How to Tackle Recyclable Contamination in WCU

How to Tackle Recyclable Contamination in WCU

Recyclable contamination refers to the collection of any recyclable materials from plastics, papers, boxes, and glasses containing unwanted contaminants in a given community. Having recyclables with either wet or dirty contaminants makes it difficult to process during the recycling process to make them into new products. More importantly, the unwanted materials within the recyclables could also present devastating effects on the environment, health, and financial safety during processing, collection, and disposal. To achieve a sustainable campus, the Facility Management at Western Carolina University (WCU) has put efforts into recycling waste materials. The institution under the management has installed various recycling bins within the campus to collect; glass bottles, plastic containers, papers, cardboards, and steel and aluminum cans. The recycling process at WCU includes collection, sorting, and transporting the recyclables to wholesalers which require time and labor. However, the main challenge is the contamination of recyclable materials such as food wastes and non-recyclable materials that find their way into the bins.

Decision-making involves the process of making choices through information gathering and choosing between various alternatives to find the perfect solution to the problem. However, the design thinking process entails methods that allow us to find solutions to ill-defined problems. It allows decision-makers to get a better understanding of the human needs involved, find alternative ideas and test the ideas to find a better solution. According to Hasso Plattner of the Stanford Institute of Design, Design thinking focuses on five main stages . The first stage focuses on researching the user’s needs (Luchs, 2015). Gaining an understanding of the problem is important through observations and consultation with experts to solve the problem. This allows you to be empathetic with the users and set aside assumptions to get the real aspects of the problem. It is also crucial to get into the physical environment of the people involved to understand how deep the issue affects them.

The second stage in the design thinking process is defining the state of your users’ requirements and problems. Here, you organize the data collected during the first stage and analyze it to identify the main problem. The stage allows the design team to gather solutions, and create features and tools to solve the issues at hand. The users must also be involved in formulating the solutions to the problems by asking questions and giving them a high priority to be part of the solution (Luchs, 2015). Be ready to generate ideas at this stage since you have a better understanding of the problem and users’ needs. The third stage involves the identification of solutions to the problem that is presented. With the knowledge of the problem and the user’s needs, have a different perspective of the problem and formulate solutions. Brainstorm to expand your thinking towards choosing the best alternative to solve the problem.

Stage four of the design thinking allows the team to choose the best possible alternative to solve the issues. It involves scaling down the features found within the chosen alternative to investigate key solutions. The ideas can be tested to identify their limitations and how it interacts with real users. The stage aims at finding the best possible solutions for the issues identified in different stages (Luchs, 2015). The last and final stage of the design thinking process is where the solutions are tested to find out their viability. The designers evaluate the solution through a series of various tests to increase the level of understanding of the problem and the people involved. The stage allows decision-makers to evaluate how people will react, behave and feel towards the new solution which could lead to a revision of the initial stages. The stage aims to get a deeper knowledge of the solution and the users.

The investigation took a series of research procedures to identify the problem, its root cause, and how the problem affects the audience within the institution. Through sorting the recyclables, the research team was able to identify various contaminants such as food, paints, oil, and other undesirable materials. Such contaminants were found to make the sorting process take long hours and a lot of labor to process. A questionnaire was developed by the research team to help understand the issue properly. With the five questions directed to the targeted audience, the information was intended to find out the cause of contamination of the recyclables. With the gathered information, an analysis was conducted revealing the food remains as the major recyclable contaminant. The food remains as a result of students and staff members who take their meals or snacks during their lunch breaks within the institution. Another problem identified was the lack of proper communication when it comes to how the remains should be separated from the recyclables during dumping by the users. Lack of directives resulted in putting the food remains in the same bins as the recyclables. With the information gathered from the audience, the investigation team can create a viable decision-making process to address the problem.

To address the issue of recyclable contamination, the Facility Management at WCU should come up with outreach programs to educate the users involved. The outreach programs will focus on increasing the number of clean recyclables collected within the institution. Therefore, the programs should sensitize and educate the users on what type of recyclables are collected and in which specific bins. The method of the outreach program will aid in reducing the cost of sorting out the recyclables and limit the time used in doing so. Another alternative solution to reducing contamination of recyclables is using source separation systems (Guttchen et al., 2020). To reduce contamination of recyclables, the institution should install source separation equipment such as cardboard-only bins or separation funnels. The equipment will help to separate different recyclables hence reducing the cost of separation. Clean recyclables also enhance higher market value through the collection company that processes them into new products. Finally, regional policy alignment can also help in reducing the contamination of recyclables. This means that, the institution should control what to recycle in specific regions within the campus. Such policies optimize processing and sorting, reduce contamination, and maximize the marketability of the recyclables.

The best possible alternative solution to reducing recyclable contamination in WCU would be through outreach programs. The outreach programs are meant to educate the user, which is the students, staff, employees, and visitors within the institution how to dispose of their recyclables. The program will focus on public sensitization through posters, the internet, and the use of seminars to educate the users. The outreach programs evaluate what recyclables to put in specific tins thus reducing the cost of sorting and minimizing contamination of the materials (Guttchen et al., 2020). Besides reducing contamination, the program will increase the marketability of the recyclables for collection companies for manufacturing. This solution is affordable in terms of implementation and does not require a higher financial budget compared to the other possible solutions listed above. As per the anticipated outcome, the program prooves viable as evident in 2019 when the stakeholders across the state developed an initiative called Recycle Right Campaign. The initiative-helped communities make informed decisions about materials collected for recycling hence reducing their contamination.

In conclusion, to address the contamination of the recyclables, the outreach program developed by the institution will help the users make an informed decision. The program is the most viable since the problems come from a lack of awareness by the public on how to use recycling cans. With fitted labels and posters, the users will be able to put the recyclables where required. For example: specific tins for plastics, papers, food waste, plastic bottles, and other related recyclables. This will aid in avoiding mix-ups hence reducing the cost of sorting and time wasted during collection. The outreach program proves cost-effective and very implementable with the inclusion of all the stakeholders involved.




Guttchen, Church, Gimpel, Jones, & Smith. (2020). Washington State Contamination Reduction Outreach Plan. Washington State Department of Ecology.

Luchs, M. G. (2015). A brief introduction to design thinking. Design thinking: New product development essentials from the PDMA, 1-12.


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