Looking at curbside recycling bin features that make them more durable and stand up longer against regular wear and tear.
By Ashley Clark
When it comes to curbside recycling, there are many factors at play in every program. Curbside recycling bins are a small piece of the puzzle, but are seen and handled directly by residents on a regular basis. These products can sometimes be the most visible and frequently used part of the program for a municipality’s biggest critic. So how can you pick one that will elicit rave reviews from residents and collection operators alike? Curbside recycle bins need to suit the needs of the program and be durable enough to withstand the rigors of indoor and outdoor residential use as well as curbside collection. Two major factors will directly affect the durability of the curbside recycle bin: the manufacturing material and the design.
Material used to manufacture the recycling bin is the most important factor. Different types of plastic (polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene) have several varying grades and forms. Each grade and form is suited to a specific type of manufacturing and end product and each type of plastic carries different physical and chemical properties. For example, polyethylene is a type of plastic that includes low-density, medium-density and high-density grades. High-density polyethylene is best suited for manufacturing injection molded containers for outdoor uses.
Two types of plastic are generally used to manufacture a curbside recycling bin: polyethylene or polypropylene. The most commonly used of these is high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This plastic material is the most popular choice for these containers because of its rigid state, high impact resistance and durability against the elements. A common misconception is that if something is flexible, it is more likely to break compared to an item that seems more rigid. The opposite is actually true; the more flexible the plastic, the more durable and resistant to stress it is. It has a higher capability to ‘bounce back’ when stress is applied rather than breaking under the stress.
So why is polypropylene still used in the manufacturing of curbside recycle bins if it is not as sturdy and durable as polyethylene? There are two reasons why some manufacturers use this type of plastic: it is historically cheaper and there is the ability to use more post-consumer recycled material. Purchasing policies have shifted to a sustainable model so more emphasis has been placed on purchasing products that contain high percentages of recycled content. When purchasing curbside recycling containers, there has been a high demand in sourcing bins that have the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Post-consumer materials are materials that are collected through curbside recycling programs such as plastics bottles and containers some of them are made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) and some from polypropylene (PP). The issue lies in the type of HDPE that is used to manufacture plastic bottles for consumer use since it is a fractional melt high density used in blow molding (a common manufacturing process for small plastic containers). This fractional melt high-density is not usable in most injection molding, and especially not for large curbside recycle bins.
Design increases the usability and the durability of the curbside recycle bin. Simple changes in design can have huge impacts in the bins ability to stand up to the rigors of collection and of household use. Areas where the recycle bin will most likely fail is along creases and angles along the top, bottom and corners of the container. To increase the durability of the curbside recycling bin, you need to assess the areas where it is likely to fail, and have a design that reinforces those common areas.
Along the top of the bin there should be a reinforced rim and handles, making it easy to lift, empty and hang off of the side of the truck. This area is subject to the most handling during household use and curbside collection, so in order to increase the durability and reduce point of stress on the container, the handles and rim should be reinforced and rounded. Rounding the edges reduces the stress points where designs will most likely crack, fold or buckle. Designs that have rounded edges, rims and handles will be less likely to undergo cracking and failure after repeated use under varying temperatures.
The same design strategy should be used for the bottom and the corners of the recycle bin. Reinforcements can also be applied to the bottom and top of the bin to increase the strength of the recycle bin design. These reinforcements are commonly called “ribs”. Adding ribs to a design creates a point of reinforcement for areas of a design that may see the most contact or use. Ribs should be located on the bottom of the recycle bin to prevent premature wearing of the base by creating a point of contact between the bottom of the recycle bin and the ground. This allows for the ribs to wear away before the base of the recycle bin and allows the bin to stand up longer against regular wear and tear. Ribs should also be located at the top of the recycle bin to reinforce the rim and the handles on the bin. Ribs at the top of the bin can also act as a rest stop so recycle bins do not warp or stick together when they are stacked.
The more a customer sees the durability and usefulness of a product, their perceived value of that product increases. Currently, in the curbside recycling industry any increase in perceived value associated with the program is a small victory for program administrators and operators who are tirelessly vying for program participation and positive feedback from the public. On the other hand, a more durable container is also appreciated by collection operators and haulers who do not have the time or the resources to delicately handle curbside recycle bins during collection.
Ashley Clark is the Sales Manager at Nova Products (Fort Erie, ON). She joined the company in 2014 after working in the waste management department at her local regional municipality. Ashley has assisted in improving and expanding the environmental division at Nova to include a robust offering of waste diversion and collection containers to help businesses and municipalities apply best practices for recycling and organics collection programs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.