Congratulations to our client the North Central Ohio Solid Waste District (NCO) and the City of Marysville (City) for being awarded the National Recycling Coalition’s Outstanding Outreach Award for 2019! NCO and the City won their award for implementing the City of Marysville’s recycling cart tagging program. This program proved successful in educating residents about items that are not allowed in the recycling cart. The program was operated by two local interns from University of Findlay and the Ohio State University who worked Tuesday-Friday for nine weeks checking and auditing residential recycling carts. If a recycling cart contained common contaminants, the intern placed an “oops” tag on the cart notifying the resident what item was considered contamination.

During the week before the recycling cart audit began, a letter was sent out to all residents to inform them of the beginning of the project and outlined the importance of reading the tags if left on their recycling carts. The cart tagging audit then began its first round of tagging. Each round consisted of auditing twelve different routes in the City and took three weeks to complete (four routes were completed per week).

There were 1,591 tags placed on residents’ carts in the first round of audits. In the second round of audits covering the same houses on the same twelve routes, only 947 tags were placed on recycling carts, demonstrating over a 40% decrease in contamination tags after just one round of placing educational tags on carts. In the third and final round of audits, only 428 tags were placed on recycling carts, demonstrating a 73% total decrease in tags from round one to round three. Common contaminants that were found in the carts included bagged recyclables, plastic bags, non-recyclable fiber, non-recyclable plastic, tanglers, food waste, big items, and other garbage. Additionally, the number of tags per contaminant had decreased from round one to round three by an average of 80%.

In addition to the pre-audit letter and the cart tags, a “top issue” postcard was sent to all residents to educate them on which problematic material was the most prevalent in the community after the second round of audits and before the third round of audits. It also served as a reminder of the tagging program being conducted. The postcard included information on keeping plastic bags, bagged recyclables, and unacceptable plastic resins out of the recycling bin. It is important and necessary during educational programs to repeat common themes in order to educate the public. This postcard, along with the cart tags, pre-audit letter, and face-to-face engagement with residents at their households served as constant reminders of the information being taught.

A pre- and post-audit waste characterization were also completed to accurately measure the difference in contamination levels for recycling collection routes. After the recycling cart audits were completed, only 12.4% of the recycling stream weight was considered contamination. On average, other curbside recycling programs across the country have a contamination rate of about 25%. Additionally, the educational materials sent out to residents focused on plastic and bagged recyclables. Between the pre- and post-audit waste characterizations, plastic contamination had decreased from 58% to 26% of the total contamination and bagged recyclables had decreased from 2.4% to 1% of the contamination.

GT assisted NCO with hiring and training the interns, managing the pre- and post-audit waste characterizations, creating educational media, consolidating data, and providing a final presentation to stakeholders. Jim Skora from GT also flew to New Orleans to represent NCO and the City of Marysville in receiving the award.