In the solid waste and recycling industry, education has always been a key component to rolling out any new programs in order to gain customer buy-in and participation. Who doesn’t remember the elementary school assemblies featuring the big blue bin urging us to recycle our bottles and cans? That oversized stuffed blue bin might have been what spurred my lifelong love affair with recycling!

While school assemblies may work for one important demographic, education of all customers in a way that best reaches them, and most importantly results in action is vitally important to the health of our recycling streams. In a time where recycling programs are changing drastically to match markets, see: What Chinese Import Policies Mean for all 50 States, we need to re-assess how we communicate important programmatic information to our customers.

The Recycling Partnership has undertaken several case studies on contamination in blue bins and has discovered how consistent, easy to understand feedback can reduce contamination in residential recycling bins. This study also shows that education and feedback must be highly targeted, focused and constant. The Recycling Partnership’s method of audit and feedback was a visual inspection of residential recycling bins to determine customer compliance and “bin-tagging” to educate the customer about what is considered contamination and what is considered recyclable in their program.

While manual, visual audits followed by a bin tagging campaign may work for residential programs, it can be costly and rely heavily on human capital and, therefore, unlikely to be replicated annually. Meanwhile, current market conditions may have us changing what is and isn’t recyclable practically overnight.

(Read Part I: Supporting Smart Policy with Smart Tech)

In a digital age, where few if any customers are reading the newsletters that accompany their garbage bills, it is vitally important we find new ways to reach them. We also need this outreach and feedback to not only raise awareness but actually result in changed behavior.  What if we had a way to provide feedback to customers in real-time, in ways that they are already receiving information?

Compology offers the only solution that allows users to provide feedback to their customers using images of container contents.  Compology cameras, installed in commercial customer’s bins, take pictures of the contents inside each container to get a layer by layer look as a dumpster fills. These pictures tell a progressive story about customers’ recycling habits and provide the how, what, and when of contamination. While visual audits and bin tagging tells a customer how they’re recycling using words, Compology cameras can offer photographic proof of contamination, nearly real-time, customer specific feedback and coaching and even a contamination score. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words and images have a staying power that words on a tag simply can’t match. In fact, the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text.  Compology’s cameras and artificial intelligence technology allow users to remotely monitor the contents of and measure contamination in customer dumpsters , providing the only dumpster monitoring solution offering this type of feedback affordably, efficiently and effectively at scale.

Compology users can even work with Compology to target specific types of contamination that are seen most frequently in programs. For example, plastic bags can be an expensive and hard to manage contaminant in most recycling streams. Some customers may believe since the bag is plastic, it is considered recyclable. With Compology cameras in place, plastic bags could easily be identified by Compology’s software as contamination, then be flagged by the system to alert both the user (hauler, city government or generator) and customer through email or text message that their recycling bin is contaminated. Accompanying this message is photographic evidence of the contamination. For commercial customers, this information can help them identify who (or which location) in the business has contaminated the recycling bin, which helps streamline the feedback, training, and education needed to change recycling behavior.

Are you a hauler rolling out a new organics recycling program or making drastic changes to your current recycling programs? Or perhaps you are a municipal recycling coordinator, frustrated by the inconsistent adoption of recycling programs in your city? Container audit and customer education and feedback should be an essential part of your program. In the third and final part of this series, we’ll focus on how to implement remote monitoring for contamination, including ideas for educating customers.

Interested in learning more about artificial intelligence and contamination reduction technology?

Written By

Rachel Oster, Principal, Diversion Strategies
Diversion Strategies is a full-service consulting firm based in Sacramento, California, supporting the solid waste and recycling industry’s growth. The Firm’s capabilities range from permitting and development of commercial infrastructure, to government advocacy, to facility operation and support.