Big program change is possible!

Municipal operators face many barriers to making changes in their programming, whether they be councillors, residents, and even internal disagreement about the right course of action.  This week’s blog showcases one municipality that was willing to make a major change to its program in a short time period to secure better market access for fiber materials and reduce its processing costs. It acted decisively in the face of challenge and achieved significant success.

A tight transition timeline – but doable!

At the end of April 2018, the Township of Drummond North Elmsley was approached by their processing and marketing service provider with a proposition that they change recycling collection from single to dual stream to help address the fiber market challenges that were plaguing the industry. The service provider offered an opportunity to lower their future processing costs if the shift was made by the fall, i.e. within less than eight full months.

“This was not preferred timing for this program change!” laughs Cathie Green, Public Works Assistant at the Township. “We had almost two years remaining in the current collection contract, and we’re facing a lot of unknowns with regard to the transition of blue box programs to full producer responsibility.”

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The Township acted quickly, and by August, staff had secured council approval, amended the service contracts, and planned the roll-out, with a November start date for the new program.  Staff executed a condensed communication strategy to introduce the new yellow ‘blue boxes’. The strategy combined radio ads, social media, local newspapers and the municipal website over an eight week period beginning in September.

Residents bought in with minimal disruption

To be successful, staff took a hard-line approach to curbside enforcement – requiring that the materials be separated into the correct yellow or blue box and unsolicited materials kept to a minimum, reinforcing good recycling practices and supporting efficient collection.

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In the first weeks of collection, between five to six per cent of households had their materials left uncollected for a variety of reasons: improper box, mixed materials, contamination, etc. These households received educational material on the program change and contact information if more information was needed and by week six, these issues had largely tapered off to ‘normal levels’.

During this time, the Township received feedback via phone calls and responded to enquiries from approximately 1.6% of households with a variety of concerns from not having received a yellow box (0.9%), not understanding why recyclables had been tagged and left behind (0.3%), and for those who just wanted more information about the new program (0.4%).

Lessons learned

To be successful, the Township needed immediate resident buy-in to the new program. A decision was made to be ‘generous’ with residents who claimed to not have received a new yellow bin. While less than 1% of residents reached out for these containers, the message of supporting participation in the program was delivered when municipal staff showed up with a new yellow box within 24 hours.

Staff planned to measure residents’ need for new information digitally, via Facebook insights and the municipal website. Unfortunately, in the New Year when staff went to analyze incoming data, they learned that the municipal website was not aggregating web traffic data appropriately and that access to data tracked by Facebook was limited to only the most recent 28 day period.

Despite this, staff agree that the program was successful and see the delivery of the new, different coloured box to each resident as a cornerstone of achieving buy-in. By providing the box with promotional materials two weeks before the launch of the new program they clearly delivered the message that the program was about to change right onto their resident’s doorsteps.

Check out other examples of the campaign: and


The ability of programs to quickly and effectively respond to changes in the recyclable materials market or other aspects of the business can yield big dividends.  This week’s blog is a good example of how municipal staff responded to the call, taking on the challenge of making a significant program change in the pursuit of more cost-effective service delivery.

The three key elements of success include:

  1. Efficient planning and decisive action from all key players, that started with clear analysis of the problem and potential solutions.
  2. Implementation of a clear plan of action.
  3. Measurement, monitoring and responsiveness through the early execution period until the change settled in as a ‘new normal’.

“I’m impressed with how well this has gone” says Green. “The prevailing wisdom in the recycling industry is that ‘you can never go back’ to multiple streams once you’ve gone single stream. We’ve shown that it CAN be done. Our residents have embraced the change. As a bonus, we’ve really doubled down on public education about how to ‘sort it right.’ and we’re hoping to see less contamination in our next curbside audits.

Final report to come this fall

The Township will be reporting out on and comparing key performance indicators between their previous single stream and the new two stream program.  The Township is a partner with CIF and Stewardship Ontario in completing waste composition studies to provide robust, granular insight into the impacts of this program change on program participation, contamination, and diversion. – Look for the final report this fall on the CIF’s funded projects page.

Need to know more – Contact CIF Staff!

For more about this project, the tracking activities used by staff, or examples of the promotion and education materials used please contact CIF Staff or Cathie Green, Public Works Assistant at the Township of Drummond-North Elmsley.