Sustainable Success: How Abbotsford, BC Pioneered Recycling Transformation with 4 Innovative Tools
In the City of Abbotsford, located in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada, a significant transformation was taking place.
City officials were preparing to move to single-stream recycling and automated collections, driven by a commitment to sustainable waste management practices.
To ensure a successful transition to optimally designed services, they needed to gather accurate measurements of the materials being discarded by residents. But the usual method was cumbersome and time-consuming. Digital tools provided a better way.
Better data means better program design
In the past, Abbotsford had relied on periodic, random truckload audits to assess waste composition. However, while these audits provided some useful information, they fell short in providing household-level insights.
The City knew it needed precise data to correctly determine appropriate cart sizes for the upcoming single-stream recycling system, so they turned to a digital solution known as the Curbside Audit Tool, from Routeware, Inc.
The tool empowered their summertime staff members to peek into the curbside waste disposal habits of residents, gathering data with ease via apps in the field connected directly to the back office.
With a greater breadth and depth of data at their fingertips, the City could evaluate different scenarios with greater confidence in their predicted outcomes, leading to better decisions.
“We were primarily trying to figure out how much of each material people were putting out at the curb so we could choose the appropriate cart sizes,” says Julie Kanya, Solid Waste and Environmental Coordinator for the City of Abbotsford.
The City also was able to proactively identify existing contamination “hotspots” by analyzing data from specific households rather than entire routes. They then planned to direct educational efforts to areas with higher contamination rates first, ensuring they equipped program participants in historically underperforming areas with ample education.
“We really like the curbside tool because it gives us information about specific households rather than a giant zone,” Kanya says. “We can really identify hot spots and direct our educational efforts there.”
With this targeted approach, Abbotsford planned to effectively address the contamination challenges associated with single-stream recycling and automated collection.
With a change to automated collection, the potential for contamination may increase because people are no longer directly handling and looking at the contents of carts before emptying them into the collection vehicle.
“Programs can start to see more contamination after changes like this—especially in recycling and organics carts,” Kanya says.
Abbotsford used data collected before the roll-out of its new program to figure out which areas were likely to make the most mistakes so they could proactively address the risk.
Robust data feeds continuous improvement
While rolling out a new program is a feat of planning, orchestration, and execution unto itself, the follow-up is just as important as the preliminary work. Data remains critical for identifying opportunities for participation and improvement.
As Abbotsford made the transition to single-stream automated collections, the need for ongoing vigilance against contamination became even more critical.
Again using the Curbside Audit Tool, the City sent staff to survey a selection of carts on collection mornings. They used the app to record whether carts were out, documented their contents, and took note of any contamination observed along the way. This valuable information formed the foundation for decision-making regarding outreach initiatives aimed at promoting proper waste disposal practices moving forward.
In this way and others, simplified digital data collection and analysis proved invaluable. Not only was it easier to actually collect the data, but the City could easily access it and analyze it through the software. In turn, this enabled them to assess the effectiveness of their education campaigns (page 22).
Following launch, the City continued monitoring, using numbers and insights gathered from the tool to iterate its education strategy to keep on reaching households that need more support and guidance.
The results of these efforts have been encouraging. Contamination rates remained relatively consistent even after the switch to single-stream recycling — an achievement that testifies to the effectiveness of the City’s efforts.
“We found the tool to be really useful for collecting those numbers and then being able to deliver direct education to those households after the fact,” Kanya says. “What we’ve seen is that the contamination rates have remained relatively consistent after the changeover, which is pretty good news.”
Digital tools and the future
Looking ahead, Abbotsford remains steadfast in its commitment to combating contamination and preserving the integrity of compost and recycling streams.
Digital tools for data collection are an important part of this strategy, as are complementary technologies the City uses for delivering education to citizens. All of these tools are powered by ReCollect, a Routeware company.
Abbotsford’s dedication to waste management and environmental stewardship is a testament to the City’s commitment to creating a cleaner, greener future. By harnessing the power of advanced digital tools, the City stands at the forefront of sustainable practices, empowering citizens to participate actively in building a thriving, environmentally conscious community.
Tim Adkins leads product marketing at Routeware, Inc. and has worked in environmental services for more than 15 years. More information about the Curbside Audit Tool and other complementary digital solutions for waste and recycling management and education is available at https://learn.routeware.com/lets-talk/. Questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.