EHS Management

How to Design a Recycling Program that Really Works


 Top-level management support. The success of a recycling program hinges on the endorsement of senior management. Their positive support promotes a similar attitude among the establishment’s employees and customers. Also, recycling programs often require initial outlays of capital. Management approval of a recycling budget ensures that resources are available when needed.

Recycling coordinator. A coordinator should be appointed to manage the entire recycling program. The person selected should be genuinely interested in recycling and able to interface with personnel at all organization levels. It is a good idea to incorporate recycling responsibilities into the employee’s overall job description.

Recycling task force. A task force should be formed to help the coordinator initiate the program. It may become a permanent advisory body to ensure continued program development. For best results, choose task force representatives from the departments that will be most affected by the recycling program, such as human resources. It is also a good idea to include a spokesperson for employees.

Knowledge of wastestream. The coordinator should assess the amount of recyclables in the organization’s wastestream, and where they originate. This assessment is known as a “waste audit.” The waste audit should focus on offices, cafeterias, lounges, rest rooms, vending machine areas, boiler rooms, maintenance areas, storage areas, and other locations where trash originates.


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Markets for recyclables. The recycling program will generate materials that can be used by producers of recycled products, known as end-users. The recycling coordinator is the one to decide how to get recyclables to the market place.
Recyclables may be marketed directly to an end-user if agreement can be reached on the amount, quality, and regularity of the shipments. Otherwise, it will be necessary to negotiate with intermediaries—such as waste haulers or recyclers—to collect and market recyclables. The coordinator should discuss recycling strategies with waste haulers, recyclers, and end-users long before adopting a final plan for the recycling program.

Internal collection. Whether the organization is housed in a number of buildings or in one building, you need to design a method for collecting recyclables. When it comes to collection, convenience is the key. Some things to consider:

  • Containers. Recycling container options range from reused corrugated boxes to a wide variety of commercially available bins. Consider where containers are to be placed, the quantity needed, size, shape, color, and identification (e.g., labels, decals, or posters) that informs employees and customers what to put in and what to leave out. Check with the local fire marshal regarding fire code compliance.
  • Storage. The central storage area should be clean, dry, and free of fire hazards. If storage is outside, consider covering the bins to preserve material quality and prevent litter.
  • Collection personnel. Collecting recyclables and taking them to the central storage area is usually the responsibility of custodial staff. If recyclables must be delivered to a market, delivery personnel must be designated. A printed operations schedule is helpful to collection and delivery personnel.
  • Materials preparation. Many end-users require special preparation of materials for efficient transportation and/or incorporation into their manufacturing processes. Preparation techniques include crushing, bundling, and baling. Examples include a paper recycling container located in each cubicle and containers for recycling cans and bottles located near the snack bar.

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Education and promotion.

  • Tell employees and customers about recycling policies, procedures, and goals.
  • Encourage participation.
  • Stress that recyclables must be kept free of contaminants that can diminish their market value.
  • Publicize program successes to maintain ongoing participation.
  • Convey this information through the usual channels, which include staff meetings, orientation meetings for new employees, newsletters, fliers, and posters.

Evaluation. The coordinator should monitor the program to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency. Good sources for this are:

  • Maintenance staff, for input regarding improper handling and contamination of materials; accounting staff, regarding waste management costs
  • Employees and customers, for suggestions concerning convenience
  • Safety staff regarding possible storage violations
  • Waste hauler or recycler, for information on the amount of waste generated and materials recycled, and the percentage of waste reduced through recycling.

Procurement policies. Purchasing products that are made from or packaged in recycled materials creates a demand for the materials generated by a recycling program. One way to achieve this is through revising bid specifications, which give a price preference for items containing post-consumer materials.

See tomorrow’s Advisor for 9 steps you can share with your workers on practicing successful recycling.