Quinte Enlists Residents to Shift Black Plastic & Coffee Cups from Blue Box to Garbage

Like many programs, Quinte Waste Solutions (QWS) is well aware that materials incorrectly placed in recycling increases costs and decreases overall material quality. Focusing on the Multi-Residential (MR) sector, in 2018 QWS developed a strategic promotion and education (P&E) campaign with the goal of decreasing black plastics and polycoat cups (also known as coffee/hot beverage/disposable cups) appearing in both its container and paper recycling streams. These two items are not part of either stream of QWS’ blue box program.

Mixing P&E with Waste Audit to Identify Program Improvements

With this project, QWS aimed to quantify the cost of implementing the best practice of applying frequent, targeted marketing over a sustained period of time to address an issue with resident behaviour.

This campaign targeted three types of MR buildings: low-rise, high-rise, and row-houses. Six buildings were chosen, allowing for three pairs of each building type.

One building in each pair was the control, receiving no information, and the other was the experimental group, receiving multiple promotions over a one-year period, with waste audits conducted at several points along the way.

The P&E materials consisted of 7 door hangers provided throughout the year-long period (see door hanger icon). While each delivered the same essential message – ‘black plastic and coffee cups are garbage’, there were subtle differences that kept each delivery fresh. The messaging was simple, very specific and immediately actionable.

Superintendents/Property Managers also received posters, sort cards, and MR recycling guides for distribution. A small amount of social media was also done during the campaign.

Less than the cost of a medium coffee!

The cost to design, print and deliver the door hangers was $1.68/unit/door hanger. This also included the cost to oversee the project, but it did not include the cost of the MR comprehensive waste composition study.

Project Activities Timeline


Five comprehensive waste audits (clipboard and graph icons above) were completed during the project in order to compare buildings.

Video Presentation

The results

Find out what QWS learned in this brief video presentation.

Door hangers offer an important benefit: residents have to touch them to view, store or recycle – and this adds to potential message uptake.

Over the year-long period and as measured by a series of waste audits, this project showed success in reducing the incorrectly set out materials (black plastic and polycoat/coffee cups) in the recycling stream. In the buildings that received promotions, here’s what happened:

  • Residents placed more black plastics and coffee cups in the garbage (increased capture rate in garbage), and
  • Residents placed fewer black plastic items and coffee cups in recycling and overall waste (kg/unit/wk) – which was the goal of this initiative!

Overall, there was less contamination found in the buildings receiving the door hangers (experimental group).

What does this study tell us?

This is an important study as it focuses on applying P&E better practices and quantifying the cost to do so. The better practice is to keep your message granular (call for one action at a time). In this project QWS did just that. What’s more, it provided that single, clear instruction on a tactile piece of P&E – residents had to touch it – which dramatically increased the chances of them reading the message.  QWS then measured for changes in the waste stream to see if the desired behaviour change took place during the time their door hangers were in circulation (another P&E better practice).

This brings us back to the questions initially posed, and the results offer these answers:

  • How, what format? At only the cost of a medium coffee, door hangers offer a great opportunity in the MR sector – a historically difficult audience to connect with.
  • How long is needed to get the message out? A year-long campaign worked. Campaigns of longer duration provide greater results.
  • With what frequency do you need to communicate? In this case 7 door hangers in a year lead to positive results. In larger communities, economies of scale may allow the price per unit to drop even lower for the door hangers.

Other learnings?

  • Keeping the message consistent, but with constant refreshes is valuable to maintain attention until such time as a new behaviour is ingrained.
  • To make headway in MR buildings, it’s important to be able to have municipal staff in the buildings (i.e. putting door hangers on doors). In some cases, municipalities may need to work with legal departments to ensure staff access to buildings for this function is built into service agreements with property owners.

Interested in building upon this study in your community?  Contact Jessica Landry.

View the Multi-Residential Contamination Abatement Promotion & Education Campaign (15 MB).