Written by: Becky MacWhirter in June 2012 for Resource Recycling

As residential recycling programs expand across North America, attention is now turning to the on-the-go segment to capture the “last mile” of recyclables – those materials left behind by consumers in areas such as parks, streetscapes, beaches and other public spaces. This article delves into how best to design programs to maximize participation and recovery rates and argues that collaborative partnerships, effective planning, consumer convenience and promotion and education are key to success.

Recyclables from any source represent valuable materials that can and should be diverted from landfill. The pursuit of public space recycling (PSR) stems from the desire to recover these resources and reduce litter. Studies have shown that recyclables can represent upwards of 40-45 percent of total waste generated in public spaces, confirming that a well-designed PSR program provides an important opportunity to increase diversion. By targeting a once-ignored segment of the waste stream, PSR can also increase recovery rates of specific material types to help achieve recovery goals set as a result of legislation.

In jurisdictions where litter and marine debris are pervasive, investment in PSR can contribute to beautification efforts and minimize the impact of discarded waste on the marine environment. Furthermore, enhanced promotional and educational efforts common of PSR programs have been shown to reinforce at-home recycling behavior maximizing the performance of existing programs. Sponsors of on-the-go recycling options for citizens and tourists build goodwill by demonstrating their commitment to protecting the environment. With broad drivers such as these, the outcome of well-designed PSR programs is more active engagement of citizens in recycling, cleaner communities and increased diversion of valuable resources from the waste stream

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