How to Help Expand Waste Recycling Programs

Using tips and resources from the experts, work with local government to expand waste recycling programs in your community.

The EPA's WasteWise partnership reduces electronic waste by allowing people to recycle their old equipment. Image: Image Source/Getty Images

Most neighborhoods and communities have programs for recycling plastic and paper. But what about the whole range of other materials filling your local landfill? Increasing the amount and types of household waste that can be recycled can help preserve your community’s precious open space and natural resources, and save your town money now spent on landfilling trash. 

Point your city or town toward a cost-effective, expanded waste recycling program, and you may be putting more green in your own pocket as you protect property values.

Recycling programs that go beyond the standard paper-plastic-cans variety can help preserve the natural resources that help attract new residents and protect property values in your community. Such programs can also reduce the cost of rubbish hauling for both municipalities and community associations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As an individual homeowner, you can have a major impact on the size and shape of your local recycling program. Of course, in these days of reduced municipal tax income, you may have to try a number of alternative approaches to get your local officials’ to increase recycling options, but the result should be well worth your effort.

“One of the best things individuals can do is to become champions for expanded recycling programs. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a short space of time,” says Jacob Hassan, an EPA environmental scientist.

Pat Cosby of Columbus, Ga., is a perfect example of individual success in influencing recycling programs. Working with a local recycler, the media, and city officials, he launched a Christmas wrapping paper recycling program that aims to take in more than 1,000 pounds of paper every holiday season. His story proves that individuals really can dramatically impact recycling programs in their own communities.

How to become a champion

Hassan points out that, as elected officials, municipal leaders are often more approachable than you’d think. If you follow a few simple steps, you can convince them that an expanded recycling program would benefit the community and improve their own chances of being re-elected. And it can all be accomplished with a minimum expenditure of time, effort, and money.

Come to your meeting with the mayor, city council, or board of selectmen armed with details. You should know:

Which materials will have the greatest impact on the environment, while also providing an improved revenue stream from buyers of recycled materials. For example, metals like copper and aluminum can often yield dependably high market prices for a community. For a quick reference guide to materials and their market value, read these guidelines provided by the EPA.

How to access the resources municipalities need to develop an expanded program. For example, the EPA provides a Municipal Government Toolkit with step-by-step instructions for expanding and improving municipal programs.

How to resolve issues blocking the way to expanded programs. If you live in a remote area or small town, where the cost of transporting recycled materials is high, suggest developing a cooperative hauling arrangement with other towns in the area. Or, advise officials to include incentives for transportation services in the town’s next hauling contract.

Team up with other groups

Within every community, there are groups actively working to promote green efforts in all their forms—including recycling. Three national organizations with whom you might join forces to help lobby local officials are The Sierra Club, Conservation International, and TakePart. All are experienced recycling activists.

Of course, the ultimate partnership is probably with the EPA, whose WasteWise partnership program aims to reduce municipal waste. Working with 1,700 businesses, institutions, and local governments, the program has reduced solid waste by 120 million tons since its inception in 1994.

Bring along an expert

You can’t expect local officials to be experts in waste management. Consider bringing along to your meeting an environmental scientist or waste management expert who can explain some of the science behind program expansion. One place to find such experts is your local university.

“An environmental scientist can explain the trade-offs and costs of either expanding, or not expanding, a program,” comments Myrna Hall, research associate and director of the Center for the Urban Environment, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York at Syracuse. “Just last week my husband and I testified at a local hearing for a company that turns waste into energy.”

By following these steps, and with very little time or financial commitment, you can promote expanded recycling in your community, making it a more attractive place to live, the first step toward increasing your property values. Although lean city coffers may mean you’ll have to expend a little more effort, your government relations work should pay off in the end.