One of the biggest challenges in recycling is measuring participation by users and service staff.   Here are two Recycling Assessment Tools (RATs) to help you measure program compliance.


Recycling Assessment Tool#1

Snapshot – monitoring occupant participation

At Yale, student workers and I formalized an informal system I invented into what we called “Snapshot”.  We graded each bin based upon what percentage of the visible contents was the correct material. I still use this method today, determining a bin’s contents in five percent increments.  For example, if I looked in a trash bin and saw that almost everything was trash except one small portion, perhaps a single item, I would grant the trash bin a grade of 95%.   If however I saw the contents of a trash bin was entirely recyclables I would grade it at 0%. This same tool can be used to assess purity of recyclables.  A bin containing only recyclables is 100%, 3/4th recyclables is 75%, etc. [caption id="attachment_3203" align="alignnone" width="400"]Recycling Assessment Tools For Measuring Recycling Program Success This trash bin might be graded at 40% because roughly 60% of the visible material is recyclable[/caption] Pros:
  • Provides you with critical metrics you need to review your recycling program
  • Helpful when conducted before and during launch, and during maturity of a program
  • Assesses participation rate by percent properly sorted rather than pounds of materials which provides more insight into program success
  • Snapshot is of surface of bin only
  • Mix of trash and recyclables below visible level could be different than what is on top
  • Glass bottles, for example, might settle at the bottom of the bin, giving a false reading
I feel that the pros far outweigh the cons. It’s an easy-to-use recycling assessment tool that helps you present the program’s successes and challenges to others.  

Recycling Assessment Tool#2

Seeding– monitoring service staff participation

Claims that a custodian is sabotaging a program by trashing a building’s recyclables frequently degenerates into a “he said, she said” battle of allegations with neither side providing evidence. To lay the mudslinging to rest I would seed recycling bins in a building with a large quantity of crumpled up, recyclable paper. I would use paper of all the same bright color.  I also printed the date and floor on each sheet to better identify which floor (and which custodian) is responsible for the paper’s destination. The following day I would return to the building and check to see if the paper had been removed.  If so, I then checked outside to see whether it had been placed in the trash or the recycling.  If I were able to identify that the paper made its way into the recycling then I knew that at least on that occasion, the custodian had followed procedure.   If I found the paper in the trash, however, it was proof positive that the custodian on duty that day had mishandled the recyclables.  Spot checks of dumpsters at buildings in question often yielded similar finds:  bright blue bags filled with recyclables generally stood out when nestled amongst black trash bags. Pros:
  • Provides recycling coordinator with clear “yes/no” answers as to whether service staff are handling recyclables properly.
  • Finding seeded paper is difficult in facilities which use compactors instead of dumpsters. 
Enterprising coordinators may wish to experiment with the use of RFID tag technology to track the movement of recyclables from buildings. Point the RFID reader into the dumpster openings or compactor hatches as the readers won’t work through the metal of compactors and dumpsters. If you would like a sample of the RAT I am currently using please contact me via the information below. CJ May served as Yale University’s recycling coordinator for more than 20 years.  He currently works as recycling coordinator for the City of Waterbury where he combines his work as an environmental magician and sustainability presenter to enchant 32,000 households with the magic of recycling. [big_cta image="" href="" target="_blank" multiline="1"]Sustainability Experts Must-have Guide (Free Download) A How-To Guide for Waste Audit Success. Top tips from Bruce Buchan, CleanRiver CEO, who has conducted over 200 client waste audits.[/big_cta]