The Power of Habit – Changes to Recycling Services Coming

In hindsight, I should have gotten my Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning. I’m absolutely fascinated with both, and fortunately, get to meddle in each regularly. This brings me to the purpose of this post.

Our contracted waste hauler, Waste Management, will be implementing changes to the recycling services starting September 30, 2019. Beginning on the 30th, they will start tagging and leaving recycling containers with non-recyclables in them at the curb.

For a lot of us, recycling is almost second nature. For those who are not familiar with how recycling works, here’s a quick overview:

  • Items are sorted by type of material. 
  • The recyclables are cleaned.
  • Items are processed to retrieve and turned into raw materials for reuse.
    • The most commonly recycled products are paper & cardboard, glass, cans and plastic. 

However, recycling processes have changed over time. While most of the equipment is automated, from time to time, workers have to hand sort through materials because there are non-recyclable items contained in the mix. If something is missed, like a plastic bag, it can jam the equipment and cause significant damage.

This brings us to the power of habit, or more specifically what is known as the Habit Loop. The Habit Loop is made up of three components: a cue, a routine, and a reward. If you choose to recycle, the cue may be an empty container. The routine then could be disposal into a recycling receptacle, followed finally by the reward which could be a wide array of things depending on the individual. If you choose to recycle, come September 30th, you may need to make some changes to your habits to keep that Habit Loop going, specifically recycling actual recyclables and keeping contaminants out.

Putting the right materials into the recycling bins is critical to the overall success of the recycling process. The value of those materials is much lower if the materials are not “clean”.  The recycling world looks at these items as a commodity they turn trash into reusable items. Those that choose to use recycling services, please only put plastic, glass bottles, cans, paper and cardboard into your bins. This will allow for easier processing at the recycling centers.

When in doubt, reach out. Waste Management can be contacted by phone at 866-797-9018. More information regarding recycling often and recycling right can be found here.

Aaron Stahly, Deputy Public Works Director

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