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Funding Your Recycling Program, Part One

In my earlier “Has Your Recycling Program Evolved” posts 1 and 2, I talked about the stages that each recycling program goes through in its evolution. One of the reasons that people often get stuck in one of the earlier phases is because of the capital investment required to advance to the next phase of the operation. So how do you get the funding that you need to advance to the next phase of your program?

You could start chasing rainbows looking for the lucky leprechaun with the pot of gold. But chances are, you need something a little more strategic than that. Here are some sources to consider:

Sources to look to for funding

  • Campus resources
  • Government Grants
  • Industry & Trade Group Grants
  • Outsourcing

Campus Resources

Too often the failure to fund recycling bins and equipment comes down to the budget line you are trying to take the money out of. Often that is a custodial budget that never really got adjusted for the additional recycling bin needs, or a bare-minimum recycling pilot program budget. Both options work for an initial purchase of basic desk side recycling bins but often do not allow for the purchase of collection carts, more-aesthetic bins, or other equipment.

However, that is not the only budget on campus and some other budgets may be better suited to your needs:

Consider implementing the recycling program as part of a construction or renovation project. Several thousand dollars for recycling bins or equipment might be a huge hit to the “wastebasket” line item of your custodial budget (if such a line item even exists – too often such purchases mean taking money out of the general cleaning supplies budget line). However, in the scope of a construction or renovation project that has a budget of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, it is a very small percentage of the total project cost. And to get bins that augment the architecture and aesthetics that the campus just spent years planning, it may well be worth it for campus planners to roll your bins into their capital project budget.

There may also be campus grants through an on-campus foundation or through the student government. If there is something that is important to the students (say a new high-profile recycling bin in the student union), this may be a place to turn for funding. However, in my opinion, you should be very careful about how you use this type of funding. I think a core justification of many campus recycling programs is that they are saving the campus and the students money compared to the cost of landfilling. If you go back to students too often for funding, especially for ongoing costs, I think you run the risk of tipping the balance and making yourself a net cost to the students. Doing so could undermine your program and make you a target for cuts in difficult budget times.

Another often overlooked option is to develop a “business” relationship with the alumnae office or foundation on campus. Not that you are looking for an alumnae donation, but rather that you are looking to buy the bins to help them secure other alumnae donations. The alumnae office or foundation is in the business of soliciting donations for the campus. One issue that they increasingly deal with in recent years is socially and environmentally-responsible giving. Many of the alumnae giving them money are looking to see that those receiving the money are meeting certain environmental and social criteria. As I noted in my earlier “How High-Aesthetic Recycling Bins Help Promote Your Sustainability Efforts” post, high-aesthetic recycling bins can be an important way to showcase a green building or green campus. As a result, if approached the right way, the Alumnae Association or Foundation may be willing to fund some high profile, high aesthetic recycling bins in key locations if they can use them to help showcase the campuses commitment to the environment or sustainability to potential donors.

Government Grants

Typically tied to some issue the government agency is trying to advance. Watch to see when your state does a waste characterization study. After that study there is often an item that is shown to be a surprisingly high percentage of the waste stream. Agencies frequently follow with a round of grants soon after to show that they are addressing that issue.

Sometimes funding can’t go directly to you. Especially if you are a private campus, some government programs may be prohibited from giving money directly to you. To participate, you may need to partner with another entity, say your local municipality.

Also, when soliciting such money, be careful of institutional restrictions. Many institutions have policies in which a portion of any grant that comes in is withheld to cover campus administrative costs. Make sure you know that going in and plan accordingly rather than finding yourself just a little bit short of funding to finish your project.

Industry & Trade Group Grants

These trade groups typically represent the interests of a single type of industry (e.g. The Steel Recycling Institute, the Association for Post Consumer Plastics Recycling, the American Forest and Paper Association, etc.). Check in with these groups, as they sometimes have grants or other resources to fund projects that would further their specific industry.


These are non-governmental organizations. Typically each has its own set of unique criteria regarding the types of projects it will fund. It may be worth talking with a grants or development officer on your campus or in your organization. Chances are, they have a network of foundations that they are already working with, and might help you find one what would be appropriate for your particular project.


Outsourcing can be a touchy subject. When outsourcing is done just to put downward pressure on salaries, I have to admit, I am not a huge fan of that practice. However, where I do think that outsourcing can be of tremendous value is that it can often allow you to obtain the capital funding for containers and equipment that you would not otherwise be able to fund. It’s not free money. You will pay that cost off over time in the cost of the resulting service contract. But for some schools that have a hard time funding capital costs and need more steady line item funding (as opposed to a big capital expense once a decade or so, and a lower annual cost in between), outsourcing can be a way to achieve that consistent annual funding that you need.

If you are looking for capital funding for the containers and equipment that you need to take your program to the next level, look in a variety of places. When you do, you might find that your “rainbow’s end” is closer than you think.

Written by

Roger Guzowski
Roger Guzowski

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