How to Promote Local Recycling

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Recycling is a basic, entry-level green living choice. Recycling reduces methane produced by landfills and reuses resources we've already extracted from the Earth. It's a win-win. In this day and age, nearly every community has local recycling and offers curbside pickup to its residents. According to the Pew Research Center, about 94 percent of people in the United States have access to recycling. But what if yours doesn't? For example, apartment complexes are infamous for not offering local recycling. Here are some tips and ideas for how you can respond and perhaps start a recycling program in your community.

How Recycling Works

There are typically three ways that recycling is collected from residential communities. Recycling, like trash, is most often collected in curbside bins from individual homes. Recycling may also be collected from housing or apartment complexes in a central location, such as a trash room or an outdoor dumpster. Lastly, in communities where residents are more spread out, such as rural counties, recycling is often dropped off by residents at a local recycling collection location. From these three collection points, the recycling is taken to a material recovery facility—or MRF, pronounced "merf"—where it is separated and processed. From the MRF, bales of recycling are sold to recycling processing companies. Not all types of waste can be recycled in every community because they may not have the necessary recycling processing companies nearby. Some communities, for instance, do not recycle glass. There are also many types of plastic, and not all of them are recycled everywhere.

Toters of waste: green compost, red waste, and yellow recycling lined up

Why Not Provide Recycling?

The main reason that a community or apartment building doesn't provide recycling options for residents is the cost. Recycling used to gain a small profit for communities, but that's no longer the case.

Another reason that some communities don't offer recycling is a very high contamination rate. As Cleveland, Ohio's local news site,, reports, the city paused its recycling program for about two years when its recycling contamination—the level of non-recyclables mixed in with the recycling—reached 68 percent. As a result, their MRF was rejecting most of their recycling and sending it to the landfill. Now, the city offers an opt-in recycling program, making sure that each participating household is well educated on what can be recycled and what can't.

Haul Your Recycling Elsewhere

If you don't have curbside recycling in your community, it's very likely that another town nearby does, or they may have a local recycling drop-off. Hauling your recycling to a not-so-nearby recycling drop-off location isn't ideal, but at least your recycling isn't going into the trash. Perhaps you can drop off your recycling at a friend's house that lives closer and has curbside recycling, or recycle at your workplace or school.

Reduce Your Recycling Needs

If you plan to take your recycling elsewhere, you can cut down on the frequency of your hauls by reducing the number of items you collect for recycling. Buy products with packaging that you know you can reuse, such as glass jars, or items you can compost, such as cardboard berry tubs. Make use of fewer single-use items, including the ever-controversial single-use water bottle, and simplify your overall consumption.

people sitting next to each other facing the same way, faces not showing

Appeal to the Powers that Be

The best way to deal with a lack of recycling where you are is to make your needs known and help your community start a recycling program. Attend a local meeting held by your township, community association, or resident leadership. Let whoever is in charge know that you want recycling. Start a peaceful petition with your neighbors to garner support. You might even offer to head up a task force to collect information about how to start a recycling program.

Are you inspired to dig into more recycling info? For more eco-friendly ideas and inspiration, follow the Thinking Sustainably board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Helping your community start a recycling program benefits more than just you and your neighbors—it also helps the local economy and the world as a whole.