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Curbing Contamination, Tracking Efficacy in Abbotsford, British Columbia – 5 Reasons for Success

Curbing Contamination, Tracking Efficacy in Abbotsford, British Columbia - 5 Reasons for Success
Abbotsford, British Columbia: A Success Story

At the hub of the Fraser Valley is Abbotsford, British Columbia, the largest municipality in the province outside of the Vancouver metro area. There, city and contracted crews provide fully automated curbside collection services for garbage, recycling, and organics for more than 26,000 households.

Abbotsford has always been committed to making life better for the people they serve, their employees, and the environment. Now, with a little help from digital tools for outreach and education, powered by ReCollect, the city is finding success as it works toward its contamination goals and plans for the future.

A few years ago, officials with the City of Abbotsford saw other area municipalities successfully providing programs and services using ReCollect tools, which drove them to seek its solutions, too.

“We found that the tools were super easy to use on the backend and also for our residents who are using the service,” says Julie Kanya, Solid Waste and Environmental Coordinator for the City of Abbotsford.

Kanya says the city is always looking for ways to improve its services. In the beginning, “ReCollect tools quickly became a way for us to continue offering more opportunities for our residents to learn their collection schedule and avoid missed pickups, especially once we started implementing different waste streams like organics, compost, and single-stream recycling.

A fool-proof lineup

The City relies on a number of digital tools from ReCollect to power its outreach and education:

  • Collection Calendar
  • Waste Sorting Game, known as Abbotsford Sorts
  • Waste Wizard, called What Goes Where in Abbotsford
  • Curbside Collection App
  • Curbside Audit Tool


Not only do the tools provide the city with a digital way to communicate changes and updates with its residents, but they’re able to translate that information into any given family’s preferred language, too.

“There’s lots of different options there to serve the community,” she says.

While the city’s suite of digital tools keep staff and residents all on one page regarding collection schedules and recycling rules, one tool in particular helps inform the city about where it ought to focus its education efforts: the Curbside Audit Tool.

When Abbotsford first rolled it out a few years ago, city officials were getting ready to switch to single-stream carts and automated collections. “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,” Kanya says.

Using the Curbside Audit Tool, summer staff members with boots on the ground could take a peek at what people were throwing out, while people working in the office could analyze the data and make informed decisions based on what they found.

Prior to using the tool, Kanya says the city used random truckload audits. Every few years, the city would employ students in the summertime to audit a sample from each area of the city. While this audit method provided some useful information, it was a bit too general.

“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.”

All of this came in especially handy once the city’s single-stream automated collections began, and truck arms began handling and tipping carts rather than people. “Programs can start to see more contamination after changes like this—especially in recycling and organics carts,” Kanya says. 

With the Curbside Audit Tool already in its tool belt, the city sent staff to survey a selection of carts on collection mornings. Through the tool, they recorded whether carts were out and what the contents were, while making note of any contamination along the way. Afterward the city used the information to make decisions about outreach before circling back with the tool once more to see how effective this outreach was.

“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.”

With successful single-stream, automated collections up and running, Abbotsford is now recommitting to its goals of cutting contamination and keeping the compost and recycling streams as clean as possible.

Fighting the good fight

Through the Curbside Audit Tool, “we learned that our compost or organic stream is really, really good, so our residents are doing a great job making sure only compostable materials are going into those bins. But we’re continuing to see challenges with recycling.” These challenges include wishcycling and placing items in the cart for recycling that should be dropped off to a depot, Kanya says.

“We’re going to be really focusing on contamination of the recycling stream in 2023, so we’ll be using the tool a lot more consistently and frequently then.” Not only will the tool help the city to check its work, but it will also allow them to build up baseline data, track common contaminants to further inform the city’s outreach efforts, and more, Kanya says.

“Then, we’ll focus on really promoting that Waste Wizard tool,” which tells residents what can and cannot be recycled, and how.

As Abbotsford has found, how they connect with the people they serve is just as important as the services they provide.

The Waste Wizard—paired with the city’s “Oops” stickers that alert people of specific contaminants in their carts, letters that detail recycling rules, and other features such as reminders and service alerts—allow the city to consistently help the people it serves in ways that benefit everyone.

“We take an educational, friendly reminder approach to our messaging, education and outreach efforts, which I think people appreciate,”  Kanya says.

“We really want to keep the service as accessible and affordable as we can for our residents, and part of that is making sure that they’re using the service correctly.”

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