This summer, I worked with Bryce Mayer, a sophomore in high school, to improve recycling efforts in Cottonwood Heights. Bryce chose this for his Eagle Project because he wanted to make a meaningful impact in his community. We collaborated with Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District (WFWRD) to design an educational bin label and plan a community outreach project for the month of August. We hoped to show a measurable improvement in reducing contamination in residential recycling. I’m excited to share that the project was a success!
With the help of about 15 volunteers, we labeled 1,877 recycle bins (about 18% of the city) and had 361 conversations in neighborhoods along Fort Union Blvd between S 2300 E and MacIntosh Ln. After about a month of hard work, the results came in: we cut contamination in the targeted neighborhoods down to 13.75%. That’s the lowest contamination rate in Cottonwood Heights in 2019.
But what is contamination? Contamination is made up of non-recyclable items. The most common contaminates are things like food and plastic bags. WFWRD tracks contamination rates in all of the communities it services, and Cottonwood Heights typically has about a 20% contamination rate. That’s on the lower end compared to most local communities, but it’s still higher than managers at WFWRD would like to see. Landfill tipping fees and contamination fees are causing costs to go up for residential recycling programs, so fewer areas in the US are offering curbside recycling. If customers stopped putting plastic bags and other non-recyclable items into the bin, it could save money and help boost efficiency. That’s why REDO’s team is hoping that this volunteer project can serve as a model for a larger outreach initiative next summer. Face-to-face conversations and updated signage at the bin yielded good results, which our community needs now more than ever.