Recycling Collection Systems

Advances in technology, changes in recycling laws, trends in recycling markets, and other variables change over time.  So, it is important to periodically reassess your community’s recyclables collection system to determine if it’s the most cost-effective and efficient program you can offer taxpayers.

Pay As You Throw Curbside Programs Automated Collection Drop-Off Centers
 Full Cost Accounting (EPA) Dual Stream Collection  Single Stream  Collection
Incentive Programs Miscellaneous Collection Events Additional Resources 


Curbside Recycling Programs 

Curbside recycling now serves half of the U.S. population, providing the most convenient means for households to recycle a variety of materials.  While all curbside programs differ, the most commonly collected materials are The Big Five: aluminum cans, glass bottles, paper, plastic, and steel/tin cans. 


Curbside Recycling, The Next Generation "Innovations" Case Study (CIWBM, CA)

Curbside Recycling & Special Collection Events Calendar (LaPorte County, IN)

Curbside Value Partnership

Curbside Guidelines Brochure (SOCRRA, MI)

Curbside Recycling (Earth911)


Organics Options Case Study, (San Jose, CA).  Fully automated, curbside collection using wheel loader with a claw bucket.

Case Study: San Francisco Fantastic Three Program (yard trimmings, all food scraps, and soiled paper; San Francisco, CA) 2007

Automated Collection


Many communities are moving towards automated collection; using a specialized vehicle that lifts, empties and returns a cart to the curb. The driver controls the entire process from the cab of the vehicle and does not leave the vehicle. This can reduce labor costs, and on-the-job injuries thereby reducing worker's comp claims.  Note: a semi-automated system also uses a specialized vehicle that empties a cart automatically, but require a person to place (roll) the cart up to the vehicle.

Automated Dual Stream Recycling Collection (Warwick, RI)

Automated Trash Collection Picking Up Steam, Nov 2008, article (GovPro Media)

Have You Heard the Latest About Automated Collection?, Jan-Feb 2008, article (MSW Management)

Automation, Blue Bag, and Wet/Dry Sorts ("Innovations" Case Studies: Curbside, The Next Generation, CIWMB)

Drop-Off Centers

Drop off centers can be a cost effective way for smaller or rural communities to collect recyclables. It can also be effective for urban communities to offer businesses, apartment buildings and condominiums access to recycling. Drop off sites are usually at transfer stations and offer a range of recycling and reuse options for residents, haulers and/or businesses located in town. Fees are collected in the form of a sticker or by quantity, often by a gatekeeper.  Learn more about applying for or renewing the Municipal Transfer Station General Permit.

Drop off centers, like curbside programs, can offer full source separation (multiple bins), co-mingled materials (fewer bins) or a single-stream (fully co-mingled) approach for collecting recyclables. Each community must research the best options for their situation to create incentives for their residents to increase recycling participation rates.

Sharon/Salisbury (CT) Transfer Station Fact Sheet (photos of their transfer station)

Williamsburg (MA) Transfer station and Recycling Center Fees

The McGraw-Hill Recycling Handbook (2001, Second Edition), Herbert F. Lund.  See Chapter 5 Pg 28 for discussion on curbside collection versus drop-off and buy-back centers.

Dual Stream Collection

Dual-stream or multi-stream recycling collection programs require participants to place each recyclable material in the appropriate collection bin when they first discard the item. Separate containers collect glass, metal, plastic, newsprint, and magazines etc.


Recovered paper can be collected separately by grade (e.g., white office paper, newspapers, magazines, and corrugated cardboard boxes) or more commonly, collected as mixed paper separated from other recyclable materials. If different grades of paper are co-mingled, they are sorted at a central point, such as a materials recovery facility (MRF). If paper is separated at the source, the different grades of paper can be marketed separately for the highest return.

Benefits of dual or multi stream (sorted) collection include:

  • Lower levels of contamination at the source;
  • Higher quality materials:
  • Materials are more valuable and may result in higher financial returns;
  • Lower costs to process the recovered paper.

Another type of collection system called "single stream recycling" allows residents to fully co-mingle all their recyclables (mixed paper and mixed food containers together) at the curb, transfer station or recycling center.  For more detail on the benefits, challenges, education and resources for single stream recycling, please see our webpage Trends in Recycling Collection - A Focus on Single Stream.

Incentive Programs

RecyclePerks is a program designed to increase your bottom line.  This program partners with municipalities and haulers to offer rewards for their residents or customers by offering them perks for recycling.  Points are earned for each load recycled and are redeemable at local and national retailers, restaurants, and grocers.

"Recycle Man" Rewards Residents with Grocery Gift Cards
Polk County, Florida - Officials recently conducted a six-week recycling incentive program.  Each recycling day, the county recycling coordinator, also known as "the Recycle Man," and his supervisor canvassed local communities with low recycling rates to encourage residents to recycle. For each bin they observed that was properly prepared, they awarded the resident with a $20 gift card to their local grocery store. While full results are pending, the county did receive a notable increase in calls for bins as a result, and their MRF reported an increase in recycling volume.

RecycleBank provides coupons to residents that participate in curbside recycling programs. RecycleBank calculates and records quantity (weight) of recyclables collected at curb (requires automated collection using bar code on recycling container) in exchange for coupons for products and services for local businesses. In 2008, the City of Hartford, CT implemented a one-year pilot program that included using RecycleBank.

Rewards for Recycling
Rewards for Recycling encourages & rewards recycling in participating communities via partnerships with municipalities, residents, area businesses, waste haulers and the media. It is their mission to increase the number of households that recycle, and make community curb-side recycling a benefit for all.  Rewards for Recycling is a community program, not a competition.

Door Prizes Encourage Participation at County Drop-Off Center
Hanover, Pennsylvania - Hanover, Pennsylvania, was ordered by the PA DEP to make curbside recycling mandatory for all residents in the summer of 2004. The city immediately began looking for ways to track and promote recycling participation.

One method borough officials used was to issue a card with a bar code to each resident subscribed to the recycling service. Residents swipe the card when they take recyclables to the recycling center. The cards help the borough keep track of residents' participation in the recycling program.

To create incentive for residents to continue dropping off recycled materials at the center, the borough began issuing door prizes at random to people using the recycling center starting in May 2006. More than 800 cards were swiped at the recycling center during the first two weeks of March.

Recycling and Waste Reduction Technical Assistance Reports (PA DEP)

What’s Behind A Patchwork of Recycling Rules?, July 2008, essay and audio clip (NPR: All Things Considered)

Incentive Programs to Increase Recycling, September 18, 2008 - 3 PowerPoint presentations (EPA Webinar)

Miscellaneous Collection Events

Household Hazardous Waste Management: A Manual for One-Day Community Collection Programs (US EPA)

Guide to Using Municipal Hazardous Waste Collection Programs for New Hampshire Small Quantity Generators,  Updated 2006, (NERC)

Hazardous Waste Disposal Options for Vermont Businesses: For Use by Conditionally Exempt Generators, Updated 2006, (NERC)

Holding Unwanted Medication Collections as part of a Household Hazardous Waste Event , September 2006, (NERC)

Best Management Practices for Holding Unwanted Medication Collections: A Legal & Safe Approach for Community Pharmacies, November 2008, (NERC)

Setting Up & Operating Electronics Recycling/Reuse Programs: A Manual for Municipalities & Counties (NERC)

Managing Waste & Recycling at Special Events and Other Venues, (CT DEEP)

Swap Depot Starter Kit:  A Guide to Help Small Towns Start Reuse Programs at Transfer Stations, (Center for Ecological Technology)

Clothing and Textile Recycling Collection (Council on the Environment of NYC)

Annual Clothing Exchange Program Thrives Under Norwich Students’ Care (article, Norwich University, VT)

Don't Throw Away That Food: Strategies for Record-Setting Waste Reduction, oriented toward commercial and institutional food waste generators, (US EPA)

Additional Collection Resources

Additional Efforts Could Increase Municipal Recycling, 2006, report, US Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Pay As You Throw and Climate Change (US EPA)

Analysis of Successful Local Programs (CIWMB)

Hauler Terms and Waste Conversion Factors (NERC)

Collection Maps - Series of maps indicating how trash and recyclables are collected in each CT municipality  (From DEEP FY2010 data)



Disclaimer:  The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) maintains the content on this website to enhance public access to information and facilitate understanding of waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The DEEP is not recommending these resources over any others and recognizes these represent only a partial listing of resources on this subject.

Content Last Updated February 2020