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!


  1. We're a little biased here, but we'd recommend a small recycle bin at each employees desk. May we recommend the one we designed? We call it the Solecan. You can learn all about it at: Good luck getting the office recycling!

  2. Jeff, I took a look at your bin and it is a very cool idea. We linked/posted it on the CRI facebook page. Thanks so much for the comment and your feedback. I agree that when a bin (like yours) is right at the desk it doesn't get much easier and participation generally spikes.