SEATTLE (Waste Advantage): Exciting new technologies for MRF sortation that use sensors and artificial intelligence continue to emerge and improve, but not every waste organization is positioned to beat contamination on the sorting line. Even for those that are, a multi-pronged approach to fighting contamination, empowered by various kinds of technology, will help keep recycling streams clean today and in the future.
Forward-thinking leaders in solid waste know that the battle for clean materials is most effectively waged across many fronts. From recycling bins in homes to the hoppers of collection vehicles, and along waste-collection routes, technology provides scalable opportunities to educate people about proper disposal and monitor what is being collected—all while saving time along routes that can put to good use for boots-on-the-ground initiatives to stop contamination in its tracks.
Digital Tools Help People to Recycle Right
At home and on campus, digital communication tools help keep recycling streams clean, meaning less time, effort, and money spent on sortation once materials arrive at the MRF. The City of Sunnyvale, CA began using digital tools for recycling education in 2017. It is no coincidence that over the last several years, recycling contamination has declined significantly, and the city is well on its way to meeting its Zero Waste goal of 90 percent landfill diversion by 2030. “Having these tools makes (recycling education) more efficient for us,” says Sunnyvale Environmental Programs Manager, Karen Gissibl.
The city’s waste app, “How To Get Rid Of Anything”, provides people with an always-on resource when they are not sure how to dispose of something. People can access the searchable database, which provides specific information for disposal, via smartphone app or website widget on the Sunnyvale website. Rather than filling their recycling containers with items they wish were recyclable, people in Sunnyvale do a quick search and recycle right.
With digital tools in place, not only is contamination down, but staff members also spend less time on the phone answering questions about what goes where. Between 2017 and 2020, call volume decreased by about 3.5 percent even as service delivery increased nearly 50 percent. “We’re not spending as much staff time picking up the phone … and customers know they can just go to the website or use the app; it’s super convenient for them,” Gissibl says.
Municipalities are not the only ones finding success with digital tools for recycling education. Colleges and universities, too, are fostering positive disposal behaviors with mobile solutions that effectively serve diverse, on-the-move populations.
The University of Michigan is a leader in waste and diversion efforts, having placed first in the 2022 Campus Race to Zero Waste. To help people understand and engage in campus recycling at an award-winning level, the office of campus sustainability leverages digital communication tools similar to those in Sunnyvale.
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