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8 steps for creating a workplace recycling program

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Most people you speak with will agree that having a recycling program in their workplace would be a great idea — however not everyone has a plan for creating one. Sometimes the most difficult part in creating a recycling program is just answering the question, “Where do I start?”

Here then are some suggestions on how to create a recycling program:

Step 1: Select a recycling coordinator

Accountability is key — identify a coordinator who will be leading your efforts (maybe it is you!) Ideally this coordinator will be enthusiastic, well-organized, and will serve as a liaison between your facility, your custodial staff and waste hauler.

Step 2: Decide what to collect and recycle

A natural place to start would be to collect paper waste in your office — did you know that paper makes up an average of 37.5 percent of the waste stream? You may also want to collect aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles, batteries, light bulbs and ink jet/toner cartridges. Whatever you decide to collect, make sure to make it easy for building occupants to recycle the selected items so you can maximize participation.

Step 3: Choose a collection method

To mix or not to mix — that is the question. Once you decide what recyclables to collect, now you need to decide whether to have separate recycling containers for each recyclable, or if you will be able to collect all recyclables in one container (to be sorted at the recycling facility).

A “source separation” method will require more bins and effort to set up, but may result in higher market value for the recyclables as well as a higher environmental awareness amongst occupants.

A “comingled” or “single source” method will typically have a higher participation rate, but may result in lower market value for recyclables and a higher potential for contamination. There is no “right” or “wrong” method — it is just important to choose the right method for your facility.

Step 4: Choose a hauling option

Now that you are collecting recyclables, how do you get them to a facility to actually be recycled? There are a variety of options including:

  • Drop off at a recycling location
  • Have recyclables picked up by a waste hauler or commercial recycler
  • Partner with neighboring businesses to form a recycling cooperative
  • Coordinate a back hauling agreement with a company making deliveries into your community
Step 5: Set up recycling bins and guidelines

Organization and communication is essential to an effective recycling program. It is important to set up clearly-labeled collection bins in locations where they will be used by building occupants. You may want to consider placing recycling containers in the following areas:

  • Deskside – for paper
  • General collection areas – for all recyclables
  • Final collection areas – for pick up by waste hauler
Step 6: Monitor your program

Once your recycling program is in place, monitor its progress to evaluate cost-effectiveness, employee participation and environmental impact.

It is also helpful to communicate results to building occupants — people are more likely to participate if they can see that their actions are having an impact.

Step 7: Promote your program through education

Proper education is essential to the long-term success of your recycling program.

  • Consider incorporating signage to increase awareness of recycling program
  • Explain what is recyclable (perhaps show pictures of recyclable and non-recyclable materials)
  • Explain how recyclables will be collected
  • Explain how your recycling program will benefit the environment and the company
  • Consider asking your recycling pick up service provider or vendors if other education and training is available
Step 8: The important role of custodial staff

Custodial staff play an important role in the success of your recycling program. You will want to make sure they are aware of and enrolled in your new recycling program. Awareness of the recycling program will help eliminate (or at least minimize) occurrences of unintentional contamination, as well as help you to avoid the unfortunate sight of your recycling containers being emptied into the trash dumpster.

You can view a more detailed version of this list, as well as additional information about recycling at earth911.org.

Keith Schneringer currently serves on the Energy and Sustainability Committee for BOMA San Diego, and is also on the Board of Directors for the San Diego Green Building Council, where he is the co-chair of the Commercial Real Estate LEED EBOM Committee.

Douglas Kot is the executive director of the San Diego Green Building Council, which is the leading local resource for green building information and expertise.

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