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Region 3 and 8: Using Social Science to Create Cleaner Residential Recycling Streams

2020 Regional-State-Tribal Innovation Projects

China and other countries have recently stopped the import of common recyclable material from the U.S. due to unacceptable contamination. This has caused a collapse in the economic viability of many, but not all, American municipal recycling programs. One suspected cause is that single-stream recycling, though easier for consumers, has led to increased levels of contaminants in recycling streams, thereby lowering the overall value of materials collected and their viability on international markets.

This project will use a literature review and case studies of residential recycling programs to better understand how successful programs can achieve contamination rates lower than the national average.  Using a mixed social and systems science approach, the project will identify a set of interventions most likely to reduce contamination rates at the local level. Results will inform best practices that can help municipal recycling programs produce cleaner recycling streams for materials recovery facilities. 

Partners: Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.