Feet on the Street 2.0

Do you know what to throw? Placing the wrong items in recycling is a big problem. We want to help so we're launching Feet on the Street, a "curbside checkup team".

This team will visit recycling carts in the public right of way and check what items were placed in recycling carts.

The City of Grand Rapids has joined the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), The Recycling Partnership and Saskatchewan-based Canadian clean tech startup Prairie Robotics to launch a six-month pilot project that uses high-tech cameras, global positioning systems, and computers on city recycling trucks to check the contents of curbside recycling carts for contaminants and tailor constructive feedback as needed, household by household. 

In this project, instead of a person reviewing contents and placing a tag on curbside recycling carts, Prairie Robotics will retrofit the city’s recycling collection trucks with camera technology. Using machine-learning techniques, the camera scans the material as it is mechanically dumped from each recycling cart into the truck and recognizes unacceptable items such as plastic bags, polystyrene foam, yard waste, and trash. Such items are flagged in real-time, allowing for a personalized postcard or digital notification to be sent to a resident with information about exactly what contaminants were found in the recycling cart and how they can recycle better. The intent of this project is to help change behavior and educate people on what items are acceptable in Grand Rapids recycling carts.


An example of what mailers residents could find in their mailboxes:

Oops Mailer for the Feet on the Street 2.0 program 


Need to know what you can and can't recycle or how to dispose of hazardous materials? Check the link below.

Reimagine Trash

What is the “Feet on the Street” program?

The “Feet on the Street” (FOTS) program is an anti-contamination program developed by The Recycling Partnership (TRP) that is focused on optimizing the recycling system in your community. The program encompasses a combination of recycling education and recycling inspection at the curb to help drive positive behavioral change that will improve the recycling for the good of the community.

Why are we doing this program?

For most of the early twenty-first century, China was the main destination for the world's scrap material. This resulted from a combination of factors, including the growing need for metal, paper and plastics in China's expanding industry, lax environmental regulations, cheap labor, and inexpensive shipping using containers that would otherwise be returned to China empty.

In 2017, that situation abruptly changed when China announced its ‘’National Sword’’ program, which banned many scrap imports and imposed strict quality standards of less than 1% contamination. As a result, the US recycling industry is responding by investing in better sorting equipment and focusing on cleaning up recycling streams, not necessarily to meet the National Sword standards, but to meet the requirements needed for increased use domestically.

Locally, we have seen an increase in the amount of contaminated recycling and we need to do our part in improving the quality of material.

Is Contamination really a big deal?

Contamination increases the cost to the recycling system in labor, time and increased safety hazards. Communities that focus on anti-contamination programs for their community can see benefits to their recycling program such as:

  • Increased the capture of quality recyclables
  • Increase the value of recyclables materials
  • Increased the savings related to improved processing and decrease in labor, downtime and fees

How will the new FOTS program work?

Existing recyclable materials will be reviewed by  cameras once the material is dumped into the "hopper" of the recycle truck. The system will identify items currently not allowed in Grand Rapids recycling carts and pictures of the material, cart, and property will be reviewed by Public Works staff.

Residents will receive a Recycling Information Card via direct mail that shows the material not allowed in our carts. This will replace the oops cards used during the initial Feet On The Street program.

Residents that continue to place incorrect material into the recycling cart may have services suspended for 6 months.

My cart was not serviced, will they come back to empty the cart?

No. If you find the cart turned around with an “oops” tag on the cart, that means there was too much contaminated material and we could not service the cart. The tag will tell you what was wrong; if you make this correction, we will service the cart on the next regularly scheduled collection day.

Are the camera's logging all material from the recycling cart?

The camera's have been trained to only focus on material not allowed in city recycling carts. Other items not considered contamination will be ignored. 

Will this really make a difference?

Yes. Other communities that have done a similar program have reported a reduction in the amount of contamination; anywhere from 25% to 45%.

What items will prevent my cart from being serviced?

If trash, yard waste, food waste, construction material, or bagged recyclable are found, we will not service the cart.

Items that may be recyclable that we do not take:

  • Plastic bags
  • Styrofoam
  • Electronics
  • Shredded paper
  • Wood

These are examples of materials that should not be in the cart. We will still service the cart the 1st time but will leave a tag educating residents so they understand the error.