And the survey says…

Residents feel it’s important to recycle

Image of Blue curbside recycling bin. Text reads: "73% of residents are recycling more than they did in 2012"In October 2017, the MARC Solid Waste Management District contracted with ETC Institute to conduct a recycling survey of residents in the nine-county Kansas City metro area. The survey evaluated current recycling activities and knowledge to determine what recycling services residents would like to see in the future, and determine focus areas for expanded services and outreach priorities. The survey also looked at how citizens’ values, behavior and awareness levels have changed since the 2005, 2008 and 2012 surveys.

Curbside is king

When asked how much emphasis their household places on recycling, 82 percent of the residents surveyed indicated their household recycles most of the time, and 10 percent recycle all the time. This is due in large part to the increasing availability of curbside recycling in the metro area. More than 73 percent of residents reported they are recycling more compared to five years ago, specifically because curbside recycling is available.

The recycling activities that residents participated in most frequently — in addition to curbside recycling — were recycling plastic bags (65 percent) and recycling glass food and beverage containers (59 percent). The waste reduction activity that residents participated in most often was donating clothing and household items (94 percent).

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Satisfaction ratings

Respondents were most satisfied with services available for clothing and household item donation (81 percent), curbside recycling services (80 percent), materials accepted in curbside programs (63 percent), and yard waste collection and composting services (56 percent).

However, since the 2012 survey, satisfaction decreased in several areas including glass container recycling services. This is not surprising, given that, since 2009, the only widely available option for recycling glass in the metro area has been drop-off collection. Satisfaction has also decreased with the lower availability of drop-off recycling locations. Several communities (eight in the last two years) have closed their recycling centers and many schools and churches have closed their recycling drop-off bins to the public due to increased costs.

Government role

Most residents support public policies to improve recycling and waste reduction. Since the 2012 survey, residents also showed increased support for local government to:

  • Inform the public about existing programs/services (six percent increase).
  • Support waste reduction and recycling programs (four percent increase).
  • Educate on the importance of waste reduction/recycling (seven percent increase).
  • Develop policies to expand waste reduction/recycling (four percent increase).

However, many respondents are unwilling to pay for trash collection services based on the amount of trash set out for disposal (46 percent). In fact, since 2012, there was a significant decrease in the level of support for cities and counties implementing pay-as-you-throw programs (down 12 percent).

The road forward

The services residents would most like to see offered or expanded in their community are: glass container recycling, household hazardous waste collection, computer/electronic recycling, bulky-item pickup and expanded curbside collection service. More than half of those surveyed indicated that they would be willing to recycle food waste through curbside programs.

Residents indicated a decreased interest in receiving recycling information through city newsletters, the Kansas City Star or their local newspaper, and an increased interest in receiving it from an internet source that’s easy to find (53 percent) and utility bills (40 percent).

Finally, residents were asked if they had ever put something in a curbside recycling bin that they weren’t sure was recyclable — 53 percent indicated that they had. And 60 percent of residents reported they were recycling “everything possible.” Given the high contamination rates in curbside recycling and the fact that “everything possible” doesn’t account for all the additional recyclable items respondents are unaware of, the MARC Solid Waste Management District is going to double-down on helping residents not only to recycle more, but recycle better in 2018.

The full survey is available on the district’s website.

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