HOLLAND — Data from the first year of Holland residents using separate recycling carts to collect household recyclables shows the switch to carts has increased both participation and total materials recycled in the city.
In the first year of the change, participation in the recycling program, also called the "set-out" rate, has increased from 53 percent of households to 70 percent, according to data provided by the city. (Since all residents that receive trash service from the city are mandated to sign up for recycling, too, the participation rate is the measure of whether households are making use of the recycling program.)
The amount of materials recovered through recycling increased eight-fold after the switch to carts. Under the old bagged-recyclables system, the city's trash hauler Republic Services had reported recovering about 5 pounds of recyclable materials per household per month. Under the cart system, Republic is now recovering 39 pounds of recyclable materials per household per month.
Households in Holland received recycling carts in May 2021 after the city council voted to make the switch.
The changes came following the results of a 2019 audit of the bagged recycling program that found high rates of bag failure and contamination among recyclables. In that system, recyclables were bagged and placed in the same container as trash bags. The distinctive yellow bags were then sorted from trash bags at Republic's recycling center.
The study of that program found 75 percent of bags were either partially or fully damaged by the time they arrived at Republic's sorting facility, after being compacted in a truck along with garbage bags. Recyclable items were mixed in with trash or contaminated.
An audit of the city's waste showed that, while 51 percent of the city's waste is recyclable, only 12.6 percent of the city's waste was being captured through the "yellow bag" recycling system, below the overall recycling rate for the state of Michigan, which was 19.3 percent in 2018.
Dan Broersma, sustainability manager for the city of Holland, said the carts are "a raving success from a metrics perspective."
"I think the big success is the percentage of people participating," Broersma said.
The recycling carts are much larger — capable of holding 96 gallons compared to the 32-gallon bags — and easier to use. For example, residents no longer have to remember to order more recycling bags when they run out.
The city put out a blast of recycling education with the changeover to the carts, including setting up a website, recycleholland.com, to answer frequently asked questions and delivering educational materials along with the carts.
Republic Services has reported cleaner materials coming through their system from the carts, too, which results in more successful recovery of materials.
"The City of Holland’s carted recycle program is off to a great start," said Jack Brown, manager of municipal services for Republic Services. "We have seen high participation and low contamination which is what we hoped to accomplish when the program was rolled out in May 2021. We appreciate the residents commitment to providing clean recycling products that comply with the approved list of recyclable materials."
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Holland boosts recycling rate with switch to carts