Increasing collection, decreasing contamination
recycling bin

Increasing collection, decreasing contamination

How The Recycling Partnership, Coca-Cola and the city of Atlanta are getting more residents to recycle.

September 16, 2020

Feet on the Street (FOTS) is a recycling initiative that was launched as a pilot program by The Recycling Partnership (TRP) and was the topic of the keynote session on the second day of the WasteExpo Together Online Conference on Sept. 15.

Feet on the Street was created, in part, in response to China’s National Sword policies and is now the foundation for TRP’s mission to promote recycling around the country. Those involved in FOTS in Atlanta spoke during the session to discuss the program, how it started, how it’s working, and the lessons learned throughout the first year.

Attendees heard from TRP’s Recycling Technical Advisor Cecilia Shutters; the city of Atlanta’s Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission’s Executive Director Kanika Greenlee; the city of Atlanta’s Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission’s Community Affairs Manager Moses Tejuoso and Coca-Cola North America’s Sustainable Packaging Program Director Nicole Smith.

How Coca-Cola is helping

Smith shared during her presentation that Coca-Cola’s goal is a world without waste, hoping to make packaging 100 percent recyclable over the next decade.

“Our goal is to collect every bottle and can that we put into the marketplace by 2030, so that’s a pretty big goal,” Smith said.

It isn’t just about the packaging though, Smith added that it starts within communities. Many cities need help getting collection sites placed around town as well as help in educating residents on recycling best practices. Coca-Cola is investing in these communities, working with TRP, to help create less waste and get more bottles and cans back into the material stream.

Because of its investment, Coca-Cola is a big part of how Atlanta reached its residents for its Feet on the Street campaign.

“As part of our broader ‘world without waste’ goals, we’re trying to help get access, get participation and help guide people to recycle right,” Smith said. “It’s really challenging to do that, and we recognize the need for stakeholders like ourselves to be a part of that conversation, but then [we need] to measure the benefits of what’s progressing and changing within communities’ recycling rates. By getting better data, we can actually see how we’re doing.”

FOTS started in 2017 with a small pilot program. Organizers monitored over 5,000 homes over seven weeks to see what would change when it came to curbside collection. Not only did contamination decrease, but participation increased. These results pushed the Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission to want to expand the program citywide.

However, expanding to that degree can be a financial strain for city governments, so that’s where Coca-Cola stepped in, as it launched a three-year mission in 2019 to reach every home in Atlanta.

“Our goal was to reach all 98,000 single-family homes in the city of Atlanta,” Greenlee said. “We did that over the course of five months starting in September of 2019 and concluding in January of this year.”

The goal was to take it one step at time, first focusing on increased collection and decreased contamination.

Greenlee said that TRP developed an app to help the city track contamination. It also conducted a study from before and after the program to compare the numbers. Just in the few months of 2019, contamination was down 19 percent, close to the 25 percent goal. “That’s why we set [goals], so we have something to achieve and work towards. We have a little bit of work to do to get to our goals of reducing contamination, but we are well on our way,” Greenlee said.

The next step was to focus on participation and to get each person to actually use their curbside recycling bins.

All about outreach

When it came to notifying the public about this campaign and raising awareness to increase participation, Atlanta Community Affairs manager Moses Tejuoso took an expansive approach. He used several types of media to share information about the “Know What To Throw” campaign. He used radio ads, social media posts and other forms of online outreach.

Additionally, traditional print advertising, near bus stops for example, was also put up across the city. Tejuoso said those traditional ads worked well during the 2017 pilot-program, so they were used once again for this. They worked well, bringing in thousands of more clicks to the city of Atlanta’s recycling webpage in 2019 and much more awareness of the campaign.

After months of tracking residents’ habits, the next phase of the campaign, “Better Together” will incorporate new ways to increase resident participation.

“We’re going to focus on areas that had low participation and really drive those numbers up,” Greenlee said “We kind of know what the behavior is now of our residents and what type of recyclers they are, so that’s really going to drive how we move forward in regard to our participation campaign.”