Last year, SWACO launched the Recycling Cart Initiative, a program that makes 65-gallon wheeled recycling carts available at a discounted rate to communities that do not already use them.

Although these carts offer several economic, environmental and operational advantages over recycling bins, our primary goal was to increase recycling rates among Franklin County residents.

The protection that automated collection provides workers has been well documented over the years, but in today's environment, the recycling carts have an additional and important advantage of protection during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In Franklin County, 96% of single-family households have access to curbside-recycling pickup. But many communities still rely on small recycling bins.

The small containers, which have a capacity of about 18 gallons, limit the amount of material that can be recycled. The larger wheeled carts, on the other hand, enable people to recycle more material, which means less waste for the landfill.

In some cases, the use of larger carts has resulted in a 30% increase in the amount of recyclable material collected.

So SWACO created the Recycling Cart Initiative to get the wheeled carts to more homeowners. Through the initiative, we provided funding for and coordinated the distribution of these carts to 38,000 households in five county communities.

This year, we're helping even more communities make the switch to larger carts.

The wheeled carts also allow for automation, and using the lifting mechanism on trucks to pick up recycling and garbage receptacles minimizes workers' contact with the receptacles and the material inside of them that could be contaminated with the coronavirus.

That's a benefit none of us thought about six months ago.

Automated collection also keeps workers safe from injuries.

When small bins are used, workers repeatedly have to get in and out of the truck's cab and manually pick up the bins and toss the contents into the hopper. It's a tedious job that can put a lot of strain on a person's body. But automation minimizes the strenuous work and, consequently, the injuries.

The Recycling Partnership, a national nonprofit aimed at improving recycling, reported that Minneapolis reduced worker-compensation claims by $250,000 in the first year it transitioned to carts.

Lastly, the wheeled carts are easier to roll to the curb instead of carrying bins. And they come with lids, which keep the recyclables contained and prevent them from blowing out and littering the neighborhood.

When it comes to recycling, we're doing a pretty good job in Franklin County.

At 50%, our recycling rate exceeds the national average. But we're on a mission to do better, and we've set a goal to reach 75% diversion by 2032.

A public-opinion poll we conducted in 2017 revealed that the majority of county residents see the value in recycling and believe it's the right thing to do.

That attitude -- combined with the use of larger recycling containers -- gives me confidence that our 75% diversion goal is realistic and attainable.

So we'll continue partnering with county communities, making sure each one eventually has affordable access to the wheeled recycling carts.

For more information about our Recycling Cart Initiative, go to swaco.org/353/recycling-cart-initiative.

Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. Questions about its operations can be directed to him at questions@swaco.org. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.