Participation in a program can have two meanings, one is the number of households signed up to participate (in an opt-in program), the other is the percent of those households signed up that are regularly setting their collection container out for pickup.

Sign-up rates

A sign-up rate is the percent of households signed up for the program out of all eligible households. The sign-up rate for a program in which all customers are delivered a cart (resident does not need to take any action to get a collection container) is 100%.

Stagnant sign up rate

If the sign-up rate for your program is stagnant, additional education and outreach should be done to make sure residents are aware the program is available. Educational methods to do this can include low cost methods such as boosting a post on social media or leaving a cart hanger on households who are not signed up, to higher cost methods like a direct mailer. Whatever method you choose, make sure the audience is understood and the educational method chosen is appropriate for the audience. For example, if the audience may not speak English as a first language, make sure educational material is translated or appropriate outreach methods are used to reach that community.

Set-out rate

The sign-up rate for a program and those actively participating in the program are not always the same. Due to the potential for odors or pests from food scraps stored outdoors, residents who are fully participating in the program are likely setting their collection container out each pickup day, however some may only set out their collection container every other pickup. Make sure to define participation for your community and track it.

How to track set-out rates

Technology can be used to calculate set-out rates (ex. RFID tags embedded in carts or by installing tipper counters on trucks) or set-out rates can be tracked manually by asking the collection crew to tally or use a clicker counter for each cart emptied on the route. If participation is determined as a set-out every other week, set-out counts will need to be done for two consecutive weeks, and the average taken of the total carts set-out versus the total carts on the route. If not tracking set-outs on all routes, make sure the routes are a statistically significant sample of different areas of the City that include all income
levels and areas with residents from all ethnicities.

Households have a cart but aren’t using it

If a large number of households signed up are not actively setting out materials for collection, educational materials may need to be developed to encourage households to begin participating. Educational materials could focus on:

  1. Benefits of diverting food scraps from the trash
  2. Tips and tricks on how to get started
  3. Testimonials from others participating as to why they participate or what the impact has been on their garbage.

A cart hanger or direct mailer may be good options to use to increase participation of people who have carts.

Links and Resources
City of Cambridge MA Report:
NRDC Case Studies:

Target Organics Municipal Case Studies:
City of Minneapolis, MN
Town of Kingston, NY
City of Napa, CA
City of Fayetteville, AR

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