Orange County Utilities Receives Accolades for Educating Residents on Recycling

Community & Services Public Health & Safety

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) recently announced that Orange County received a 2023 Communication, Education, and Marketing (CEM) Technical Division Award for Outstanding Awareness Campaign for its recycling quality improvement program (RQIP).

“We’re honored to receive this recognition,” said Ed Torres, director, Orange County Utilities. “The credit goes to our dedicated team, which has reached out to more than 190,000 households with direct feedback on the best recycling practices and reducing recycling contamination in targeted areas.”

In 2019, the County received a grant from The Recycling Partnership — a national non-profit that mobilizes people, data, and solutions to reduce waste and its impact on the environment. The Partnership awarded the County $193,000 plus an additional $150,000 in staff and other resources to support the education, outreach, access, and training opportunities for RQIP.

“The strategy of reducing contamination through education has resulted in a number of success stories throughout the country,” said Jessica Kitt, senior maintenance coordinator, Orange County Utilities. “It’s a unique and innovative strategy, so we tailored it to fit our specific needs.”

RQIP is an ongoing program that encourages residents to change their recycling behavior by using four-week periods of tagging. The County uses various tools to help residents, such as sending informational mailers, providing personalized feedback on each cart via tags, not collecting contaminated carts after one warning, and gathering data with a smartphone app.

Data is analyzed to increase the effectiveness of the program and tailor messages based on the most common contaminants. Typically on each collection route, prior to the outreach campaign, only 4 out of 10 carts contain clean recyclables. Once RQIP is implemented, the number increases to 7 clean carts out of 10. The program has reduced the number of carts with plastic bags, film or wrap by 42 percent and has resulted in a 13 percent reduction in contamination by weight. Overall contamination was reduced in 47 percent of carts in the tagged routes.

“Recycling is a community effort, so it really does matter what each person puts in their recycling cart,” asserted Kitt. “We have a strong participation rate, and residents want to recycle. This award acknowledges both the hard work of our team and the commitment residents have made as a result of being empowered to make the right decisions about recycling.”

For more information on recycling right and what you can do, go to Residential Curbside Collection Program.

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