A Public Space Recycling Program That Relies on People Power, Not Just Great Design

If you have ever spent the day carrying around an empty soda bottle or an old magazine you've read cover-to-cover, unsuccessfully looking for a...

If you have ever spent the day carrying around an empty soda bottle or an old magazine you've read cover-to-cover, unsuccessfully looking for a recycling bin on every corner, then you've already experienced firsthand the problem green entrepreneurs Aaron Klein and Steven Goldenberg set out to solve with their community based recycling business, Greener Corners. When they started in 2009, Klein noticed that while there were ample recycling options for homes and buildings, including programs like curbside recycling and recycling bins in schools, “there was no attention being paid to doing this in public areas like downtown areas and parks,” he said.

To solve this problem, Klein and Goldenberg founded Greener Corners, a community-based, cost-free public space recycling program that provides neighborhoods, private institutions, and municipalities with custom-designed recycling bins that encourage passersby to properly dispose of their trash. Financially supported by the local business advertising displayed on the side of the bins, Greener Corners has worked with communities in New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Colorado to build awareness, protect the environment, and even raise some new local revenue (that doesn’t involve raising taxes).

And Greener Corners has achieved real results for the communities it works in. Within less than four months of its initial implementation of the program in Colorado Springs, public officials announced that it had diverted approximately 20 tons of would-be trash from landfills, meaning that 41 percent of the area’s total waste was recycled instead. That equates to saving 171 trees, conserving over 250,000 gallons of water, removing fifteen cars from the roads, cutting oil consumption by more than 9,000 gallons, or averting 58,000+ pounds of greenhouse gases from emissions. All in less than four months. (In total since its founding in 2009, Greener Corners has saved the equivalent of 726,361 kWh of energy, 408 mature trees, 505,000+ gallons of water, or taken 42 cars off the road.)

One reason that Greener Corners has been so successful is that it engages with the community to educate people about recycling with the program—it doesn’t just stick some pretty recycling bins in the city square and hope people will simply catch on. It assembles “Green Teams” of local volunteer recruits, teaching them about recycling and how the program works, so that they can bring that message to their neighbors. “We develop relationships with the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs and find folks who are out there and looking for volunteer work,” Klein says. “We do some brief education and training on what the program’s all about and maybe give them some pizza,” and pretty soon they’ve got a team of educators to head to local schools, civic centers, and community organizations to do presentations as well as bringing recycling awareness to public events.

And to keep their community members educated and involved, Greener Corners has launched new features to be used with smartphones. Locals can scan the barcode on the recycling bin to find out what materials can be recycled in that municipality. Its iPhone app also allows individuals to track their own recycling and the impact they are making on the planet. So if you find yourself carting around recyclables, waiting until you get home to throw them away properly, consider inviting Greener Corners into your neighborhood.

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