I think that tracking is one of the most important and sometimes-overlooked part of a successful recycling program. Tracking takes a little bit of effort, but I think the results are well worth it. You need data to show the impacts of your program. You want to be able to say, I did this and look at the results (either in terms of increased recycling or decreased trash). If you don’t have that data, you don’t really have a way to show whether or not something that you tried worked and whether or not your efforts are worthwhile.
For me, there are two types of tracking:
- Total campus tracking, and
- Building-by-building tracking.
In this part 1, I will talk about total campus tracking and do building by building tracking as part 2 of this series.
Total campus tracking is usually done by weight. That will typically give you an aggregated campus total weight. It won’t tell you where on campus something came from, but it will give you a very good idea of total campus activity. The data that you get from total campus tracking works well to measure the impacts of systems. For example, at one of my schools, we made a shift from picking up office paper via centralized containers in departmental offices to picking up office paper from each desk. By tracking the total campus weights, I was able to see the dramatic increase in paper recycling that resulted from that switch – our paper recycling totals more than doubled in the years after that switch.
Here’s another example of where total campus data helps. At one of the schools that I used to work with, I would watch their monthly trash and recycling totals. One of the things that I noticed is that their recycling percentages dropped dramatically in December or January every year in a way that didn’t make sense to me. After looking into it, what I found was that there was a major discrepancy between our collection system for recycling and our collection system for trash. Our collection system for trash was a standard automated truck that hydraulically dumped full dumpsters of trash without any lifting. By contrast, our recycling system involved a lot of manual lifting of bags of material and manual loading of the truck. In the winter, when there was a lot of snow plowing and shoveling work, and a lot of those folks had already worked a lot of overtime – they were so tired that it was a real struggle to do all the manual lifting that was needed to make recycling happen. Because they struggled to keep up with the collections, most of the recyclable materials found their way into the trash. Using that as one of the justifications, we were able to justify switching to a system that used a truck and carts that collected the recyclables hydraulically. After we did, the problem went away because it was now just as easy to collect the stuff for recycling as it was to collect it as trash.
To make total campus tracking work, wherever possible, I think you need to strive to get a weight for all the stuff on campus. To get a waste hauler to do that, you need a full or nearly full unit (either a full truck or a full compactor) that will go from the campus to a site with a truck scale. With a compactor, that’s not much of an issue because chances are, you are not hauling a roll-off or compactor unless it is predominately full. It is a little trickier when you have someone coming with a truck to pick up loose dumpsters on campus. If a hauler is doing that, their goal is to maximize that truck and they are not going to want to break away from their route to go weigh a less than full truck. If you have enough to fill or predominately fill a truck, it is fairly easy to get them to give you a weight as a standard practice. For anything less, you are probably going to have to pay a premium to get them to divert the truck over to a scale to give you a decent scale weight. I still think the data that you get is well worth the added expense, but people do need to be aware of the added expense.
What are you tracking? What is it telling you about your recycling program?