Adding New Recyclable Materials to a Program

The more robust and inclusive a recycling program, the more convenient and easy it is for residents to participate, thus more material is ultimately re-routed from the waste stream into new products.

Inconsistency among communication materials wherein images, language, and messaging differ can create confusion over a longer term. The recycling message should carry the same look and feel whether the resident is viewing your website, postcard, ads, or oops tags or whether the education is coming from you, your hauler, or your MRF.

Adding one or more new materials is an opportunity to educate residents. You can  take advantage of this opportunity and remind them of the program in general and reiterate that your community values recycling.


Repeat Messaging

On average, a person needs to be exposed to a message five or six times before it begins to resonate.

Direct Education

Once new materials have been added, communicate change through direct and layered education efforts.

Bottom line:
You need to communicate this new change to residents.


As technology continues to advance in both the types of packaging produced for consumer goods and the types of capabilities and equipment for MRFs, the range of recyclables accepted by communities across the country has increased. We have collaborated with several communities over the years that added new materials to their programs. Here are some lessons learned.

Communicate with MRF

The MRF ultimately needs to market the material you accept in your program. Be sure to stay in regular communication with them. Just think about how your program has changed in the last five years. Imagine what it might look like in the next five. Have a conversation about acceptable and unacceptable materials at least once or twice per year. You can use our Acceptable Material Worksheet to facilitate that conversation.  While you won’t add new materials all the time, but these conversations with your MRF will always help improve how you educate residents.

  • Download and use this ACCEPTED MATERIALS LIST to facilitate a conversation between a MRF and community. This form is especially helpful when adding materials of during a RFP process. It is a good practice to confirm accepted materials at least once a year.

Be consistent

Make sure that all of your materials are updated to reflect the new accepted material. This includes your website as well as anything else residents may see that talks about the recycling program. Do residents have carts with existing labels listing the accepted materials that are now outdated? Consider creating new stickers and distributing them as part of your education efforts.

Consider doing a brief material-specific campaign

Check with the trade or industry organization that supports the new materials as many already have sample education campaign materials specific. Some even have grants available to help support your efforts. This can include things like billboards, newspaper ads and radio ads that rely on paid or possibly donated space.

Be prepared for questions

Make sure everyone involved in your program has consistent details for recycling the new material. Provide talking points for those involved in your program, from call center representatives to drivers. We also recommend talking to the local MRF(s) so you are being consistent in messaging, as well as to engage them in the education. And of course, all information should be consistently portrayed on your website and other education materials as well. While these details don’t necessarily need to be included on all education materials, it will be helpful to add them to any FAQs you have, especially on your website. Additionally, update your customer service staff and even drivers – anyone who could be asked about the program by residents.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Be sure to include visual images of the new material so people can see exactly what it is. For example, if you added cartons to your program, residents may not fully be aware of exactly what constitutes a carton. Often, trade/industry organizations can provide images of their commodities to support your efforts. Including images of all of your accepted materials is generally a good idea for some of your education pieces. This also helps cross culture and language barriers, ensuring that all residents can see what items can be recycled.

Educate about all accepted materials

Use this opportunity to remind residents about all of the other materials that are recyclable in the program, as well as inform them about this new material that’s been added.

Utilize varied communication vehicles to inform residents

Use traditional and nontraditional media to push out the information. Additionally, consider how social media, community presentations and/or speeches, contests, school education and other communications can help you cast a wide net in informing residents.

 Check with the industry group for accuracy

In addition to the other previously mentioned resources, trade organizations and industry groups will also be able to tell you the accurate way to describe the new commodity. For example, the plastics industry has conducted research around “educating by the numbers” and has recommendations for handling resident communications surrounding various plastics. Below is a list of trade organizations for specific commodities. Visit their websites for additional information and resources.

American Chemistry Council and WRAP and Recycle Your Plastics
Can Manufacturing Institute (and Aluminum Association)
Carton Council
American Forest & Paper Association
Glass Packaging Institute
Steel Recycling Institute
The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR)

And don’t forget your state or regional recycling offices and organizations!