Public Spaces

Public space recycling refers to collection in locations accessible to the public including outdoors like parks, sports, events or indoors like airports, malls, arenas etc. Attention to design and usability is required to implement an effective program. Simply setting some old barrels in public locations is no longer adequate.

The CIF has funded over 20 projects to test aspects of public space recycling covering bin selection, placement, usability, contamination and costs. 

CIF Funded Public Spaces Projects


2008 – York Region – Public Space Three Stream Waste Diversion Parks Pilot.

York Region partnered with Newmarket to test different bins and signs at its parks and trails. Evaluated different bin styles identifying pros and cons and tested them. Tested different types of signage including labels, flags, banners. Signage used both text and visuals. Tested preference for different language with the public. The pilot assessed level of contamination in new containers, effectiveness of messaging, and operational challenges and potential solutions of the new system. The results of the waste audits found that contamination in recycling bins was 23% and 11% in the organics bin. Good discussion of challenges with each style of bin. While contamination was higher than desired, the Region still felt that public space recycling was worthwhile.

Key words: urban, south, monitor, contamination, bins, signs

2014 – City of St. Thomas – Public Space Recycling

Phase 1 – Replace garbage containers in the downtown with twin bin recycling and garbage containers and monitor. Shows resulting 19% diversion, 97% capture and 43% contamination. Phase 2- install twin bins in the City’s largest park and 96 gallon wheelie bins to use during special events and monitor. Shows resulting 4% diversion, 21% capture and 21% contamination. Cost provided. Contamination was a problem. Chose only to collect containers in public space bins and not fibres.

Key words: urban, south, costs, monitor, diversion, contamination, signage

2014 – Killarney – Public Space Recycling

Twinned garbage and recycling bins provided along the main street (tourist area). Only focused on container recycling, no fibre recycling provided. Costs for bins provided. Visual audit checklist used to identify fullness of bins and contamination. Concluded that the new twin bins resulted in almost no contamination of recyclables, and also handle large amounts of litter.

Key words: rural, north, costs, monitor

2012 & 2013 – City of Toronto – Public Space Recycling Project Assessment (Phase I & 2)

Phase 1 – Replace mesh recycling containers with 360L carts and switch to semi-automated collection vehicles and Phase 2 – Improve education and awareness program with more signs. Type of sign did not seem to significantly influence waste diversion behaviour. Audit results showed that carts achieved increase in diversion rates increased from 14% in 2008 to 22% in 2013 and contamination decreased from 41% to 34%. Recycling carts achieved 68% capture rate in 2013. Costs to install semi auto lifters provided.

Key words: urban, south, contamination, monitor, diversion, signage, 1 stream

2012 – Town of Markham – Big BLUE Belly Solar Recycling Containers

Tested using solar compactor public space bins on recyclables in two pilot BIAs. Also introduced extensive public education program in pilot BIAs. Resulted in compaction rates reducing volumes up to 86% higher than traditional bins and significant increase in diversion rates (up to 90% in one BIA). Collection labour and vehicle costs to service these units estimated to be reduced by 50-86% and payback between 2.6 and 4.5 years.

Key words: urban, south, costs, monitor, diversion, better practices

2012 – City of Peterborough – Public Space Recycling

Introduced recycling bins in trails in the City and followed public space best practices. Chose bins with convex lid and protective canopy to keep water and snow out. Conducted SWOT analysis on the bins and discuss signage and communications. Costs provided. No monitoring conducted.

Key words: urban, south, costs, better practices

2012 – City of Kenora – Public Space Recycling

Installed 16 solar powered self-compacting Big Belly Bins for recyclables which has resulted in diverting 15% of recyclables in the downtown area over a 12 month period. On average each Big Belly was emptied 1.6 times a month saving on collection time and costs by 41%. The Big Belly has received excellent support from staff and the public.

Key words: urban, north, costs, monitor, diversion

2011 – Niagara Region – Public Space Recycling Program – Phase 1

Installed 161 recycling bins in BIAs and parks throughout the Region supported by an intensive communication plan, including bin labels, posters, stickers and various media (i.e. websites, newsletters and newspaper articles). Waste audits conducted during pre, peak and post season. Program resulted in 93% capture rate for beverage containers and 72% for all recyclables. Experienced low contamination rate of less than 10%.

Key words: urban, south, costs, monitor, diversion, P&E, better practices

2010 – City of Sarnia – Public Spaces Recycling Pilot Project Report

Installation of public space bins at 3 parks and 3 arenas and 8 convenience stores focusing on beverage container recycling. Baseline and post waste audits conducted. Public awareness campaign implemented resulting in beverage container recovery rates of average 75% at parks, 73% at arenas and 84% at convenience stores. Deals with contamination rates. Describes bin selection process.

Key words: urban, south, costs, monitor, diversion, P&E, better practices


2013 – Essex- Windsor Solid Waste Authority Public Space Recycling: Phase 1

Tested in ground storage bin (Alpha) placement and signage design. Focused on “beverage containers only” signage and advertised on city trail maps. The cost to purchase and install in ground was $1,593 per bin and ~$121/bin to service annually. Capture rate achieved is 68% with a contamination rate of 28%. Encountered problems with labels not adhering to bins.

Key words: urban, south, in ground, contamination, monitor, diversion, signage, 2 stream

2013 – Essex- Windsor Solid Waste Authority Public Space Recycling: Phase 2

Complete twinning of recycling bins with garbage bins and improved signage, labelling on bins. Large metal signs placed at park entrances and key areas and painted large Mobius Loops on the front and back of every in-ground bin (cheaper than stickers). Contamination was reduced to 12% and the capture of targeted material increased by 75%. saved the city in collection costs and created new revenue.

Key words: urban, south, in ground, contamination, monitor, diversion, signage, 2 stream

2011 – Town of Whitby – Perfecting Indoor Public Space Recycling

Introduced 31 standardized multi-port receptacles in 9 town facilities to replace non-uniform containers, then tested best practices for public space recycling and measured performance. Surveys and focus groups conducted and baseline and post waste audits conducted. Great P&E and signage tools. Costs provided. Achieved average waste diversion of 42.67% relative to overall facility waste diversion measured to be 13.85%.

Key words: urban, south, monitor, diversion, signage, costs, 2 stream


2010 – Best Practices Review Part 2 (Open Space Recycling)

Survey of 20 municipalities in Ontario and Canada to determine what public space recycling and measurement had been conducted. Concluded that in Ontario very little has been done to measure the efficiency of open space recycling program, with the exception of the Region of York and the City of Toronto. Summary table provided identifying municipality and describing public space recycling program, types of containers used and measurement activities, if any.

Key Words: monitor, program description

2009 – Best Practice Review for Public Space

Discusses four best practices for public space: clear and consistent signage, placement of the recycling bins Design of the recycling and communication with park staff, vendors and collection crews. Case studies are provided. Discusses the importance of pre and post monitoring.

Key Words: signage, monitor, better practices

Other Public Space Reports

Keep America Beautiful. Planning for Public Space: 10 Tips for Designing Public Space Recycling Programs. November 2013.

The report identifies and describes 10 tips for developing public space recycling programs including: recycling must be simple and convenient, know your waste stream, pair recycling and garbage bins together, use restrictive lids, use simple, clear labels and signage, choose the right bin, be consistent, keep bins clean and maintained, educational outreach, and be prepared to be ready to improve.

Andreas Eiken. Citizen Centered Services: New forms in public space recycling. 2013. Emily Carr University of Art and Design

Thesis study examining at how to help citizens sort their waste properly in a public context involving a two year design research in partnership with Metro Vancouver. Employs user observations, ethnographic research, co-creation and user testing that results in a finding for the need for participatory design to create effective public space services, called citizen centered services. Research conducted to design new recycling stations to decrease contamination. Identifies barriers to recycling (e.g. people think fast in public spaces) and involves public in research, surveys, and workshops. Interesting redesign of bins.

Eureka Recycling. Development of Best Practices in Public Space Recycling. 2011. Minnesota/St. Paul

Justifies public space recycling by reporting that according to the Beverage Packaging Environment Council, 31% by amount (34% by weight) of all beverage containers are consumed away from home. The authors argue that there are certain universal characteristics and challenges that impact recycling in all types of public spaces. Report explores contamination, education of users, etc. Puts ideas into action by designing public space recycling in three public venues. Discuss using green teams, engaging public, and using public art as part of design.

Sustainability Victoria. Public Place Recycling Toolkit. August 2013. Government of Victoria, Australia

A public place recycling toolkit was developed by the Government of Victoria to help organizations or municipalities develop public space recycling programs. The toolkit addresses project planning principles based on four steps:

  1. Research,
  2. Design,
  3. Implement,
  4. Maintain and monitor.

The toolkit provides checklists, case studies, design considerations, bin placement considerations, and bin fullness and contamination inspection sheets.

Faizan Ahmed, Rahim Khanani and Tarun Koshy. Comparative Analysis of Visual Triggers in Waste Management. Final Report SSM1090. 2016. University of Toronto Mississauga.

The authors argue that the decision to participate in recycling is based on three independent factors, which include the person’s attitudes towards the behavior (favorable or unfavorable); the perceived social pressure to perform behavior and perceived difficulty of performing the behavior. Students at the University of Toronto conducted a pilot study at the Mississauga campus to test different visual triggers at public space recycling bins and their impact on decision-making time and waste sorting behaviors.

Tested three types of signage: text only, visual only and text and visuals. Compared with baseline and conducted waste audits. Results: text only signage resulted in the lowest participation and diversion rates and higher incidences of contamination. Visual only signage resulted in improved participation and diversion rates with lower contamination compared with text only signage. Combined text and visual signage resulted in highest participation and diversion rates and lowest contamination rates because the visuals on the signage included specific items common on campus that should be recycled or disposed, which had a positive effect on sorting behavior.

Doug McKenzie-Mohr: Community Based Social Marketing

Community based social marketing uses two-way interaction/engagement to help foster behaviour change. The tools of engagement include prompts, commitment, norms, communication/outreach, and incentives.  According to the document the approach relies on four steps: 1) Identifying the barriers and benefits to an activity, 2)Developing a strategy that utilizes “tools” that have been shown to be effective in changing behavior, 3) Piloting the strategy, and 4) Evaluating the strategy once it has been implemented across a community

CIF Connections Blog

Below are some blog posts related to public space topics.