Friday, March 29, 2013

Come on people..

We've been hearing the chants recently.. single stream, single stream, single stream. It has become  the craze and it seems that nearly everyone thinks its the wave of the future (heck they have a song about it Toss It Baby). Many "environmentalists" push for the idea, they claim it'll get those people recycling that previously refused and greatly improve recycling numbers and participation. I consider myself to be environmentally conscious, so much so that I think dual stream is a better option (yeah, I know, no one cares). So okay, technology in the single stream arena has improved, separating the material has become more effective, and the residual rates have gone down (still noticeably higher then a dual stream facility).  We have agreed, that with everyone pushing, single stream seems to be a necessity brought on by market demand. CRI Hamburg is in the midst of installing a single stream sorting system, as I type.  We have done our research and have taken careful note of various systems that have had success and those who have not performed as well, we are ready. I have to admit, we have unanimously decided that this is the path we should take but some of us still can't help but pout a bit.. like a child that agrees to cooperate but still has some reservations about it.

Now a new chant is being whispered (thank God it's only a whisper at this point) .. dirty mrf, dirty mrf, dirty mrf. To this chant I respond "come on people how lazy can we be"? I guess before I continue on my tirade I should explain what a dirty mrf (materials recovery facility) is. A dirty mrf is a facility that accepts material that has been collected curbside that is both residual waste (garbage) and recycling (inclusive of paper, plastics, glass, metals, etc). There are reasons that we don't throw our trash around our house and we keep it separated in a bin by itself, sometimes with odor blocking bags. You can eliminate most of your "gross" trash by rinsing containers and composting although do you really think  that someone who couldn't be bothered to separate their trash from this recycling would take the time to rinse it out or compost it (typically)? I think, no. Recycling in and of itself is not a clean process, you still will receive material with contamination even when it is sorted. The implications of mixing trash with recycling will take a toll on the industry in a number of ways.

1. Staff - Sorting recyclables can be a dirty job adding garbage in to the equation will only make the position less appealing. In addition, injuries will be more likely to occur since many times people throw sharp items into the trash (light bulbs, broken ceramics, broken glasses, etc). Additional automation could help with this issue but that would mean the loss of "unskilled" labor positions.

2. Residual Rates - The more you mix trash in with the recycling the more recycling will be downgraded to trash. You can attempt to sort out material that is mixed but it will never again be as clean as single or dual stream material. Glass will break and paper will get wet, this will lead to intermingled contamination and the need for out throws.

3. True Recyclability- The entire goal and focus of recycling is to create a new product from an old used up one. The more "stuff" you mix with the recyclables the dirtier they become. White paper that is mixed with dirty and semi-wet drink containers will no longer be white and will no longer be able to make a new high quality white paper. The process produces lower quality raw materials that do not have the same flexibility for reuse as it's cleaner alternative.

4. Costs- There are entirely more capital and processing costs associated with processing recyclables and garbage mixed. The material is harder on the equipment and the equipment needed is more expensive. In addition, more material is downgraded (residual) that will need to be hauled away as trash. As mentioned above the labor will typically become more difficult to keep leading to the new for higher wages or automation (which is a costly equipment expense).

I understand that everyone looks for the easiest and simplest way to get things done but this is just removing sorting on a small scale from the hands of the consumer and putting large scale sorting on the processor. I am hopeful that despite this process seeming like the easy way out that people will continue to take in account our environment and revisit what the true goals of recycling.

So now you know how I feel how about you?

Friday, March 22, 2013


A little lady thinking green.

I know I'm not alone here, I've heard plenty of people saying the same thing this year. I am so ready for spring!The snow and ice melted, the birds starting singing, little bulbs started blooming and then.. it snowed ,ice (re)formed, and the heating oil is still pouring through our burner like coins in a slot machine. I think the biggest hurtle is the mental aspect of things. Had mother nature not let us taste the warmth we wouldn't be craving it quite as badly right now, but we did.. and we want more!

This correlates with my last post talking about how to get employees to participate in the recycling efforts of a company. In most instances once staff and management "taste" the benefits of recycling or see the impact one company can have in our environment it's tough not to crave more. It becomes easy, almost second nature, to look for more ways to save or more things to pull out of trash.

It is always harder to retrain a person who isn't programed to think about recycling and conservation but when following our prior tips and showing results you can usually change the way people think (at least a little).  Without doubt, it is always easier to train from the beginning and ingrain the ideas in to a little mind, making it true second nature. It's easy as a parent to explain the importance of our planet and taking care of it, providing examples of what is healthy for our planet and what's not (just like what is healthy for a  body and what is not). The concepts are easy to understand and laying down that foundation keeps it fresh in their minds as they grow.

I have said it before;  there is really nothing more important for our childrens future than our planet, it's essential.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reader Question: How to kickstart an office recycling program?

Kim A emailed me a question:

 I have been tasked with getting our office recycling program running. The actual process of recycling collection has started but the staff isn't really jumping on board like I thought they would. I fought for our company to recycle but it's not going as planned. Please help!!

Kim, thanks for writing. You are not alone, many times it is tough to get staff to jump on board with anything new let alone a new recycling program. So often people are scared of change and accustomed to doing things the way "they've always done it". I do have a few key suggestions that have provided the needed motivation in the past.

1. Keep it simple. Any extra steps needed to recycle will often be steps not taken. Place recycling bins right next to garbage bins, typically in high traffic areas.

2. Label clearly. When not sure what to do you resort to what you know. If not properly and completely labeled the employees will go back to what they know and trash it. Be sure to label what is supposed to go in the bin and what needs to be kept out. Lack of participation isn't the only thing that can kill a budding program so can contamination. Contamination of recyclables can result in unusable material which leads to downgrades and charges.

3. Provide (brief) instruction. Instruction is important but so is the keyword brief. It's goes back to point number one, if you make it sound too complex people will be scared away. Explain very briefly why you've decided to recycle (inclusive of environmental and economic benefits), explain what you'll be recycling and how/when/where.

4. Appoint a recycling "cheerleader" or green team. It seems like your company has already done this.. so one step down! It doesn't need to be a full time job or even result in lots of extra hours, or tasks (especially as you are just starting out) but keeping someone invested and reviewing recycling numbers and goals will keep the recycling movement going in the right direction.

5. Keep employees engaged and updated. Provide monthly or at a minimum quarterly recycling numbers to reflect the recycling efforts. Inform staff of and program movements (growth or downtrends). Provide information about the financial benefit of recycling (if applicable) and what waste removal costs may have been eliminated. Smaller scale recycling programs will not see the immediate payoff of a larger scale office recycling program but that doesn't mean that the benefits aren't there. Seek out sites that contain statistics which equate the commodities that you've kept out of a landfill to your environmental impact. One such site is Recycling Benefits (but there are a ton out there!)

6. Get help from professionals. You may be interested and engaged in recycling but may not have the knowledge or experience to spot things that you are throwing away which could be recycled. Waste management companies who are committed to recycling will help. They have the tools necessary to help you completely remove recyclable items from your trash and provide the best container and logistic options to make it as cost effective as possible (most times, when producing significant quantities, rebates for the material will occur). The professionals can help you start a program and can also provide future goals to keep the recycling program growing to include new items and initiatives.

7. Ask for input. This would work very well with numbers four and five. If you have a green team it's ideal to get members from different areas in the facility. If you are providing feedback it's also good to ask for feedback. Many times just a little tweaking to a program based on employee suggestions results in a large increase in participation, they want to feel like they are part of the movement. Ask the right questions;  what about the program is working & what isn't, ask what would make it easier, ask what items they see being thrown away frequently. You will most likely encounter at least one "Debbie Downer" (see my below post) but sometimes with a little work they'll become one your biggest supporters.

8. Create incentives. We've found this to be one of the most effective motivators (with companies with large waste & recycling streams) but can be difficult if you don't have full support of management. Keep track of areas in the facility and what their recycling contribution is, create competition within the building and determine what area/department can recycle more. Sometimes mere competition isn't quite enough and you get the biggest results when providing rewards or incentives. Some companies have opted to keep all or a  portion of their recycling rebates in a separate fund and utilize them for improvements in employee conveniences (for example a new outdoor seating area), others have provided reward in the form of pizza parties, etc. Unfortunately some people need a reason to participate and direct benefit to them is the thing that provides the motivation they need.

The best part about kick starting a recycling program is that once you have the staff trained and excited about the program will take on a life of it's own. The start is always the toughest and as you make it second nature you can sit back and watch it grow and expand (with just a little continued guidance).

Kim, I hope this helps. These are suggestions that have helped to inspire staff of current client. Please remember a good waste management/recycling company can also make all the difference. They should be able to provide the communication and information needed (inclusive of signage and training).  If you are located in Pennsylvania (within the Lehigh, Berks, Northampton or Schuylkill counties) we would love to weigh in with our recycling knowledge so give us a call!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Debbie Downer

We all know or have known  a "Debbie Downer". The person in the crowd that seems to suck the light out of room, who can turn a good situation into a problem and a problem into a crisis of epic proportions. So often in all the environmental talk there are extremists (Debbie Downers if you will).

We definitely need to continue to make progress in our environment to right some wrongs of the past but I take the optimist approach that we are working on it. I've witnessed a lot of positive change. Most people have recognized that we need this planet and are paying attention to our environment and things are looking up. People are asking for environmentally friendlier solutions (or demanding them) and companies are taking notice and responding.

I do have to admit that when I read this article: Pennsylvania County Dumps Solid Waste Department & Recycling Program, I was a bit upset. At risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer I feel like this is a move in the complete wrong direction. It has taken us so long to begin to understand our true impact on the environment and how the decisions that we make today effect the futures of generations to come. I can understand that townships don't want to get experimental and try new programs but I feel as though it's the obligation of government officials to at least encourage recycling as a bare minimum. Granted, I live in an area that doesn't do curbside collection (although we do have a drop off center that is opened two times a week). This puts the ball more in the court of residents. I need to have the motivation to collect my recycling and drive it to the collection center. I'm an adult and it's a task I am up to, they've made it easy by also accepting garbage on those days.

I fully understand that if recycling is costing the county money (especially in the tune of $100,000 per year) adjustments need to occur. I don't feel confident that all options were explored and I don't agree that allowing residents to trash recyclables results in positive benefits for anyone. In the long run, as I've stated so many times before, each person is responsible for their own decisions and that includes their personal environmental impact. I am hopeful that people will take note that their personal choices when it comes to our environment has consequences far larger then they can physically see. I guess all we can do is give our opinion, express the importance of taking care of our planet and hope they everyone is listening; setbacks will happen but our goals need to remain clear.