Distributing a recycling bin to every household in a city can be a money-waster if the majority of citizens don’t recycle. This has historically been the case in Fort Wayne, Ind., so officials there are using technology to identify who really wants to recycle.

Starting in January 2011, the city will convert to a one-cart recycling program. To help make the transition smoother, in November the city launched a Web app called the City of Fort Wayne Recycling Cart Registration so that residentswho pay for garbage service could choose to register for the one-cart recycling bin.

Allowing citizens to choose to participate in the program instead of assigning a new bin to every household in the city will save $2 million, according to city officials. The Web app was developed at no charge by Atos Origin, Fort Wayne’s IT outsourcing partner.

Previously the city had a two-bin recycling system, which most households had, said Fort Wayne CIO James Haley. But because the majority of residents don’t use the recycle bins, the two-bin system seemed unnecessary.

Less than half of Fort Wayne’s 79,000 households recycle, and the city would have spent nearly $4.7 million dollars to distribute the new bins to every household in the city. Bob Kennedy, the city’s director of public works, said the city hopes the new bin system will gradually increase the city’s recycling participation up to 60 percent.

“It’s only about 30 percent of the city that currently recycles — and the online application helps give us the means to understand who out there is interested in recycling and where they are in the city, which will help us determine how we’ll go about eventually distributing the carts to people who are interested without using any additional expense from the city that will cost more than giving everyone a cart,” said Public Information Officer Liesl Marelli.

If the percentage of residents recycling increases, the fees the city must pay to the landfill will drop, Kennedy said.

In the meantime, the city must ensure that all data such as names and addresses submitted on the Web app are accurate. Fort Wayne’s Solid Waste Manager Matt Gratz cross-referenced the data with an existing GIS database, Haley said.

“The challenge that the solid waste manager had is that once he got a list of people who wanted the cart, he had to make sure that they were in the city, and that they were a customer of the solid waste contract. And he had to find out what district the citizen was in,” Haley said. “So that would have been three different manual lookups he would have had to do for every address he got.”

The new bins can hold various plastics, glass, metal cans, paper food boxes, cardboard and paper, according to the city’s website. The city will start to pick up the old 18-gallon recycle bins on the same day it starts delivering the new bins (residents can register for 48- or 96-gallon bins), Marelli said. Residents can also keep their old bins for storage if they wish.

“We plan on distributing many of the bins we collect to local schools for their recycling programs,” Marelli said in an e-mail. “The extra bins that are collected that do not go to local schools will be recycled by our cart manufacturer to make new recycling carts.”

Marelli said that reaching Fort Wayne residents using modern technology is cost efficient for the city.

“I think this program is going to create a very nice framework for programs that come in the future and how we can even expand on the current applications,” Marelli said.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.