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Department of Public Works Wins Recycling Program Excellence Award

Friday, August 19, 2022
Program of the Year Award from Resource Recycling Magazine Recognizes Contamination Reduction Campaign

(WASHINGTON, DC) – The Department of Public Works (DPW) was honored as a 2022 Program of the Year Winner for its successful recycling contamination reduction campaign by Resource Recycling Magazine during its annual conference in Austin, Texas on August 5.

Washington, D.C. won in the Large City category, which honors a city of 150,000 or more residents, for the campaign conducted by DPW in collaboration with The Recycling Partnership. Thanks to the campaign, in November 2021, DPW announced that recycling contamination levels in the District dropped by two-thirds—to 11 percent, down from 33 percent in 2017. This means the agency made significant strides in changing recycling awareness and behavior for District residents. 

“Under Mayor Bowser’s leadership, our goal is to make the District is the healthiest, greenest, most livable city for all residents; and that includes finding ways to reduce waste,” said Interim DPW Director Michael Carter. “Overall, we want to divert 80 percent of the city’s waste away from landfills and incineration by 2032 and having a robust recycling program is an important part of that goal.”

The 2021 campaign was built on outreach conducted since 2017.

“We were starting to see contamination and the costs start to build, and we really wanted to go after [that contamination],” DPW Office of Waste Diversion Manager Blake Adams said in a Resource Recycling webinar announcing the award. 

DPW’s 2021 campaign happened in two phases:

  • From March 2021 through May 2021, involving more than 17,000 households: DPW staff and temporary labor conducted four cart observations per household, leaving warnings when necessary. Their work decreased contamination in those carts from 18 percent to 13 percent.
  • From September 2021 through October 2021, involving nearly 6,500 households: DPW staff and temporary labor conducted five cart observations per household, testing various strategies of tagging carts depending on their level of recycling compliance. This effort drove down contamination rates in carts from 13 percent to 7 percent.

Currently, the agency is developing a comprehensive Zero Waste DC Plan and is holding a series of community engagement forums to get input from residents, businesses, and stakeholders.