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Recycling Reminders this Earth Week

Waste Harmonics

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s a common phrase you’re likely familiar with, but how often do you put “the three Rs” into practice or evaluate your waste and recycling habits?

Earth Week, April 22-26, is here and can serve as your yearly reminder to pause and evaluate your or your organization’s waste and recycling behaviors. Taking the time to acknowledge and assess these practices will help you better understand your sustainable environmental impact … or lack thereof. Waste Harmonics and Keter Environmental Services doesn’t expect you to have all the answers, but its team of waste and recycling experts have found that your path toward a more sustainable waste management program starts with education—and possibly the help of a regional manager or diversion specialist.

Cam Ciullo, a regional manager at Waste Harmonics and Keter Environmental Services, was drawn to a role in the managed waste services industry, and to his initial role as a diversion specialist with the merged companies in particular, after aligning with its mission to help save the environment. “It’s great to be a part of an organization and in a job where I know we’re preventing as much waste as we can from ending up in landfills,” he said.

In this Q&A, Cam shares which elements of your waste and recycling program you should get curious about this Earth Week and how experienced regional managers and diversion specialists like him can help you shore up your services for optimal success and sustainability beyond Earth Day.

What are the core elements of your day-to-day role and what program elements are you evaluating?

American education on recycling is very low. Education is a big part of our role as diversion specialists because most people are curious and want to do the right thing [when it comes to recycling], they just don’t know how to do it correctly. We refer to this type of individual as the “optimistic recycler”—someone who may want to recycle everything. But there are certain materials that can’t be recycled. A diversion specialist will meet with our partners and clients to have conversations and ask or answer specific questions to uncover what can and can’t be recycled.

Conducting waste audits is also helpful in understanding how much waste is actually being recycled versus being placed into the wrong bins. This helps us analyze and understand which core tenets of your program may require further education, identify items that aren’t recyclable or common items being thrown in the trash that actually can be recycled.

What are some examples of common items people believe can be recycled but actually can’t?

The main thing we find is items that have liquid or contamination on them. If you throw away something that’s half-filled with water, unfortunately, you can’t recycle that. Another common example is loose plastic (for example, plastic films or other lighter forms of plastic). That plastic will get stuck in recycling machines and requires manual removal. Ultimately, you can recycle them, but they need to be placed in their own container versus your standard recycling bin.

Similarly, if an item has multiple components to it—let’s say it’s part plastic and part metal—those components can’t be separated at the recycling facility, so you can’t recycle those items either. Essentially, it’s only hard, rigid plastics or items of one pure material that can be recycled.

What other key elements are managers and diversion specialists looking at in a typical waste audit?

Volume is a key piece, as that’s how we establish how much waste a certain company is producing for billing purposes to ensure that we’re billing appropriately. It’s important to note, though, that there are many different avenues to take in a waste audit, so while billing purposes is a common one, another main one is to understand whether certain tenants are recycling correctly. In a typical audit, we’ll literally dig through your trash and analyze it from there … identifying that you may be throwing everything in the trash instead of recycling or you may be contaminating the organics recycling or mixed recycling containers … it’s dependent on what each client’s needs are, but once we understand what waste is being produced and where it’s going, we can take a step back and evaluate how to make a certain waste stream more recyclable or identify alternative streams and removal services to improve your diversion percentages.

With further education a necessity, how does your role help with reinforcement of recycling best practices?

Site-level training can be effective, but what’s really important is keeping an open line of communication with site managers and providing them with as much information as possible about how their waste and recycling program should operate based on the type of property they have. Signage or handouts with clear instructions and photos placed near waste and recycling equipment and in high-traffic areas can demonstrate where specific materials should go to help reinforce what is and is not accepted in certain bins. Adding a QR code that brings someone right to more information about the property’s allowances for recyclable materials is another way to help reinforce proper waste and recycling practices … all we can do is share as much information as we can.

Are you leveraging data or technology for program optimization?

All our program data gets filtered into a main source that’s shared with our clients. It shows us composting levels, the amount of mixed recycling or trash being produced, and contamination levels, among other data points. As this information is funneled into our system, having a picture of real-time performance helps us acknowledge areas of the program that may be struggling, areas where diversion levels can be improved, or contributing factors that we can address with creative solutions to get back on track.

The big picture: What do you enjoy most about your role?

Knowing that you’re trying to make a change for the best. Most people want to do the right thing, they just don’t know how to do it correctly, and that’s something we need to fix on a bigger level.

If you take a moment to pause this Earth Week and find you’re unsure of what to do next to improve your organization’s waste diversion ratio or think a waste audit could benefit you, consider contacting our team to connect with a diversion specialist.