Recycle Coach Blog

The College Town Recycling Crisis: How to Turn Orientation into Opportunity

Posted by Tanya Gough on 29/05/17 11:22 AM

Students moving in with cardboard boxesWe know, we know. Managing your city’s waste and recycling programs is hard enough, but when you’re a college town, dealing with the massive influx of students at the beginning of the school year is an entirely different challenge.  And right now you’re probably dealing with the mounds of waste they just left behind. The last thing you want to do is think ahead to the next semester, when a fresh batch of college students come pouring in.

Yet, the autumn orientation season can set the tone for your next calendar year.

So getting ahead of it now to turn orientation into opportunity can mean the difference between a stressful job and a much, much easier one.

The challenges you face as a city administrator in a college or university town are very different than they used to be, even a decade ago. The Class of 2022 do not remember a world without digital because they’ve lived with it their whole lives. They are as invested in their digital personas as they are in their three-dimensional selves. In many cases, they value their digital lives above all else.  Unfortunately, this means they are easily distracted, and mundane chores such as recycling can fall by the wayside, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

As a college townadmin, you’re tasked with finding ways to bridge this disconnect:  educating and inspiring students to understand the value of recycling – and then enabling them to do it on a regular basis.  In many cases, the first part is easy  - the incoming class is, generally speaking, environmentally conscious and cares deeply about the health of our planet. The harder part is turning this impulse into actionable behavior, not just once in a while, but as part of a permanent lifestyle choice.

The good news is that help does exist, enabling you to set ground rules up front and help students keep on track throughout the year.  The Recycle Coach app is the perfect tool for connecting you with students who aren’t participating in waste and recycling programs the way they should and transforming them into the better recyclers you know they can be.

Blacksburg logo.pngCase in Point: Blacksburg, Virginia              

Blacksburg, Virginia had a problem: ongoing major construction was disrupting traffic and affecting recycling and waste collection across the city. This problem was compounded by the fact that more than half of Blacksburg’s population (just over 42,600) are Virginia Tech students, resulting in a whopping 25,000 young people moving in and out of town every year.  Communicating the latest construction-related delays and schedule changes was hard enough, but with such a transitory population, the issue was beyond critical.

In 2014, they adopted the my-waste app by Recycle Coach to help bridge the communication gap and ensure their residents stayed ahead of the changes.  Karen Day, Operations Specialist for the Town of Blacksburg, tells us the app has had a significant, daily impact on her job. Not only has the app relieved a lot of phone calls to her office (and to other departments), but, she says, “Residents can now look up very easily on their phones or computers what can and cannot be recycled. Or how to dispose of a certain waste.” 

In addition, the notification system helps keep residents compliant by reminding them when it’s time for regular collection, or letting them know when a special collection event is about to occur.  The ability to target messaging to individual districts and to send out last minute service alerts has also helped the town.

“This feature came in really handy last year when they could not finish a route because the weather had turned bad,” Ms. Day says. “I was able to notify the quadrant to let them know which streets could not be done that day. I am very pleased with the my-waste app and their staff.”

Bridging the Education (and Generation) Gaps

What Goes Where? cardboard box search result.pngWhen working with Millennials and beyond, communication is key. And when you’ve got a transient population in constant flux, proper outreach can make the difference between a smoothly running waste and recycling system and total chaos. The Recycle Coach app helps you overcome this obstacle by getting ahead of the problem. Basic information is easy to look up. Changes and reminders can be set to ensure they never miss a pickup or special collection event.

Here are some other common reasons why students fail the grade, along with examples that show how we help you empower students to become better recyclers, not just at school, but for life:

  1. Recycling may be new to them:

Some incoming students come from homes that have never recycled, or recycled infrequently and carelessly. The Recycle Coach app offers self-educating tools that explain why recycling is important and what they can do to participate.  Our What Goes Where? tool also helps ensure they have easy access to information to do it right.

  1. Responsibility may be new to them:

Other students may have learned about recycling in school or at home but have never been responsible for taking care of it themselves.  The Recycle Coach app includes detailed calendars for both regular and special collection events, and it can serve up instant notifications and reminders to help students stay on schedule.

  1. Some aspects of recycling might be new to them:

While most new students will have recycled at some point, they probably weren’t responsible for the whole task. Some might think recycling ends when they drop a container in a blue bin. Others might not know how to sort properly. The Recycle Coach's educational and scheduling tools step up to fill the gap.

  1. The rules might have changed:

In some ways, it’s harder to change existing habits than to help foster new ones. Students who bring a well-formed recycling regimen to school with them have to first learn what has changed and then alter their behavior. Target these students with direct messaging, quizzes and tests to challenge their knowledge, and access to the What Goes Where? database to help them quickly make the shift.

  1. They have other things on their mind:

Of course, not all students are going to be thinking about recycling, not with school and social pressures taking precedence. The Recycle Coach app’s push notifications help keep them focused when you need them to be, while the quizzes and tests provide an amusing gateway into a topic they may know nothing about.


For more information about Millennial recycling habits at colleges and how you can target them:

Download the Free eGuide on Targeting Australian College Students


RC_logo BLUE.png About Recycle Coach: Recycle Coach specializes in digital solutions for municipal and private waste management services to effectively educate and engage residents. Our technology platforms for web, mobile, and digital assistants focus on education and encouragement to help residents to be better recyclers, with the goal of inspiring positive and lasting change in communities around the world. It is our constant innovation and scalability of services that allow us to meet the needs of over 3000 communities across the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more.  

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Topics: For Municipalities with a University or College