The other day I went to my local waste and recycling depot. I made sure to go early on Sunday to beat the crowds. The trip was relatively painless. The depot was well organized and things flowed logically.
The experience exceeded my expectations. Why, you ask? Past visits to the recycling depot resulted in a long wait, confusing signage, rejection of some of my items, and unreasonable costs. I can’t say with certainty that the majority of people who go to the waste recycling and depot have the same anxiety as me, but it may be the case.
A Harris poll taken back in 2007 found that a number of Canadians don’t participate in recycling programs because they’re “not sure what is recyclable,” feel a sense of “confusion or lack of information,” and are “not sure it makes a difference.” A Gallop poll taken the same year found that many Canadians want to conserve more, recycle more, and waste less, but don’t always know what they’re supposed to do.
The permanent waste and recycling depots in many municipalities across Canada are certainly an improvement over the semi-annual events that used to be prevalent. I can recall giving up at one such recycling day event when the line of cars stretched several blocks. Another time they would not accept an old mercury-containing thermostat (arguably the most hazardous thing I had with me that day).
When I was in Sweden last May on a waste management tour for journalists, I was very impressed by the waste and recycling depot set up in the City of Stockholm. The place very much reminded me of going to an IKEA store. It was painted blue and yellow, was very well organized, and had excellent signage.
The other thing that struck me about the Stockholm recycling depot was the vast array of waste and recycling streams that were accepted. For example, there was a bin for incandescent light bulbs and one for fluorescent ones. In all, there were over 12 different places for various wastes and recyclables.
Lingering at the recycling depot with fellow journalists I wondered why we couldn’t focus more on taking measures to make the experience of visiting a recycling depot better. From the design of the structure (does every recycling depot need to look so utilitarian?), to signage, to layout. There are many ideas could make a visit to the recycling depot more pleasant.
As waste management professionals, the mindset in the design and layout of a recycling depot should begin with the end user in mind. The design and layout of the Stockholm recycling facility was based on answering the question, “How can we make this experience pleasant for the user?”
The lesson from Stockholm recycling depot is that we in the waste management industry in Canada need to have a consideration of our customers. Customers are important and their experience at waste and recycling depots should be pleasant.
The future of depots
With the developed world focused on diversion from landfill, the role of recycling depots in the overall waste management scheme can only grow. The challenge will be balancing the number of waste streams with the time and effort necessary to drop off the material.
Besides exclusive recycling depots, there’s an evolution toward utilizing commercial establishments as drop-off points. Local hardware and building stores have begun to accept old paint, solvents, and other household hazardous waste; electronics stores accept used batteries, and auto centres accept used oil.
The utilization of these commercial establishments is likely to grow as progressive companies see the value in being a one-stop shop for specialized waste drop off and new merchandise. Nova Scotia is an example of a province that has done a very good job utilizing commercial establishments. It also has a web page that allows residents to find the nearest drop off for recyclable containers and used paint (www.rrfb.com/envirodepot-locator.asp) incorporating Google Maps.
The advantage to commercial establishments in accepting recyclable material is the added foot traffic through the store. The advantage for the customer is the convenience.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com
SIDEBAR: Potential Recyclables at the Depot
- Painted and unpainted wood
- Ferrous and non-ferrous metals
- Fluorescent light bulbs
- Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)
- Refrigerators, air conditioners and other CFC-containing goods
- Scrap tires
- Electronics and electrical waste
- Leaf-and-yard waste
- Used oil
- Paper (fine and newsprint)
- Drywall and renovation wastes (bricks, concrete)
- Used paint