Bringing recycling to all in St. Paul

As St. Paul rolls out its new single-sort recycling plan, it will be important to pay attention to immigrants and diverse communities, especially renters.

recent Wilder Research study for the City of Saint Paul found high demand for expanded recycling services, and has led the City to move toward a single-sort recycling system.

But, as the City rolls out its new plan, it will be important to pay attention to immigrants and diverse communities, especially renters. Our study found although these groups want to recycle, they face significant barriers to recycling compared with higher-income residents and non-immigrants.

What are the barriers?

Lack of knowledge about recycling is a common theme among residents for whom English is not their first language. (In fact, some recent immigrants who participated in our study had the misconception that they don’t need to separate their recyclable materials from their trash because they thought that trash is sorted at a facility and the recyclable materials are pulled out before the rest is sent to the incinerator or landfill.)

Resident education, including culturally appropriate outreach to diverse communities, is needed to ensure equal opportunity for all residents to understand and fully participate in the new and expanded recycling program. It will be particularly important for the City to clearly communicate the expansion in the types of plastics accepted in order to reduce confusion among residents from all demographic groups.

The City of Saint Paul has a variety of written and online educational materials, many of which are translated into multiple languages. However, many of the non-English speaking residents who participated in our study were not familiar with these materials, indicating a gap in the distribution/education process.

Based on our conversations with diverse community members, we recommend focusing on specific immigrant communities to promote better participation in recycling and related programs, by:

  • Distributing translated materials via landlords that manage apartment complexes where many immigrant families live.
  • Providing in-person education and demonstrations at community-based, culturally-specific organizations.
  • Educating families through children in public schools.
  • Relying on informal social networks that include mentors from the same cultural community and/or neighborhood to help new immigrants and other interested residents learn about recycling, composting, disposal of household hazardous waste, bulky waste, etc.

Better access

In addition, we recommend providing better access to recycling for immigrant communities by:

  • Encouraging landlords that manage apartment complexes where many of these families live to offer recycling services for their residents (apartments with more than 11 units are not covered by the City of Saint Paul’s recycling program; instead, the landlords of these buildings can opt to offer recycling services for their residents or not through direct contracts with recycling providers). Wilder Research completed a study about recycling that included landlords for Ramsey County in 2011.
  • Offering larger recycling bins to households included in the citywide program to ensure that typically larger immigrant households can recycle all of their recyclable material, in lidded-wheeled carts for convenience. 
  • Using photos and/or multiple languages on recycling/trash stations in public locations to ensure access for people with varying literacy and/or English skills (see example, at right).

Making these changes to the recycling program in Saint Paul – including a significant focus on reducing barriers to participation among diverse communities through targeted, culturally appropriate education and outreach – will ensure equal opportunity to learn about and access the currently good and soon-to-be great recycling services in Saint Paul.

This post was written by Nicole Martin Rogers and originally published on Community Matters.

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