In the fall of 1991, a study focusing on a pilot recycling program of additional plastics in the town of Lincoln, Rhode Island addressed the effectiveness of public education. Researchers hoped to learn not only how effective public education is, but also how participation rates increase with the addition of other materials.
“Public education is a critical component of any recycling program,” said Terri Bisson, recycling program manger for Ocean State Cleanup and Recycling. “This is something as a state we do a lot of, and something we’ll continue to do more of in the future.”
The study was performed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Solid Waste Management Corporation and the town of Lincoln. Some of the study’s findings focused on other materials in Lincoln’s program, including steel cans.
Specifically, over a four week period, researchers analyzed the recycling or “capture” rates of recyclable materials from five percent of the Lincoln households participating in the study. To determine the capture rate, the collective weight of one type of recyclable material found in the households’ recycling bins was compared to the weight of the same type of recyclable material found in the households’ municipal solid waste.
Approximately 118 pounds of steel cans were collected for recycling from these households. Further analysis of their municipal solid waste indicated that this figure, 118 pounds, represented a capture rate for steel cans of nearly 79 percent.
After the distribution of a flyer about plastics, the quantity of steel cans collected in the following four weeks rose by 19 pounds, an increase of approximately 16 percent. Capture rates were not analyzed in the following four weeks.
In the study, similar statistics were kept for other recyclable materials in the community’s program.
“Emphasizing the recyclability of a particular material can often lead to an increase in the recycling rates of other materials. In the course of educating residents about one material, you remind them about the recycling program going on in their community,” said Bisson. “You can periodically remind residents that the program exists by keeping the instructions out there, by reminding them through flyers to maintain the quality of their recyclables; rinse the cans, remove the caps and son on.”
Lincoln is entering its fourth year of recycling. Some 6,000 households place steel and aluminum cans, glass containers, and plastic milk jugs and soda bottles into recycling bins. Newspaper is placed into a paper shopping bag and set on top of the bin. The recyclables are collected once per week, the same day as garbage.