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SWANA releases new report on reducing contamination in curbside recycling programs

recycling bin being picked up by a collection truck

A new report developed by the Solid Waste Association of North America's (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation (ARF) addresses the issue of increased contamination in curbside recycling programs in recent years and its effect on costs and safety at material recovery facilities (MRFs).

The ARF report, Reducing Contamination in Curbside Recycling Programs, identifies and addresses the key reasons why residents place contaminants in their recycling bins. A better understanding of what causes these recycling behaviors should enable recycling and sustainability program managers to develop and implement more effective anti-contamination programs that address the underlying reasons for curbside recycling contamination.

"This new ARF report provides useful and actionable information to recycling managers throughout the United States and Canada that can be used to reduce contamination and program costs," stated David Biderman, SWANA's Executive Director & CEO. "We hope local governments and companies take full advantage of the insights and analysis in the report."

In response to contamination concerns, many state and local governments are implementing "recycle right" programs that provide clearer and simplified instructions to residents on what recyclables are included in their curbside programs. SWANA supports these efforts and anticipates this report will serve as an important resource. The report looks at local governments that have implemented cart inspection and tagging options to reduce contamination and increase public awareness as well as what to do to enforce rules for non-compliant households.

"We appreciate the support and involvement of our Sustainable Materials Management Group subscribers who submitted and voted for this important research topic and provided funding support for the research effort," said Jeremy O'Brien, SWANA's Director of Applied Research.

The full report, Reducing Contamination in Curbside Recycling Programs, is currently only available to SWANA ARF subscribers. 

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Traditionally, waste management companies have operated using a simple "management of waste" approach to operating a MRF. Throughput targets and continuous operation (minimal downtime) were the main driving forces. The industry has changed however, and the focus moving forward is now on optimizing system performance and reliability, in conjunction with increasing recycling rates and a drive for a "greener" and more sustainable tomorrow.

When considering the addition of, or upgrade to, an "intelligent" MRF, for municipalities or private operators, the main factors should always be the client's (operator) current requirements, and evolving market needs, which include throughput, reliability, output quality, and adaptability. Equally important is a full understanding of what is really expected from any proposed system. Having an engaged and focused mindset for the project with the client from the beginning, will impact and drive the entire design process. This then impacts the overall project result, through to the productive, efficient, ongoing operation of the facility itself.


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