3) Get Your Occupants Involved
At the heart of any waste management program are your occupants. It takes the hands of many to generate trash and equally as many to be steadfast about disposal. Whether it’s school children recycling project papers or employees diverting their plastic bottles at lunchtime, human habits can make or break your recycling rates.
Ensure that bin placement and signage are clear, accessible, and easy to understand. A common mistake is locating recycling bins too far away from garbage containers, stresses Zimms, which makes it more difficult to keep the streams separate.
Communication is also a key factor in your program’s success. Employees need to know recycling guidelines, what the benefits are, and whether their efforts are making a difference. When you report the results of an audit, for example, describe recycling volumes in relatable measures, recommends Leonard. Think pounds or tons diverted, miles of bottles collected, cubic yards or football field lengths, or reams of paper saved.
You can also incentivize employees by holding contests (see PG&E example at right) or finding unique ways to engage them with your program.
“We had a client trying to improve its recycling rate and found through an audit that there were a significant number of polyfoam cups going into the trash. So they bought every employee a ceramic coffee mug that could be reused,” Leonard explains. “People got to feel good about the initiative and the ROI was only a couple of years.”
Of course, the company also had to prove that the water used to wash the cups still had a smaller environmental impact than the foam cups, notes Leonard, but it was viewed as a chance to further educate employees about sustainability.
You may even be able to divert some of your collected waste to employees’ homes. “A simple solution is to offer used coffee grinds and landscape clippings to occupants for reuse in their gardens,” adds Leonard.
Don’t overlook your janitorial personnel – “there can be high turnover or even language barriers with cleaning staff, which can erode consistent recycling practices over time. Create a pictorial education program for them,” Zimms notes.
Waste as a Commodity
As you phase in initiatives from your waste audit, make sure to assess the overall goals of your recycling program. Some companies will target diversion rates as set forth by their local government or state goals, whereas others are driven by the gains made by a competitor.
“If you’re just starting a recycling program, set a diversion goal of 15-25%,” recommends Zimms. “Then increase your benchmark after two years to 40% and over 50% after five years with a mature program.”
You can complete follow-up audits at any time to track progress, but it is advisable to schedule them on a routine basis (such as once or twice a year) or when a major change like a new tenant impacts your operations, Leonard notes.
At the end of the day, however, one of the best things you can do for your recycling program is to change your attitude about trash. Waste management is better framed as resource management.
Every organization generates excess materials that can be salvaged – wood pallets, fryer oil, toner cartridges, food scraps, electronics, and light bulbs.
The key is to use an audit to better manage those waste streams and find a partner company who can reroute them from the landfill.
Jennie Morton firstname.lastname@example.org is associate editor for BUILDINGS.