Making Recycling More Effective

Improve this age-old waste management technique

Making Recycling More Effective

If you trace the history of the green and sustainability movement in the United States all the way back to the mid- to late-1960s, you will notice that it was a bit like a slow-moving roller coaster. Some aspects of the movement became quickly important, and then, over time, interest in green and sustainability issues dwindled.

This decline in interest mostly took place during the 1980s, only to be rekindled about 25 years ago. However, one concern remained strong throughout this period, and that is recycling.

Most likely, one of the key reasons recycling remained popular throughout this period is that organizations realized recycling many items—including metals, glass, plastics, and paper products—could be financially beneficial. For instance, in the early 1970s, states began passing “Bottle Bill” laws, which required a refundable deposit for beer and soda bottles as an incentive to encourage recycling.

Such actions essentially created a culture of recycling, which spread from consumers to schools to manufacturers, and so on.

However, just because recycling is the granddaddy of the green and sustainability movement, there is still plenty of room for improvement. The following are some ways to make recycling all the more impactful:

Stay Focused

Some administrators and contract cleaners believe the true goal of recycling is to increase the amount they recycle. This is actually not correct. The goal of recycling is to reduce total waste. For example, if we increase recycling from 40 to 50 percent, but at the same time, double the total amount of waste a facility generates, we are ultimately failing.

Know Your Materials

It’s a wise idea to check with recyclers to make sure they are recycling items collected at your facility. This does not necessarily imply that they treat items they pick up for recycling as waste; however, it does suggest that the focus of recycling and the types of items that are eligible for recycling can change over time. At different times, there may be more of a market for some types of items than at other times.

Make It Easy

Sometimes people do not recycle because it’s inconvenient. For instance, if it’s below freezing and the recycling containers are outside, more often than not, an item that should be recycled ends up in the regular trash. One way to ensure that recycling is easy in a facility is to conduct an audit; find out why building occupants do and do not recycle items.

Know What to Recycle

Another type of audit administrators should conduct is a waste audit. A waste audit helps to identify the composition of the waste stream and exactly what waste items generated in a facility should be recycled—for instance, paper hand towels, food waste, or packaging supplies. As an example, a jansan distributor will likely have a lot of packaging materials to recycle, but little—if any—food waste to recycle.

Track and Report

Earlier we used the term “culture of recycling.” Culture refers to the attitudes, beliefs, and goals we share. Whether we are talking about recycling, using environmentally preferable cleaning solutions, or promoting sustainability, our objective is to create a culture that values these principles. Tracking and reporting recycling accomplishments, the achievement of recycling goals, and the overall reduction of facility-generated waste encourages more and more people to get on board and become members of this culture.


Posted On May 20, 2016

Stephen P. Ashkin

President, The Ashkin Group

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in green cleaning and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].

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