Recycling Contamination Reduction Pilot Project

The City of East Lansing is partnering with The Recycling Partnership, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), The Ohio State University and Prairie Robotics on a first-of-its-kind, 100% grant funded curbside recycling contamination reduction pilot project that seeks to help residents recycle more, better.

The project is a modified version of The Recycling Partnership’s “Feet on the Street” cart tagging recycling initiative —a community-wide initiative to improve the quality of recycling in curbside recycling carts by providing residents personalized and real-time education and feedback. Traditionally, this is done by someone reviewing the contents of a curbside cart and tagging it with educational stickers if contaminants - items that aren’t accepted for curbside recycling, such as plastic bags – are found in the recycling cart. This feedback helps to clarify what is and what isn’t accepted in the community’s curbside collection program and has been shown to improve community-wide recycling habits.

In East Lansing, instead of someone reviewing contents and placing an educational sticker on curbside carts, camera technology is automating the process and identifying contamination in the recycling cart as it is collected.  If found, a postcard is generated and mailed to the address with information about what and how to recycle correctly. While City sanitation vehicles have long been equipped with cameras to alert drivers of dangerous or damaging materials, this new, on-truck technology enables the City to provide answers to common recycling questions as they occur and educational material where it will have the most impact. The Ohio State University is providing statistical analysis on the results to conclude the effectiveness of this modern approach and its impact on the overall quality of East Lansing’s curbside recycling stream.

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