Designing and implementing a recycling program

September 2019 —  Designing and implementing a long-term recycling program for commercial buildings require planning and commitment. Before any materials are separated for recycling, the facilities manager should make the following preparations:

  • Select a recycling coordinator or team
  • Audit the waste stream for recyclable materials
  • Evaluate the cost of recycling
  • Choose a reputable recycling vendor
  • Arrange a collection system
  • Educate occupants

Select a Recycling Coordinator or Team

A successful recycling program requires a dedicated coordinator to control all aspects of the program and generate the support of building occupants. The coordinator should have good communication skills and organizational experience. The responsibilities of the coordinator frequently include selecting a vendor, soliciting a waste audit, and arranging the collection system. Depending on the size of the building or property and the number of occupants participating in the program, several other people may be needed to form a recycling team or committee. The team is then responsible for educating other occupants about the program and for monitoring progress. The recycling team also periodically inspects recyclable collections to ensure they are free of contaminants and are emptied regularly.

Audit the Waste Stream for Recyclable Materials

A waste audit not only identifies the categories and volume of waste generated by occupants, but it also indicates the type and size of the recycling program that should be implemented. The easiest and most reliable way to conduct an audit is to hire a recycling-services company, a solid-waste hauler, or a consultant to evaluate systematically what is discarded and how much is recoverable. These types of professionals are generally knowledgeable about the quality and quantity of material required by vendors and the availability of end markets for recyclables. In addition, many auditors will waive their audit fees if they are selected to provide recycling services.

Evaluate the Cost of Recycling

A challenge for recycling programs is to find ways to lower costs and to eliminate incremental cost increases. It is important to evaluate the cost of a new recycling program and compare it to the overall cost of solid waste management.

Recyclables must be collected and processed, which can take resources. Not all markets pay for recyclables and some even charge a fee to recycle and transport the recyclables. Regular waste disposal also costs money. Garbage must be collected, transported to a disposal site, and a fee must be paid to the landfill or incinerator. Disposal prices and collection costs can vary from city to city, depending on population density, geography, frequency of collection, number of crew members on a truck, and so forth. As a result, the question of which costs more depends heavily on local circumstances. Assessing how recycling will affect the community requires a full appraisal of the environmental and economic benefits of recycling and waste disposal.

Choose a Reputable Recycling Vendor

A reliable recycling vendor is critical to implementing and continuing a successful recycling program. The selected vendor should provide educational programs for occupants and promotional opportunities for the building. Vendors who offer to publicize and promote participation can be a great help in enhancing your corporate image in the community. Vendors should also be available to help implement programs, answer questions, and meet program modifications. They should employ dedicated recycling personnel who are familiar with applicable recycling regulations and can recommend the best materials to recycle on the basis of available markets. In addition, the extent of the vendor’s financial resources and the quality of vendor insurance and equipment are important. The following questions should help with selecting an appropriate vendor:

  • What material does the vendor collect, and what is the minimum amount required for a pickup?
  • Will the recycling vendor help to implement and promote the program?
  • What are allowable contaminants?
  • Is the vendor willing to sign a long-term contract?
  • Are there any rebate programs in the contract?
  • Does the vendor supply containers for recycling, or must the building supply its own?
  • Will the recycler provide scheduled or on-call pickups?
  • How are the Dumpsters cleaned and maintained?
  • Do materials need to be consolidated into one main storage area?
  • How is the recycled material handled? (Does the material being recycled contain proprietary information?)

Arrange a Collection System

The collection system selected will be based on the waste audit, available end markets, and the physical and organizational structure of the building. For each type of material selected, determine how it will be separated and how it will move from the user to the recycling collection point. Separation of recyclables by the user at the point of generation is an efficient means of segregating those materials from waste.

In an office building or industrial setting, occupants can separate their recyclables at a desk or other point of generation, deposit them into conveniently placed intermediate containers, and allow the cleaning or maintenance staff to transport them from intermediate container locations to a final recycling receptacle. This method increases occupant involvement and reduces staff requirements. Unfortunately, it also increases the potential for contamination and the need for training. Alternatively, the cleaning or maintenance staff can collect recyclables at the same time they collect waste. This system circumvents the multiple handling of materials, but it can simultaneously increase the cleaning workload.

Storage of recyclables at a central location is a factor of available space and collection schedules. A central storage location that is compatible with the needs of the vendor who will pick up the recyclable materials will avert collection problems. Locations may range from the parking lot to the loading dock to the service entrance.

Educate Occupants

A successful recycling program requires educated occupants. Most people are interested in recycling efforts. If occupants are uninformed about the program, participation will not reach maximum levels, and the full benefit of recycling will not be realized. Awareness building promotions, educational sessions on every phase of the recycling loop (collection, sorting and processing, remanufacturing), and follow-up meetings must occur to generate and maintain participation. Initially, the occupants should be informed of the goals of the program, its benefits, and its impact on their waste disposal habits. Occupants should be educated about what is recyclable and what is not, and they should be provided with guidelines for participation. As the program progresses, they can be updated on the progress of the recycling effort, participation rates, and the quantities recycled. The vendor providing the collection service is frequently equipped to assist with many or all phases of recycling education.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s The Design, Operation, and Maintenance of Building Systems, Part II course, part of the RPA and FMA designation programs. More information regarding this course or BOMI International’s new High-Performance Sustainable Buildings credential (BOMI-HP™) is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website,