Saturday, September 26, 2015

Downtown Recycling--Style vs. Substance

It's not easy to get people to recycle in public places. People are distracted, in a hurry, and tend to drop an empty bottle, banana peel or tissue in the first receptacle they encounter. That's why design is crucial for successful recycling on the streets. Oftentimes, the cost of a receptacle is inversely related to its functionality.

At the recent Jazz Feast on Palmer Square, this cheapo pairing of a trash container (note the big opening) and a recycling bin with small, round hole for recyclables worked great. They were close to one another (close enough for jazz!), which is critical, and their openings provided a clear visual contrast that even the most distracted jazz lover will notice. A peek in the recycling bin showed it contained only recyclables, no trash.

On the other hand, these new and expensive-looking containers along Nassau Street have trash and recyclables openings that provide no visual cue other than small print on the lid. The lids help keep the rain out, which is good, but with nothing but small print to distinguish one from the other, the recycling side will likely be contaminated with trash, and the goal of recycling will not be achieved.

This one at least has contrasting color, but that probably won't be enough to get people to pay attention. So Princeton now has recycling receptacles on Nassau Street, and they look great, but don't expect them to increase recycling.

Though it's not easy to get people to recycle in public places, it is easy to find advice online about what sorts of containers work best. I have a whole website devoted to critiques of various designs at, including Ten Tips for Improving Recycling at Your Workplace.

Edward Kennedy's words are apt for recycling in public places: "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Maybe that jazz sensibility, which involves taking experience and upcycling it into the form of music, gave the Jazz Feast folks the necessary insight.

1 comment:

SFB said...

Steve, this is all about 'historic preservation'. Downtown is a historic district, so the Historic Preservation Commission gets to decide what the recycling bins should look like. Aesthetic concerns are prioritized over what actually works, and this isn't the only example. The bike path on Quaker Road has a sub-standard crushed powder surface (instead of smooth, durable asphalt) because crushed powder was judged to 'fit in' better around the historic-designated Battlefield. Historic designation can lead to some weird consequences.