Reducing Costs by Integrating Residents into Your Blue Box Service Delivery Model

Go into any big box store today and you’ll be sure to find a self-serve check out aisle. Customers are encouraged to do the work of scanning items and tallying up the cost of the items they want to purchase. This trend of shifting work to the customer is becoming more and more commonplace. Why? Because it is recognized as a win-win practice that helps minimize costs for the business and lower prices for the consumer. In this, perhaps, is a lesson for recycling programs.

Across the province, residue management costs continue to climb for recycling programs. Shifting the workload to those using the services to fix the problem may offer a cost effective way forward. Improving resident engagement through compliance to ensure unwanted, non-targeted items like plastic toys, gardening trays, and textiles are kept out of the blue box could be the best place to invest in recycling programs and achieve a return on investment. Many residents are enthusiastic about recycling, but are confused about what is and is not recyclable. While Promotion & Education (P&E) campaigns are not a new idea, combining P&E with compliance and enforcement efforts to ensure residents adopt the desired set out behaviours offers a means of eliminating confusion and ensuring residents understand their role. It also stands to strengthen resident buy-in into the program by assuring them their efforts make a difference to the environment and to the cost of the service.

Consider that in a growing number of municipalities more than 20% of the inbound material is comprised of contaminants. The cost of managing these materials can run as high as $5M annually for a large municipality.

The City of Toronto is already testing this approach. They are seeking to quantify the extent to which tagging and leaving behind contaminated carts at the curbside minimizes residue rates and lowers costs. The idea is to spend on the re-education of their residents and enforcement of proper set out standards and in doing so, employ residents in keeping costly items out of the MRFs.

The plan is for field staff to visit households and inspect and tag carts that should not be collected due to high levels of contamination. Inspectors will affix educational literature to carts to inform residents of the reason if their carts are left behind and how to correct the problem. Field staff will then carry out follow up inspections at the next collection cycle. Depending on the outcome of this pilot, Toronto may eventually charge a fee for putting non-recyclables into blue bins.

In recent years there has been large-scale investment into the technology for recycling service delivery  –  for automated collection at the curb or for improving sorting capacity through optical technology in the MRF. To reduce reliance on costly technological solutions, it makes sense to try and eliminate the problem at its source by turning our attention to educating and training residents to sort recyclables properly and keep unwanted materials out of the MRFs. Resident training and compliance is a strategy that every municipality can employ and its success may result in reduced costs. The CIF will continue to monitor the City of Toronto’s rollout and will provide progress updates, as they are available.


Contact Jessica Landry with your questions and feedback.