We’ve already written about the recycling rates of different materials in society.
What is clear is that recycling rates across many countries have room for improvement.
In this guide, we list some ideas and potential solutions for improving the rate of recycling, and the recycling systems in general.
Summary – How To Increase Recycling Rates, & Improve Recycling
Upgrade recycling infrastructure to increase capacity and capability
Consider introducing recycling subsidies
Rewards and credits for businesses and households that recycle (and consider the merit of penalties)
More awareness and education for school kids, businesses and workers on how to soft their recycling properly, and why recycling is beneficial
More recycling bins in public spaces
Look at ways to increase efficiency in the recycling system
Audit recycling programs from beginning to end
Know how different products and materials can most effectively be recycled
Encourage product design that allows for more easy and more efficient recycling
Prevention and reduction of waste
Consider clear wheelie bins and dump truck cameras
Note though that recycling does have tradeoffs, especially if there are increased taxes and subsidies to fund it. These tradeoffs have to be balanced against the benefits.
1. Understand the economic feasibility of recycling
In some cases, it may not make economic sense to recycle compared to landfill or incineration.
Knowing the economic implications beforehand about the different recyclable materials will allow for a better and more practical recycling strategy.
2. Upgrade recycling infrastructure to increase capacity and capability
Since China started rejecting recyclable material in 2017/18, many developed countries like the US and Australia have had to suddenly deal with the extra waste.
This has meant that recyclable material has had to be sent to landfill to cope.
Upgrading and investing more in recycling infrastructure and sites will increase capacity and ability to deal with and process recycling waste.
3. Consider whether recycling subsidies can be of benefit (to make up for economic losses incurred)
There is the economic side of recycling, but the environment must be considered too (for the short term and long term well being of society).
If the environmental consequences of sending excess recyclable material to landfill is too detrimental, there needs to be some financial help set up for recycling plants.
Introducing subsidies and funding schemes could be a way to do this.
4. Consider clear wheelie bins and dump truck cameras
More accountability on residents and businesses to sort their waste properly is an area to be looked at.
Some parts of the world are already trialing clear wheelie bins (so other residents and garbage collectors can see what is inside people’s bins) and dump truck cameras (for further monitoring) to increase accountability for people to sort their waste properly.
5. Rewards and credits for businesses and households that recycle (and penalties as well)
Whether it be tax or otherwise, rewards, credits and penalties for good and bad recycling behavior could become an option to apply to businesses, and residents.
6. More awareness and education to school kids, workers and businesses about how to sort their recycling, and how recycling is beneficial
More public awareness about how to recycle properly (for different materials and different sorts of items and products), and how it benefits us to do this, could increase recycling rates.
Awareness and education can be aimed at schools and workplaces.
7. Add recycling bins in public spaces
A simple and easy idea.
Adding recycling bins to public spaces such as malls, parks and workplace break areas could increase the rate of recycling where people would usually put recyclable materials in general waste bins.
8. Increase efficiency of the recycling system
Make sure major costs – labor, transport/pick up, and equipment – are as efficient as possible.
Make sure pickup routes are as efficient as they can be, and make sure waste sorting and processing is done in a way that maximises efficiency.
9. Audit recycling programs top to bottom
Know the ins and outs of your recycling programs – how crews handle equipment; equipment cleanliness; contaminants entering the waste stream; level of support from staff; markets and demand levels.
Figure out where the biggest and most effective gains can be made with recycling improvements, and focus on them.
10. Know how different products and materials can most effectively be recycled
Different materials, and even different items made from the same material might have to be recycled and sorted in a different way to one another.
For example, not all plastic (hard vs soft plastic) can be recycled.
More awareness about this issue is critical to the consumer and disposal stage of the process.
11. Encouraging product design that allows for more easy and more efficient recycling
This can be important for e waste and technology items for example that contain precious metals.
Sometimes, the way that products are designed and put together makes them economically impossible to recycle in a way that is feasible.
Modular designs and detachable part based designs for laptops and mobile phones for example would make recycling easier and probably more efficient.
In a nutshell – improving recycling programs might be a way of engineering for improved recycling, but, improving the design of plastic products might be a way to reverse engineer it (and you are starting from the beginning of the waste process instead of focussing on the end)
12. Prevention and reduction of waste
Preventing recyclable material from entering the waste disposal system in the first place is a way to decrease the load on the recycling system.
More awareness on reduce and re-using or repairing items would reduce overall waste.
Other ideas for prevention of waste may be taxes on plastic packaging, or moving towards more bio based materials that can be composted and that biodegrade more easily.