How to make recycling work for your business

How to make recycling work for your business

Still not sure about investing in recycling for your business? A study released by the World Bank late last year should be your wake up call.

According to “What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management,” the volume of municipal solid waste is expected to grow worldwide from 1.3 billion metric tons per year to 2.2 billion metric tons per year by 2025. And it’s going to cost the world’s cities $375 billion to manage it -- almost double the current $205 billion.

Think about how this could impact your business. It’s reasonable to expect higher taxes and new regulations for managing your waste -- even now, California mandates recycling programs for businesses that produce at least four cubic yards of commercial solid waste per week. For business owners, there’s potential to lose a lot of choice when it comes to running your company.

How can we avoid this ominous waste future? Shift the paradigm to focus first on recycling -- and then send what little trash is left to landfills.

The good news currently is the percentage of recoverable material is rising while trash sent for disposal is declining. We call this the “evolving ton,” and recycling and waste companies are gearing up to handle more recyclables than ever.  

A big part of what will make the "evolving ton" successful is single-stream recycling. This system, where all recyclables can be combined in one container, makes it easier to recycle because waste stream solutions providers handle the sorting. But for some companies, their waste stream may present more unique and complex needs.

Photo of seperated recycling bins provided by Kasia Bialasiewicz via Shutterstock.

Unique needs is the case for St. Louis-based United Industries Corporation, a subsidiary of Spectrum Brands Holdings, Inc., and a leading manufacturer of home, lawn and garden insect and weed control products in the United States.

United Industries needed a waste stream solutions provider that could simplify, streamline and accommodate its unique waste types. According to Kriste Branding, cost accountant for United Industries, this led the company to begin working with Republic Services [editor's note: where the author of this piece works] in December 2011.

On the surface, United Industries’ waste and recycling program is pretty complex. Eighty percent of its waste is recyclable but is industrial waste and as a result is not suitable for single-stream recycling. For example, the company produces a lot of plastics that are unique to its production -- plastics that are recyclable, but aren’t handled on the single-stream sort line. The company also has a large quantity of cardboard from incoming goods that it wanted to continue to sort on its own.  

The pressure was on Republic Services to develop a program that could accommodate United Industries’ diverse waste stream. Here's what Republic came up with:

  • United Industries produces a large enough quantity of its unique plastics that Republic Services is able to collect and supply it for reuse, even though there is no technology or personnel on the single-stream recycling sort line to recover it. For specific types of plastic, collection carts are located on United Industries’ manufacturing lines, and when full, cleanup personnel place carts in a designated area and exchange them for empty carts supplied by Republic Services.
  • United Industries continued its existing cardboard sorting process, with Republic Services picking up the material and getting it to buyers for reuse.
  • United Industries separates recyclable and non-recyclable dry waste from common areas of the company, like the lunchroom, and developed a unique system for both to go into the same single-stream pickup bin. Then, Republic Services picks up the bins and separates the recyclables from the trash.

The key to success for such a seemingly complex program is making it easy for United Industries to implement, and for employees to execute.

To kick off United Industries’ program, Republic Services trained each group of employees on shift with personalized presentations that provided incentives to engage employees and ensure they were processing the information. According to Branding, a key takeaway was naming employee “recycling representatives” to keep the program running smoothly, which is especially important to quickly educate seasonal staff. Another key takeaway was placing how-to posters throughout the facility to ensure that the program remained top-of-mind for employees.

The result of United Industries’ program is a year-over-year reduction in waste costs. Republic Services collects a fee for hauling, bailing and processing materials, and then United Industries gets rebates based on the market value revenue from selling the recovered materials. United Industries is also avoiding an approximately $30-per-ton waste disposal cost with its dry waste program, and still generates revenue from cardboard. When the recycling materials market is strong, the value of cardboard alone can cover the cost of hauling. 

To date, the new program has increased United Industries’ recycling by 45 percent, and according to Branding, employees are proud to work for a company that’s reducing its environmental impact.

Evaluating waste stream solutions providers

Improving recycling isn’t something your company should do alone. Here are key considerations when evaluating waste stream solutions providers:

  • Results: Your program must produce results, whether those are cutting costs, reducing environmental impact or boosting employee morale.
  • Flexibility: No two companies’ waste streams are the same. Your provider should create tailored solutions for your company’s waste mix. Just because a type of waste you produce isn’t something typically picked up for recycling, don’t immediately write it off as impossible.
  • Education: The real work begins after the program is mapped out. Your provider should offer training that engages and motivates employees, and your program should be structured so employees remain committed. Your provider should also always be available to answer questions and address needs.
  • Convenience: Employees won’t participate if it’s not easy. Collection containers should be placed in logical places for each waste type, with as much consolidation as possible. Make recycling containers the default option and readily available. Place trash containers in areas that require more work to access.