What matters in building a recycling program? 

We all want to contribute to protecting our planet, but figuring out how to do so can be confusing. As an organization, take action to help our planet by improving your recycling systems. Recycling is a tried and true way to contribute to greater sustainability. But deciding to recycle is just the first step; ensuring items are recycled properly is just as important. Recycling bin contamination is a problem because it increases the chances that the processing facility will reject the contaminated materials, sending them to a landfill instead of being recycled.

Makes sense, but how can you promote proper recycling?

Customizing your waste systems through signage, coloring, and restrictive lids reduces contamination by making proper recycling easier. 


People want to do the right thing; therefore, genuine confusion is commonly the cause of contamination. Contaminants are often items like candy wrappers, gum wrappers, and “paper-like” items such as napkins and wax-coated paper cups. Signage for waste streams that delineates what items can be placed in each waste stream receptacle directly above its corresponding bin decreases the amount of contamination by 54%.

Choosing a waste system with clear signage removes the guesswork, making recycling easier to understand. 


Of course, signage is not a fix-all since people don’t always read instructions, but color-coding can help! A case study revealed that people recycle more when colors are differentiated, assuming all other factors (ease of use, availability/access, size, function, shape, and material) are identical (source). Blue has become the default recycling color in the United States, with 80% of people associating blue with recycling. Clearly differentiating a trash and recycling bin through color diminishes the likelihood of cross-contamination by 52-88%. 

Restrictive lids 

Restrictive lids are a final configuration that can contribute to greater sustainability via more effective recycling. Results of a study showed that using specialized recycling container lids increased recycling rates by 34%, suggesting that the design of lids enhances recycling compliance. Alternatively, full lid openings may result in cross-contamination.

Merely providing receptacles in public institutions doesn’t guarantee their usage; individuals might opt to dispose of recyclables in trash bins instead. When people consistently fail to recycle, institutions are left with the dilemma of what to do next. An essential aim is creating bin systems that boost recycling adherence in public environments.