A new, uniquely funded program hopes to move the needle when it comes to municipal recycling, first in the Southeast and eventually around the country.
The Recycling Partnership touts itself as a public-private recycling initiative to help increase recycling rates in select cities, at least initially.
Organizers are hoping that the approach — to provide both outreach and infrastructure improvements, funded partially with private dollars — will boost collection of recyclables, including plastics.
The Recycling Partnership is an outgrowth of an initiative called SERDC 120.
Organized by the Southeast Recycling Development Council Inc., SERDC 120 was a four-month effort at the start of this year by companies, trade groups and public entities to explore ways to boost recovery of recyclables in the Southeast.
“The target is improved collection at the curb. To get all the materials, be they glass, aluminum, plastic, steel cans, paper. Everything we're trying to get to the MRF,” said Will Sagar, executive director at the non-profit SERDC.
Coca-Cola Co., the Carton Council, the Alcoa Foundation and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers already are on board with funding and Recycling Partnership organizers hope their financial participation will help spur others to open their wallets.
“We are seeing several companies committing early to putting money in the fund and we're more than optimistic at this point,” Sagar said. “We've got commitments for significant funding for the partnership to get it off the ground and make some good investments in the coming year.”
Karen Bandhauer is project director with Curbside Value Partnership, a non-profit group that has worked with municipalities for years to increase recycling rates. CVP will oversee the Recycling Partnership. The new initiative has about “a million in the purse right now,” she said, with more expected to come in.
“There's several others I think we'll hear from very soon. We're in dialogue with others. They will be brand names that you will recognize,” Sagar said.
The partnership aims to use this collective funding power to take a holistic approach in its efforts toward improving recycling rates.
The partnership will work to develop programs that create what is being called “the four key elements of successful recycling” — access, public and government support, regional coordination and outreach and education.
Which cities will receive money through the initial round of funding has not been determined. The partnership is organizing and fundraising until July when it expects to start operations.
“The intention behind the investments is that they would be one-time, and that one-time intervention will be sufficient to bring about improvements to the program, that their efficiency and their participation improve enough that the program, indeed, is self-sustaining and develops its own capital reserve for the future,” Sagar said.
The Recycling Partnership expects to use the cash from private sources, Bandhauer said, to leverage public money to help fund municipal programs that will place emphasis on both educational and infrastructure.
A key part of the program is simply making it easier for people to recycle by switching from smaller hand-held bins to larger roll-out carts.
“We believe that leveraging private and public funds together is going to be really powerful in transforming the way communities can move into carts quickly without having to stage it over multiple, multiple years,” Bandhauer said.
Sagar added, “If we can move major cities from 18-gallon bins to 95-gallon carts and have a professionally designed, aggressive outreach and public education program to go along with that, we've seen where that works in other places to increase the tonnage.”
Infrastructure improvements are not limited to carts, Sagar said, “but certainly that's a heavy element in this.”
“It's not just carts and go. It's carts plus champion building with state and local officials, regional coordination and an education and outreach component,” Bandhauer said.
On the short-term, the goal is to start working in three or four cities initially and show success during the program's first year. The long-term goal is to expand a proven model across SERDC's region and, ultimately, the country, Sagar said.
“Working in the Southeast first, this is going to be the testing ground where we are going to be building momentum. But very quickly, by the end of 2014 into 2015, we're going to be looking at how we can scale this into a national scale,” Bandhauer said.
SERDC's coverage area includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Resource Recycling Systems, a consulting firm, helped with the SERDC 120 examination of the issue.