Depot Signage

Effective signage increases participation in diversion programs and reduces material contamination.

Provide simple instructions
  • Keep it simple. Use clear, concise instructions supported with colour coding, symbols and images. Ensure the information is consistent and easily understood.

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”.

Depot field tests have shown that signs using both text and images result in significantly less contamination than those using text only.

Use Colour Codes
  • Use universal colours for waste streams, such as blue for recycling and black for landfill.

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.

Place signs at appropriate locations and ensure they are visible
  • Make sure that all bins, piles and depot activities are paired with signs indicating the desired activity and make sure the signs are visible by keeping them large and placed at a height easily seen by users.

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.

Even Better


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.

Select durable signs and maintain and replace as needed
  • Signs must withstand inclement weather and minor bumps and scrapes. While needing to be durable, the signs also need to be easily replaced to reflect changes in materials collected and/or site layout. Larger signs can be made up of smaller, bolt on, signs that will save time and costs whenever information requires updating.

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.

Depot Sign Samples

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.

Some communities use visual studies to identify the most problematic contaminants and target them in the P&E literature. See the Small Municipal Depot Guidebook for more information.