Start a Recycling Program
These instructions are intended to help educate businesses, schools and institutions in the finer points of starting and running a recycling program.
Begin with the Bottom Line
In Business and Institutions
Let Them Know How They Are Doing
Begin with the Bottom Line
Avoiding disposal fees should be one of the primary goals of a recycling program. The more materials you reduce, reuse and recycle, the less waste you dispose. The less waste you dispose, the fewer trash bins or pickups are required, and the lower your disposal fees. Any way to decrease operating costs will add to your company's or school's bottom line, especially in today's competitive economic climate. This is not meant to sell short environmental benefits for recycling but all organizations must watch their bottom line!
All recyclable materials are commodities and, as such, their value fluctuates. This is why a program should be built around cost avoidance rather than potential recycling revenues. These revenues may help to offset the cost of your program. However, it is not likely that they will support the entire program.
You'll need to work with a hauler who will serve your recycling collection needs.
Some organizations work with separate haulers for trash and recycling. Many companies specializing in recycling collection and schools and offices, which generate large amounts of paper and other recyclable materials, are often sought-after customers. Some haulers charge for recycling pick-up, some collect at no charge, and some may even pay you for their recyclable materials!
Your hauler will determine the range of materials you can recycle, and it's important that everyone knows the items that will be accepted for recycling, to minimize contamination in the stream of recycled resources. Know whether your city requires haulers and recyclers to enter into franchise agreements to operate within the city. If they do, be familiar with the requirements of the franchise agreement. These requirements and documents should be available through the city offices.
Must recyclables be source-separated or can they be mixed? Does the recycler have different rates for source separated versus mixed recyclables? Does the recycler have free services that might help you develop or enhance your program? The regulation of recyclables can be quite different from city to city. Knowing what is required within your city or county limits will help you select vendors to haul and process your recyclables, and may save you from making potentially costly mistakes.
Instead of waste, recycling programs are generating raw materials for manufacturing new products! Each hauler sells these materials to a broker, or provides them directly to a company that makes recycled-content products. Remember, it's Too Good to Waste!
Typically, a teacher and a class, or a club or team of student leaders will champion recycling in a school. In an office environment the organizer can come from any department and it is best if you can have coordinators from several departments on board. This is a great structure, because, by recycling, people can really "make a difference" in the workplace. And students can learn firsthand many valuable lessons. Paper recycling can be a service-learning project -- and a focus on paper can initiate lively classroom investigations. Awareness generated by recycling can even translate into Science Fair projects!
Administrative leadership is essential. If your program will be district-wide, establish a top-level recycling policy, which both supports and mandates everyone's positive recycling efforts. In schools, the motivation and knowledge that can result from recycling will benefit your student's overall learning environment.
Recycling bins should be placed in every classroom and office, in the Library and at all adult workstations. Students can reuse cardboard boxes, and mark them as recycling bins with hand-made or computer-generated signage. Some haulers and some municipal governments will provide bins and other kinds of collection equipment, to support recycling.
When recycling containers are clearly identified and handy to access throughout a school, people will get in the habit of using them -- just as they'll find a trash can rather than litter. Establish a regular weekly or biweekly collection day, and form a Waste Management Team of students and and/or staff members who will collect the recyclables. And, remember to recruit the cleaning staff as part of the team!
By separating materials for recycling, you will reduce the amount of time custodial staff must spend emptying garbage cans, and allow more time for transferring recyclables into centralized containers on an as-needed basis. Asking people to bring their recyclables to centralized containers in the first place will free up time for janitors to take the recyclables to the main storage container, lowering your program costs even more.
Your organization can go even further than collection and "close the recycling loop" with your purchasing power by requesting products that have recycled content.
Education -- the primary business of schools -- is a big winner in recycling, too.
Recycling is a hands-on, real-world learning experience. For example, when students make paper as a class activity, the process is a miniaturized version of actual, industrial paper manufacturing! The main ingredients are water, and used paper obtained from recycling collection. Students use blenders, and paper companies use gigantic "hydropulpers." The final products can be sheets of paper, or molded-paper forms which are used as containers or packing materials. Your students can even visit local businesses, to make a first-hand comparison.
Students apply their math, science, social studies and communication skills, while recycling builds teamwork and problem-solving ability.
In Businesses and Institutions
The smaller your business, the more difficult it may be to find vendors willing to provide all of the services you would like for your facility. If this is the case, it may take a little more energy to get the job done. You should consider the following:
- Am I in a multi-tenant building? If so, talk to your landlord and try to get other tenants involved in a cooperative effort.
- Am I in a business park? If so, talk to other businesses within the park to see what they are doing and if joint programs can be developed.
Check with the city in which you are located to see if they have special programs to assist small businesses with recycling.
One of the keys to a successful recycling program can be summed up in a single word - communicate! To help assure a high level of employee participation and minimize contamination and collection problems, you will need to educate both employees and the people picking up your recyclables. Explain the "hows" and "whys" of recycling to each group, being sure to show examples of the various commodities (mixed paper, high grade office paper, glass, aluminum, etc.) and their appropriate disposition. Be sure to stress how contamination of source-separated recyclables can create problems for your vendor. Make yourself and your recycling team available for presentations at staff meetings.
A company or board-wide communications meeting is a great opportunity to kick off the recycling program or introduce program changes. Other tools, such as electronic mail and bulletin boards, are effective for educating and updating employees. Don't be surprised if you get suggestions from excited co-workers wanting to recycle even more materials.
Some keys to ensuring the continued success of your recycling program are:
Let Them Know How They Are Doing
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Report to your employees/students on the results of their efforts on a monthly or quarterly basis. Let them know how much is being recycled, how much income is being generated, and how much is being saved in disposal costs.
Convert tonnes and kilograms of commodities recycled into resources saved, energy and water conserved, and tonnes of garbage kept out of local landfills.
Be sure to congratulate everyone on a job well done. If possible, try to develop a system that rewards contributors for their efforts. Contests between departments and classes may help publicize the program and increase participation. Awards can be as simple as a certificate, free coffee, soda or ice cream. Use anything that draws attention to the recycling program, its goals and your program's accomplishments.
Keep recycling and other environmental issues in the minds of employees and students by using newsletters to publicize the efforts of your recycling team, or one of its members. Recognizing waste reduction leaders will encourage everyone to continue and expand their efforts. You may wish to contact the media (e.g., local newspapers, TV or radio, environmental magazines, trade journals, etc.) for additional exposure for exceptional accomplishments or awards.
Got that paper program going? How about recycling newspapers, magazines, corrugated cardboard glass, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, toner cartridges from copiers and printers, laser printer cartridges, polystyrene, packaging peanuts or landscape trimmings?
Now is the time to take another look at your waste disposal and see where you can make adjustments to your bin size or pick-up frequency. The more recyclables you pull out of your waste stream, the less garbage you pay to landfill. Once your recycling program is operational for a period of time, you may want to perform another waste assessment to see if new materials, which can be recycled effectively, have entered the waste stream. If so, you may be able to expand the program to capture these materials for reuse or recycling.
Expand your recycling efforts into a "closed loop" waste management program. Buy products made from recycled materials, such as company stationery and copier paper. Consider using janitorial products, such as hand towels, made from recycled paper. Reuse packaging materials received with products you order to package products you ship.
Begin to look at source reduction, market development, Design for Repair, Design for Recycling or Design for Disassembly. All of these are important parts of a truly integrated waste management program.
Using recycling as an accepted business practice, encourage your recycling team (or Green Team) to work with your administration to develop an environmental management statement or policy. Remember the rules of solid waste management:
REDUCE the waste you produce
REUSE as much as you can
RECYCLE the rest and