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It’s all about the Cart, Part 1

August 11, 2015

The Recycling Partnership has developed a module designed to assist communities transitioning from traditional bin or bag based curbside collection to cart based collection. The CARTS module was created from the Partnership's work with local governments and interviews with recycling cart companies.

More than just a “collection tool”

According to the Partnership, carts serve as a “message about universal recycling.”

Carts increase tonnage/volume of recyclable material in two ways: 1) by providing extra capacity for more material, and 2) by increasing convenience, thereby encouraging more residents to participate.

Communities around the country have reported increases in recycling after switching to recycling carts. For example, Hillsborough County, Florida saw an 85% increase in recyclables set-out after just one year of using carts (from 32,000 tons annually to 60,000 tons for about 260,000 households). 

The City of Niagara Falls reported a 10% increase in its recycling rate eight months after rolling out carts. The State of North Carolina reported similar success in communities that switched to recycling carts, citing cart adoption as a primary factor in the growth of recyclable tonnage around the state.

Of course, haulers like carts as they allow for automation, requiring fewer staff in or on the truck and keeping collectors in the cab while on route. Carts help reduce employee injury, resulting in fewer workers’ compensation claims. Within just one year, for example, Minneapolis saved $250,000 in workers’ compensation claims by switching to carts.

According to the Partnership, cities and counties around the country believe carts to offer the best long-term solution for their curbside program. However, the switch doesn’t come cheap. The up-front costs for investing in carts and automated collection vehicles present a challenge when resources are already limited.

Through their state and local government interviews, the Recycling Partnership was able to put together common themes and best management practices for making the switch to carts. These boil down to: comprehensive communication, cart delivery, and tracking.


To ensure a smooth transition when switching to carts, public works or solid waste directors should effectively communicate with elected officials, front line staff, and residents.

Top of the list is to get buy-in from local managers/administrators and elected officials. Quality service, health and safety, and the bottom line are usual targets of concerns for decisionmakers when it comes to service programs like recycling.  

Cost-savings analyses conducted by communities making the switch to carts are among the tools available through the Recycling Partnership. Brick Township in New Jersey, for example, reported a $177,000 savings in landfill tip fees alone.

Engaging elected officials requires ongoing communication, providing them with talking points they can use to review with taxpayers the potential cost savings and other benefits of carts.

Success also requires that front line staff—garbage and recycling drivers, folks answering the phones, and field supervisors—are prepared to advocate for the cart program.

Drivers, of course, have frequent contact with residents. Once the “carts are coming” is announced, questions about the cart and its delivery will multiply. Communities can prepare by having an ample supply of program brochures on hand for driver distribution. 

Front-line office workers will inevitably be bombarded with phone calls and emails once the cart switch makes the public news. According to the Partnership, “When am I going to get my cart!?” is probably the most popular phone call a city or county will get after announcing the transition. Up-to-date and consistent talking points are important so that uniform public information is conveyed.

Citizens will want to know:

  • When their carts will be delivered;
  • When collection using the carts will start;
  • What material is accepted, and if there are changes in material acceptance; and
  • How to place the cart out for collection.

Ongoing public communication using a variety of tactics works most effectively. Direct mail provides a way to reach all residents before the carts arrive. Of course, information must also be included upon delivery of the cart; a bag tied to its handle, including a card or magnet with illustrations of accepted materials and other crucial information, is important.

Other creative communication devices include social media use, such as the YouTube videos created by the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico.



Part 2 of “It’s all about the Cart” will explore cart delivery and tracking needed for communities to effectively make the transition to carts.

By Athena Lee Bradley

This article was derived from information provided by Cody Marshall from his “Putting the Cart Before the Bin” published in Resource Recycling in June 2015. Mr. Marshall, is the Technical Assistance Lead at The Recycling Partnership, a 501(c)(3) established in 2003 driven to provide stronger recycling systems nationwide.

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