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Take Another Look At Recycling

August 14, 2012

Many businesses have been recycling for years.Their recycling infrastructure was developed when the decision was first made to recycle—the recycling bins are in place, staff knows they are expected to recycle, the recycling bins get emptied, and the recycling hauler takesthe materials away. The job is done! Now it's two, five, or ten, years later and the recycling program doesn't seem as effective as it did in the beginning. The recycling tonnages haven't increased and the trash tonnages may be the same or have increased. What went wrong?

Review, Analyze, Revise

recycling 8-14-2012 aRecycling programs like other programs need to be reviewed, analyzed, and revised. Many changes occur over time that we may not be aware of because we're focused on our primary work. Examples of some of these changes are: new business practices that may generate different waste material or increased waste, staff turnover or downsizing, complacency, etc. Making the time each year to evaluate the recycling program will allow businesses to make the necessary changes in the program to accommodate specific needs.

Create a Committee

The easiest way to approach the evaluation is to create a committee. The committee's role is to gather as much information as possible on the recycling program, analyze the data, and to make recommendations on steps needed to improve the existing program. This includes reviewing the infrastructure, conducting a waste sort or a visual assessment of the contents in the trash (May 15, 2012 Blog Article), reviewing the recycling and trash reports and related bills from the hauler, talking with the hauler and finding out what additional items they take for recycling, analyzing the data, setting new recycling goals, and making recommendations on the steps needed to achieve the goals.

recycling 8-14-2012 bInformal Interviews of Staff

Another strategy for obtaining valuable information is to conduct informal interviews with staff. This will reveal what staff thinks about the current recycling system, what it would take to get staff to recycle more, and how recycling could be made easier for them. By engaging staff in the evaluation process, it shows management cares about their opinion and gets them thinking about recycling.

Create an Implementation Plan

Next steps are to create an implementation plan—

  • Developing the task list
  • Creating a timeline for finishing the individual tasks, and
  • Selecting the appropriate staff to work on each task.

Once the implementation plan details have been agreed upon, top management needs to communicate to all staff what the plan is, that they fully support the plan, and are asking for everyone's participation.

Evaluate the Progress

Part of the implementation phase includes evaluating the progress made. Without this step, the effectiveness of the changes will be unknown. The evaluation process includes:

· Documenting the changes made

· Reviewing and analyzing the recycling and trash tonnage reports, and

· Comparing this information to the revised recycling goals.

Once armed with this information, it will be clear if changes need to be made to the strategies being implemented. By allowing the time to tweak the program, recycling goals can be achieved and trash minimized.

Communicate the Progress

Although it may seem that the job is now done, it is still necessary to communicate the progress to staff. By providing staff with information on how well the company is achieving its recycling goals, it allows staff to remain engaged and interested in recycling. It also conveys the message to staff that the company believes that recycling is important, that staff's effort to recycle is appreciated, and that recycling is the responsibility of everyone at the company.

There are many ways to convey the company's recycling information to staff. One of the most effective ways is to translate the company's recycling tonnages into information that the average person can relate to. EPA's Warm Tool, a web–based resource, translates the weights of materials recycled into the environmental benefits from having recycled those materials. All you have to do is plug in your recycling tonnages per material type into the Excel spreadsheet, and it will provide you with the equivalent environmental benefits. This information can then be shared with staff.


Submitted by: Mary Ann Remolador, NERC's Assistant Director

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