Reverse Your Thinking

The EPA estimates the workplace generates 40 percent of all waste. If this does not sound scary enough, the Clean Air Council states that each person in the U.S. makes 4.39 pounds of trash per day. That means nearly 2 pounds of that trash is generated on the job.

It sure sounds sensible to get started on a recycling program, doesn’t it?

There are several important steps to create a “greener” park district or agency:

1. Determine whether the district or agency will financially support a commercial-recycling effort.

2. Create a “green team” and gain employee support, including the janitorial staff.

3. Contact the waste hauler for special instructions.

4. Track results and record your success.

5. Consider miscellaneous materials.

6. Get started today!

Financial Support

The first step is to investigate whether the agency will help. It takes a little extra time, sometimes a little extra money and more often than not, more than a little extra money. Find out who will be contributing to the project.

Employee Support

Next, gather a small group of employees who are enthusiastic about the program. You probably know some fellow “greenies,” so a good start might be creating a “green team” to investigate recycling and the costs involved.

If both the agency and the team agree to proceed, you will need to nominate a champion … a recycling coordinator.

If you hold that role at home, you may be a good candidate. If so, understand that the same patience needed to educate employees is the same it took to train your children and spouse about recycling.

Arm the team with information about the importance of preventing recyclable materials from entering a landfill. Help fellow employees understand these materials are resources. Ask questions like, “What if we couldn’t make any more paper, soft drink bottles or plastic peanut-butter jars?” This will make the issue more realistic to them.

Be sure to gain the cooperation of the janitorial staff. Once materials are in the respective containers, the staff will be responsible for ensuring the materials get to the right dumpster or storage area.

The Waste Hauler

Contact the waste hauler to learn about its basic recycling program. Ask about “commingled or single-stream recycling,” in which recyclable materials are mixed as opposed to sorted in separate containers.

Ask what is accepted and whether recycling containers can (or will) be provided. There may also be specifics on the use of clear garbage bags so materials can be identified for recycling or trash.

If you are lucky, the municipality will have a Solid Waste Recycling specialist to assist in this process.

Determine what is recyclable, as it varies across the country. Ask the waste hauler if you can “trust the triangle” (anything with a triangle on it goes in the recycling bin). Inside that triangle (or underneath), there is a number or letters identifying the type of material used to create it. However, the lid of the container may or may not be made of the same material, so examine the product carefully.

Some people think it is easier just to add all items with triangles to the recycling bin, but in some parts of the country, this makes the “sorting” take longer, and eliminates profitability for the hauler.

Also, find out how clean the items need to be. Is it OK if excess food is left in the containers, or does anything used for food need to go into waste?

Blue Bins--Select The Proper Containers

Containers help determine success. One of the easiest ways to identify recycling containers is to use the color blue. You may have noticed containers painted “recycling blue” at roadside travel stops, festivals, etc.

If the hauler does not provide containers, use what you have, but consider adding blue duct tape or blue labels to reinforce the color. There are hundreds--or maybe even thousands--of different recycling containers.

Be sure to ask the waste hauler if the company will provide bins, and if not, search for what will work the best, yet fit the requirements of the project.

Be sure that all of the containers have the three-arrow logo, and develop a way to show users precisely what is allowable in the recycling bins. Use words, icons and/or special instructions, such as “remove staples, empty, rinse, and remove lids from soft drink bottles,” etc.

Check with the waste hauler for these necessary special instructions. Post the list on a wall near every container. Circulate the list to all employees via e-mail, and send the information out frequently.

It sounds simple, but always put a recycling container next to (or at least very near) a trash bin. Otherwise, you risk contaminating the materials in the recycling bin and/or everything going into the trash.

Encourage more recycling by the size of the container. By examining the trash, you may discover there are more recyclable materials than trash. Many of us think of the recycling container as smaller than the trash cans, but nowadays thinking the other way is more applicable.

Recycle more, throw away less!

In fact, there is a program where a trashcan is actually a container (5-1/2 inches by 5-1/2 inches) that sits on a desk and includes the message, “This is all the garbage I make.” With this program (or something similar), the recycling container then becomes a bin about the size of an office wastebasket. (Learn more about the “Mini-Bin” at .)

Track Results And Record Your Success

Estimate the amount of space the materials take up in a special dumpster designated for recyclables. Look in the dumpster just before the waste hauler picks up the load, and guess how much space is used (and therefore the cubic yards of recyclable materials). Share this information with the staff so the members know of the program’s progress.

Monitoring must also be a part of the plan. Oh, yes, look in wastebaskets and dumpsters along the way. Remember that employees will forget.

As with homework, you have to “check their work” and occasionally make subtle--or not so subtle--reminders about containers that belong in the recycling bin rather than the trash.

Be prepared for new employees. Will they be trained individually? Based on the size of the company, can you train using e-mail? Alternatively, will you need something to become a permanent part of the orientation procedure?

You might be able simply to tell family members, but at work you will need to convince and cajole, applaud good behavior, and be on the lookout for opportunities to reinforce the message of why the company recycles and, therefore, why it is important to individual employees. “Because the boss says so” will not always produce the best result.

Decide how far you want to go. Paper, plastic and aluminum are obvious recycling choices.

If you have a fleet of vehicles, properly dispose of auto batteries and oil.

What about printer cartridges?

Perhaps the department uses large quantities of small batteries. At the Rockford Park District, small battery recycling became part of the program when one department saved up its coffee containers (which just happened to be blue), and then asked the art department to design a label for the containers.

Reinforcing the “reuse” idea, the “green team” distributed the containers to the various departments at a full staff meeting.

Consider what is unique to the operation and what to prevent from entering the landfill. Have you saved all one-sided printed materials and used them for scratch pads?

You may even want to save certain materials for “special recycling days.” An organization called Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful has metals drives, electronics days and even clothing days. For more information, visit .

If a similar organization exists near you, consider stockpiling specific items and then waiting for those days. In any case, plan on how these items will be transported easily.

Miscellaneous Materials

Do you have materials that you’re not sure are recyclable and, if so, where to take them? Visit to find out what to do with them.

If you become addicted to recycling, get more information at .

Jan Herbert is the project coordinator for the Rockford Park District in Rockford, Ill. She can be reached via e-mail at