November 15 is officially recognized as America Recycles Day, a time to reflect on the important role that recycling plays in our society by protecting the environment, contributing to economic development, saving energy, creating jobs and more.
According to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, while the U.S. makes up 4% of the world’s population, it produces 12% of the world’s waste, the majority of which is discarded in landfills or incinerated. This disproportionate waste production raises a major red flag: how are American homes and businesses handling their waste management? Fortunately, you have the power to make a difference. Here are a few steps you can take to become more aware of your business’s waste management programs and increase your recycling efforts.
Understand Your Current Recycling and Disposal Habits with a Waste Audit
One of the first steps you can take toward better recycling is to perform a thorough waste audit. Taking a close look at your waste management practices will help you determine how and to what extent recycling fits into your overall program and budget. Key factors to consider include knowing the type and volume of materials in your current waste stream, the type of disposal equipment you currently have, how many locations you need to account for and what your current monthly cost is for disposing of all materials produced. You should also know whether you are currently recycling or reusing any materials, which reporting metrics are being used (if any) and whether you are storing any recyclable materials at your current locations.
Upon completion of your waste audit, you’ll have a thorough understanding of your waste streams and current practices. This will allow you to identify opportunities to create or supplement a recycling program for your business. When planning out your recycling program, you’ll want to consider a number of things. Do you have enough room at your business locations to support the recycling initiatives you’d like to implement? Based on the amount of materials you’re producing, what equipment is going to best suit your needs? Which type of recycling program makes the most financial sense for your business? Keeping these questions in mind will allow you to make an informed decision when you choose a recycling program.
Create SMART Goals
Once you’ve sorted out the basics of your current recycling program, the next step is to create a vision of what you want your future recycling program to look like by establishing SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. The key is to start small. Don’t make extensive changes all at once. Establish small, attainable goals that you can implement over time while outlining accountability touchpoints to ensure that your program is functioning as it should or if any adjustments need to be made to ensure success.
Many businesses already have specific corporate sustainability initiatives in place. If your business does, now is a great time to assess how your recycling program will ladder up to specific goals. If not, establishing recycling goals could be a whole new area of expansion in your sustainability initiatives.
Understand Program Costs
Choosing a recycling program will likely depend on your business’s waste management budget. Different levels of recycling have tiers of associated costs, so be sure to choose a program that makes the most sense for your business and bottom line. Your program’s cost will depend heavily on the type of recycling materials, the current market value of those materials, the volume your business is producing and hauling costs. It’s essential to ask your managed waste service provider or vendor what the available options are, including any available rebates.
Monitor Program Efforts
Once you implement your desired recycling program, it is important to keep track of the program operations via a thorough monitoring and reporting system. Setting a regular schedule to analyze program success and make adjustments will ensure that small but necessary changes are made over time to keep your program operating as efficiently as possible. Many managed waste service vendors offer tracking programs, such as cloud-based monitoring systems, to help your business stay informed and keep track of recycling program efforts and potential changes needed to reach your goals.
Inform and Engage Employees
Recycling programs can only be effective if all employees are participating and doing their best to follow set waste management procedures. To achieve this, make sure you include your employees in your recycling program by educating them on the program specifics and sharing your business’s recycling goals. Employees can play a large part in your recycling efforts, and getting them on board from the start will benefit the success of your program. Consistent communication from the top down will help foster a better understanding of what your business is doing and how employees can actively participate.
Tactics such as monthly email sustainability updates or proper signage including do’s and don’ts—like describing accepted materials and instructions for proper recycling to avoid contamination—can help ensure employees are following the appropriate measures to participate effectively in company-wide recycling initiatives.
The world of waste management is constantly changing—new technology is being developed, policies change and markets fluctuate. Wide-spread changes may affect your sustainability goals and efforts depending on what materials you’re recycling. The value of materials will vary based on the economy and market conditions, which can directly cause a shift in your program’s costs. You can stay up to date by keeping an open line of communication with your managed waste service provider and subscribing to recycling resources and newsletters. It’s important to stay up to date on the global state of recycling and what you can do to help the environment—not only on America Recycles Day, but every day.