Blue Bins Signal “Greener” Future

A city councilman also helped by videotaping his own PSA in English and Spanish for use on his website, social media, and community meetings.

Articles were submitted to city council district newsletters, Friends of Parks newsletters, and neighborhood association newsletters.

Hitting It Hard

The next step was to ramp up recycling efforts during heavy park-usage events. One such event was the walk on Martin Luther King Day in January, which ended in a city park. Portable recycling bins were placed strategically throughout the park where thousands of parade participants gathered to hear dignitaries speak and enjoy entertainment.

Afterwards, staff members supplemented the effort by doing light sorting to salvage more of the recyclables that otherwise would have been thrown out as contaminated.

“We want to do what we can to increase our percentage of clean recyclables while we continue to educate patrons about how to properly recycle.” Strong explains. “It’s an ongoing process.”

The process continued on a weekend in April when patrons were allowed to camp in selected parks on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights prior to Easter Sunday in order to hold their spots for traditional family barbecues.

Trash accumulation in past years during the holiday has been extremely heavy, and cleanup of the parks the following Monday has been challenging for staff.

“We took the opportunity this year to have a series of community meetings prior to the holiday in which we talked with our … campers about the importance of recycling. We encouraged them to be good stewards and leave the parks as clean as they found them,” Strong says.

“We handed out recycling bags at each meeting, and our … recycling coordinator gave a brief presentation on proper recycling.”

A park patron drops a plastic bottle into a recycling bin. Photo Courtesy of San Antonio Parks and Recreation

Department

Also at those meetings participants filled out questionnaires that allowed the department to gather ideas on how to make recycling easier and more attractive to park patrons.

The meetings were advertised in both English- and Spanish-language newspapers, on two radio stations, on Facebook, on the department’s website, and with stories aired during several local TV newscasts.

Additionally, park staff and volunteers from Friends of Parks groups visited the areas where camping was permitted and conducted surveys on that same holiday weekend. Volunteers also assisted with handing out recycling bags and carrying the recycling message to the campers.

As a result, the numbers improved dramatically at Brackenridge Park, the most popular of the parks where holiday camping is permitted. Recycling increased from 800 pounds in 2011 to 1,200 pounds in 2012.

Trash, on the other hand, was reduced from 6.75 tons to 5.26 tons.

“It’s a trend in the right direction,” Strong says, “and we’re confident we can improve on those numbers with continued emphasis on education.”

Divvying Up The Dollars

With limited resources, staff found the budget to be another challenge in successfully implementing park recycling, so the members brainstormed creative ways to handle those costs.

The pilot program cost approximately $28,000, which included recycling receptacles, a central enclosure, and community outreach.

Staff designed recycling bins to complement the style of the existing trash receptacles. A local vendor fabricated the bins and staff installed them.

“This allows us to acquire the bins for a fraction of the cost we would have paid otherwise,” Strong notes. “And our staff designed them, knowing what works for us locally in terms of preventing vandalism and graffiti. They complement the existing trash cans at one-third the cost.”

The department was able to expand the program with the help of a $95,000 grant through the Solid Waste Department, which received a Texas Commission for Environmental Quality grant from the Alamo Area Council of Governments.

The bottom line is that recycling in parks begins with the installation of the recycling cans, but that’s just the start.

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