How to set up a recycling program for your company

NOTE: This article is the second in a two-part series. Be sure to read Part 1: Plastic Recycling by the Numbers

The amount of waste we are creating is increasing

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 258 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is being generated in the United States. In Oregon, alone, we generated 5.3 million tons of MSW in 2016 – this is 2,609 pounds per person.

More commonly known as trash or garbage, MSW consists of everyday items we use and throw away such as plastics, product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries. It is generated in our homes, schools, universities, hospitals, and businesses. In the average workplace, about 80 to 90 percent of solid waste is actually recyclable, according to the EPA.

As the volume of MSW has grown, commercial disposal costs have correspondingly gone up by about 28 percent over the past 10 years. As a result, more and more companies are looking to save money – and even bring in revenue – by reducing the waste they produce by starting (or improving) a commercial recycling program.

Starting (or improving) your recycling program

Businesses find that eliminating waste not only helps the bottom line but can also boost their employee satisfaction and engagement, as well as meet customers’ demands for increased environmental responsibility in their service providers.

“Reitmeier has an in-facility and an on-the-job-site recycling program,” said President Jeff Nusz. “Our efforts have significantly reduced our commercial garbage collection costs. We are committed to continuing to decrease our waste sent to landfills, with recycling and reuse. Our employees love what we are doing and we’ve gotten new clients who hire us specifically because of our commitment to reducing waste.”   

How to implement (or improve) your recycling program

Below are some of the best practices we’ve learned about implementing a commercial recycling program. If you want to start (or improve) on in your business, here’s some helpful information to accelerate your efforts:

  1. Survey your workplace: If you don’t have a recycling program in places yet, the first place to start is with an audit of your company’s waste to figure out what’s going into the trash. Then, you can decide which products you want to start including in your office recycling efforts.

    Reach out to your local municipal waste company to determine what they recycle and what they don’t. They may also have helpful tips to help you set up your program. If you are a business in our local area, you can find out more information at Oregon Metro Recycling and Washington County Recycling.  
  2. Designate a recycling champion: Depending on the size of your company, this may be you in the beginning. In much larger companies, however, you may need a dedicated recycling program manager. The person you pick should be a good communicator with good attention to details, follow-through, and organization.

    Make sure the person is someone who feels excited about your new program since it will take some cheerleading to get others in your company on board with your recycling efforts. The recycling champion can help with your waste audit, communicating with your local recycling program, getting bins set up, creating signage, monitoring progress, and encouraging your team to participate.
  3. Start small and be patient: While most things at your company can be recycled, if you try to tackle too much at once, your people will feel overwhelmed. Begin with a few items and build upon your successes over time.

    Paper products, cardboard, and beverage containers are an easy place to begin. According to Kent Forester at the EPA, on average, US workplaces generate one to two pounds of paper and most workers go through three bottled or canned beverages each day. So, starting with recycling efforts for just these materials will have a big impact on waste diversion.
  4. Make it easy for people to participate: Place small paper recycling bins beside each employee’s desk with larger ones in common areas such as near a group printer or your copy machine. Locate additional recycling containers next to your landfill receptacles – since employees are already accustomed to using these, they will be more likely to throw their recyclables in a new bin.

    Make sure to also have recycling bins for beverage containers in your break area. At Reitmeier, we have technicians coming into our warehouse from their trucks, so we make it easy for them by locating recycling bins right near the door where they enter and installing recycling bins into their trucks.
  5. Incorporate signs, photos, and color coding: Place signs and photos on your recycling bins reminding people of what can (and can’t go in them). Click here for signs you can print from San Francisco Environment. Use color coding to trigger people’s behaviors. At Reitmeier, we use gray bins for recycling inside the facility and blue for recycling inside our work trucks. The easier you make it to understand and comply, the more likely you are to get your teams’ participation.
  6. Communicate frequently with employees: Talk about your recycling initiative at company meetings to explain why it’s important to your company. Encourage people to participate and have your recycling champion report on progress and successes.

    Add your recycling information to your employee handbook and include information about it in your new-hire orientation process. You may want to create a recycling information board where employees can look if they want to find out more information or get clarification about what can and can’t be recycled.
  7. Get employees involved: Make recycling part of your company culture. Talk frequently about why it’s important and how it ties into your goals, values, and/or mission as a company. Be sure to mention positive environmental impacts that your recycling program has had and how much waste you have diverted.

    Find out if some of your staff would like to be more involved and form a recycling committee. Give them permission to get creative and reward new waste-reduction ideas. For example, CalRecycle, the California state department for recycling and waste reduction efforts, enlisted 100 staffers in their office to become “worm wranglers” to recycle organic waste through vermicomposting. And GM reused 1,600 shipping crates as raised garden beds in a once-abandoned parking lot for an urban farming initiative supporting soup kitchen.
  8. Build upon your momentum: As your culture shifts towards one that is focused on recycling, you can add more efforts to your program. A good next step is to begin recycling plastics. Then you can add on other items such as ink cartridges, computers, and other electronic waste. You can also put into place new efforts to reduce and reuse so that you actually create less waste in your company. Create fun programs to reward employees and continue to communicate with your team about your goals and progress.

What we’ve done at Reitmeier

As our program has grown, Reitmeier has added many environmentally-sustainable practices into our day-to-day activities to reduce, reuse, and recycle including:

  • Installing water filtration system to eliminate the use of plastic water bottles
  • Converting our dispatch board from paper to digital, saving approximately 10 reams/5,000 pieces of paper a month alone
  • Recycling K-Cups through the Grounds to Grow On program
  • Installing motion-sensor surge protectors to save electricity
  • Purchasing paper products used throughout company are 100% recycled or post-consumer recycled (e.g., business cards, stationery, brochures, hand towels, toilet paper, and copy paper, etc.)
  • Building our office headquarters according to LEED Silver Certified Standards
  • Composting all leftover food in our breakroom
  • Reclaiming/recovering refrigerants and all parts we remove from HVAC units
  • Investing in high-efficiency vehicles

With a little planning and effort, you can begin to reduce your waste in a manner that’s easy to run and fun for your team. And then – just as we’ve done at Reitmeier – you can add on to your efforts over time.

A comprehensive recycling program is a journey with many steps, but the end result is worth it for your bottom line, your employees’ satisfaction, and most importantly, the environment.

Want to see what we’ve done at Reitmeier? We love to give tours of our facility and show how we are moving toward a zero-waste company. Call us: 503-603-0205.