at the entrance of the depot with name, hours of operation, emergency contact numbers, fees and other key messages. These signs can also be used to remind users of the community goals of waste diversion and reuse.
Unless signs are visible to the user they are wasted. Enhance visibility by keeping them large and placed at an easily seen height. Users will usually need to see the sign from their vehicle, whether it be a compact car, an SUV, or a large pick-up truck. See samples below:
The McKeller Township depot, uses large, clear, capital letter print placed beside the bin at a height users can easily see from their vehicles. The sign could be improved by adding images of acceptable recyclables, especially for the plastics, to help residents understand what materials can be recycled.
The signage used at the Algonquin Highlands depot combines images with text to show what materials can be recycled. The placement of the sign is good beside the bin and high enough for users to see. The large blue capital letters and blue container provide a visual cue that the container is intended for recycling. Using coloured images would help them stand out and be more easily recognized.
This sign used at the Airdrie, Alberta depot combines all the recommended features. Large capitalized lettering, colour images of recyclables that stand out and are easy to read and understand. The blue border helps emphasize the sign and remind users that blue is for recycling. The warning at the bottom of fines for misusing the containers is highlighted in a red background.
In 2013, the Township of McNab/Braeside’s recycling contractor deducted a total of $1,200.00 for contaminated recyclables deposited at the local depot. Staff introduced new signs to reduce penalties. The signs combined text with graphics. Individual signs were made for each material type and bolted together in groups under a larger Fibre and Comingled container sign. The individual signs made it easier to update the location/content of the large sign as needed.
The new signs reduced contamination penalties by almost 60% over the previous year and helped lower the amount of time staff spent sorting material. According to staff, “The visual images on the signs were able to better direct residents to the correct bins for the drop off of recyclable materials”.
While the signs combine text and graphics to provide good information to the user, the carts used could be improved. Both blue and green carts are intermixed in the paper stream. Using consistently coloured bins, without green which indicates organics, is a better practice. A better practice would be to install uniquely coloured bins for the paper stream. Read the final report.
Signs must be able to withstand adverse weather conditions and minor bumps and scrapes. While less of a concern, vandalism must be considered, especially for signs located outside the fenced perimeter.
Signs permitted to rust and fade give the impression that the municipality doesn’t care about maintaining the depot, which may result in users not feeling the need to properly sort or place their materials in the containers carefully.
A better practice is to make signs that are easily replaceable and can be updated to accommodate program modifications or changes in site operations. Some examples of ineffective and effective signage follow:
This depot was plagued with contamination and litter. Paper signs have been stuck on the bins with duct tape. These signs are not weather resistant. This does not look aesthetically appealing nor does it provide useful information to the user about what/how to recycle.
The signage and area around the bin is clean and well maintained, giving the impression that the municipality cares about its recycling program. Images combined with text provide instant information about what the user is expected to place in the bin.
#1. Recycling Bin Signage
These signs have large text identifying recyclables but don’t provide any other information such as graphics showing the types of material. Equal amounts of space is dedicated to the words “Transfer Station”, which could be more effectively used by showing images of the materials. The signs should be colour coded with the garbage sign in black and the fibre and container signs in different colours.
#2. Recycling Bin Signage
Effort has been taken to colour code the signs. Large text is supported by pictographic images with further information about the types of recyclables accepted. All signs have been allocated different background colours, which can also be used at the bins to further reinforce correct separation. The North American recognized colour coding system using blue for recyclables, green for organics and black for garbage might have been more effective. In this case, the paper and cardboard signs would need to be allocated different colours such as yellow for paper and brown for cardboard. The supporting text is small and difficult to read and understand at a glance. Real images as opposed to pictographs are a better practice.
#3. Recycling Bin Signage
All the elements are here for an effective sign. A large sign at eye level with capital letter text is used to identify that Papers/Fibres can be recycled here and is supported by relocatable signs underneath indicating the type of papers/fibres accepted, supported with colour images. The sign is posted above the bins and is easily viewed from a distance. The sign would have benefited from having some blue or a colour used by the municipality to designate paper recycling (grey, yellow, etc.) as a border or background to make the sign stand out.
#4. Recycling Bin Signage
These signs use vivid colours, large capital letters and images that stand out. A blue background and Mobius loop emphasize the recycling message. The images are attractive and easy to understand. This sign is visually appealing.
#1. Waste Diversion Signage
While this sign is attractive and well maintained, there is so much information printed in small text on it that it appears illegible. It is unlikely that depot users will take the time to read the text, which can only be seen from close range. There are no images, colour coding or directional indicators to support the text, making it less useful to the user.
#2. Waste Diversion Signage
This sign is fun and inviting using vivid/colourful graphics supported by large text to identify all depot activities including a reuse centre. The icons are easy to read and understand and are reinforced on the Township’s waste management webpage, which uses the same icons when discussing the diversion activity (e.g. E-waste). The sign employs the message “WasteMatters”, again reinforcing the community waste management promotion message.
#3. Waste Diversion Signage
This sign has all the elements of a good sign. It provides colour coded messaging and is situated high enough to be easily viewed from a distance. Each diversion activity also shows hours of operation. At the bottom there is a number that users can contact for more information.
Other P&E tools for depots
P&E programs aimed at depot users can be delivered in many forms:
- On-site information: signage, brochures, attendant outreach
- Off-site information: calendars, newspaper advertisements, articles in community newsletters, posters, fliers, outreach at community events or meetings, websites.
In 2015, the Municipality of West Nipissing focused on increasing participation and improving sorting behaviour by developing handouts and flyers and by updating signage for existing depot bins. The flyers were distributed using two methods:
- Hand delivered by municipal staff at manned depots
- Mail-out to residents that access unmanned depot locations
Visual studies were used to monitor incoming contamination and identify the most abundant contaminants. This information was relayed in the P&E literature.
As a result of the P&E efforts, staff report that more residents are using the depots and the tonnage collected has increased 10% since the base year. Read the full report here.
In 2015, the Township of French River upgraded its depot and created a P&E program for the local/seasonal residents to promote recycling and encourage participation. The P&E focused on messages about the value of recycling and the extra costs to the Township (and tax impacts) of placing recyclables in waste receptacles. The efforts resulted in a 12% increase in the recycling rate from the previous year. Read the final report.