Mish Mash of Office Recycling Bins & Labels

Does Your Office Recycling Program Spark Joy?

By now, everyone has heard at least one story about how recycling is in trouble because we sent “everything” to China and they don’t want it anymore. They DO want our recyclables.  They just don’t want the trash that we sent along with it.  In response, communities across the country are suspending programs, dropping glass, refusing non-bottle plastics, even prohibiting newspapers and “junk mail.”  With municipal contracts re-negotiated or suspended, trash haulers are now turning their attention to their commercial accounts.  Heavy fines are being levied with little or no warning.   But before you trash your office recycling program, try these tips:

Consistency is Key

  1. Make sure recycling containers are consistent throughout offices, departments and the building

If your recycling service partner provided the containers, ask them to do a site visit to see what is needed. Containers probably won’t be provided for free any longer because the return on investment is low and slow.  Your recycler can recommend suppliers if they don’t provide them.

If you’re a single tenant facility, your facility staff can do an inventory.

If you’re a multi-tenant building and the tenants obtained their own containers, this step will be more difficult but it is crucial.

The cleaning service, day porter and facility staff often share the responsibility for the office recycling program. They’re often employed by different companies and it’s not unusual to have a high turnover of personnel.  If everything is different in each tenant’s space, training will be almost impossible.  Recyclables will end up in the trash, wasting everyone’s efforts.  Or trash will end up in the recycling and you will pay “contamination fees.”

  1. Make sure recycling labels are consistent too!

There is a well-regarded movement for “universal labeling” in the US. Though it can’t hurt, I do not believe this is the solution to recycling’s challenges.

Employees seem to channel their creativity into making office recycling program signs. Over the years we’ve spent hours designing and revising labels as the industry changed.  Yet inevitably, when I walk through our participating offices, I find our labels have been added to, highlighted and in some cases, covered over.  I challenge you to walk through your facility and you’ll see what I mean.

Moreover, not all office recycling programs are the same. One factor depends on the recycler’s equipment.  For a dual stream processor, plastic bags are no big deal but single stream processors cannot tolerate them.  Another factor is end markets.  A printing and writing mill cannot use the same type of paper as a tissue mill or a roofing felt manufacturer.  Proximity to the end markets is important too.  For example, one of the problems with glass recycling in Maryland is that we’re not close to a glass manufacturing plant.  Transportation costs and environmental impacts are unfavorable.

Convenience is Key

  1. Make sure recycling AND trash containers are conveniently located

Ideally, recycling and trash containers should be located right next to each other. If not, what’s in the person’s hand is going in whichever container is in front of them.  Rare is the “recycling champion” who will carry their recycling around looking for the appropriate container!  And do NOT think you will ”force” people to recycle by removing the trash can.  At best, you’ll get plastic ream wrappers, plastic copy paper banding or paper towels.  At worst… I’ll leave that to your imagination and a different blog post!

Communication is Key

  1. Communicate the “Do’s & Don’ts” of Your Program to EVERYONE

It is even more confusing since different jurisdictions have different rules. If you live in one county but work in another, the rules may be different.  In addition, in office recycling programs, the service providers’ rules supersede the jurisdictions’ rules.  For example, the plastic cups may be ok at the curb but not ok at work, even in the same county.

      Communicate frequently and in various ways

  • Your labels are a form of communication so make sure they are easy to understand and consistent.
  • Hang posters or flyers above, not on, the containers. Often containers are swapped out, not emptied, and you may not get the same container back. No taping to the walls?  Inexpensive frames lend a professional look.
  • Use affiliated occasions such as America Recycles Day which is coming up (Nov 15) and Earth Day (Apr 22) to remind participants of the “do’s & don’ts.”
  • Consider running a contest like “Get Caught Green-handed” or email out a short recycling quiz. Offer small rewards such as a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, or gift card to a local business.
  • Share the success of your program periodically and include the do’s and don’t. It’s important that participants know their efforts make a difference.

     Include the Support Team

  • Make sure you have the cooperation and understanding of the cleaning service, day porter and facilities.  Making sure containers and labels are consistent is half the battle.  However, these teams may work in different locations where the rules and procedures are different.  Make sure they understand how YOUR office recycling program works.  Your recycling service provider should be able to provide training materials and may even be willing to provide a brief training session.
  • Encourage them to report problems to you, rather than just throwing the contaminated recyclables in the trash. In spite of frequent turnover, often there are senior members who stay with the building even when the janitorial company changes.  They know who’s throwing the toner cartridge in the recycling container or who just got new computers and put the boxes, Styrofoam packing and all, in the cardboard dumpster.  In this way you can address the problem directly rather than sending a generic memo to all that is likely to be ignored.
  • Consider “greening” your walkthroughs with the cleaning team’s supervisors.   While evaluating vacuuming and bathrooms, look at the recycling containers.  Are containers missing? Have the labels been defaced or removed?  Are the containers dirty and need to be wiped off?  (Trash can lids are wiped off; the recycling lids should be too.)  Ask if they pulling more trash from certain areas than others ?  This may indicate recyclables are going in the trash, not the recycling.

Office Recycling Works!

Before you decide that “recycling’s not worth it,” try these tips first. Consider that in Maryland, recycling generates 5,946 jobs worth $3.84 million in wages, $1.4 million in taxes and has an overall economic impact of $1.1 billion.  Recycling is not “separating your trash.”  It is the first step in the re-manufacturing process and we need YOU to help it succeed!  #RecycleRight and your office recycling program can spark joy!