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Piecing Together an Effective Recycling System


A recycling program is made up of many different pieces. As you grow your program, one of the biggest challenges is making sure those pieces fit together into an effective system.

Recycling is a manufacturing process with many different facets. Ultimately, the facet of that process that most of us participate in involves getting something from the hand of a person who is throwing something away to the mill that will ultimately recycle it into a new product. Along the way, there are several steps and people involved. Those people are often semi-autonomous but highly interconnected. It’s like watching a group of kids trying to build something with Lego blocks but each kid has a different themed set. When you work together, sometimes amazing but unexpected things happen. You might not have thought of it at first, but sometimes combining the Batman cave with the Harry Potter castle works better than you ever could have imagined.

But sometimes folks forget that the semi-autonomous pieces have to fit. Each person may have a solution that would work best for them. But if their piece of the solution doesn’t fit with the other pieces, it can ultimately make your recycling program less effective or less sustainable.

As an example, let’s look at the transition between your custodian and your recycling hauler. If you start with just the perspective of your hauler, they will likely recommend using dumpsters, particularly front-load dumpsters which can be emptied hydraulically without the driver ever having to get out of the truck. Conversely, if you start with the perspective of just your custodians, they are likely to want to use a large roll carting collection barrel because it holds the most and is most efficient for them. But when you combine those two perspectives, they inhibit each other and your total system doesn’t work well. Emptying stuff into a dumpster typically involves a shoulder-height lift. With a large barrel, that can be difficult, time consuming, or even dangerous.

A little compromise may make for a much more effective system. Instead of separate containers, you might want to consider semi-automated or automated collection carts. Although a little less efficient for the hauler, a semi-automated cart could still be dumped hydraulically almost as safely and efficiently as the dumpster. And for the custodians, the semi-automated cart would hold as much as other collection barrels. Better yet, because that collection cart is emptied hydraulically by the hauler, the custodian doesn’t have to lift a collection barrel to empty it into a dumpster. As such, with the semi-automated cart system, there is much less risk of a lifting-related injury and the resulting downtime that comes from such an injury.

If you are wedded to dumpsters, another option might be to use smaller custodial collection barrels. That might see counter-intuitive at first because they hold less stuff. However, because a smaller barrel can be more safely and efficiently emptied into a dumpster, in the end, a smaller custodial barrel might make for a safer and more effective system than a larger barrel. With either system, each part may be individually less-perfect, but together, as the cliché goes, the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

And speaking of benefits greater than the sum of their parts, I have found that when the system works for both parties, the increases in program effectiveness are exponential. You don’t waste nearly as much time finger pointing. Folks stop looking for excuses to dump recyclables as trash (which in my experience happens significantly more often when a collection system doesn’t work for one of the parties involved). Stuff gets picked up on time and doesn’t pile up or turn into a mess (or get discarded as trash because of that mess or fire hazard). Both parties become more engaged in the program and are more willing to work with you to report trouble spots which need improvement. You don’t have as much (if any) injury-related down time. It really is amazing the difference

How will the various pieces of your recycling program fit together into a system?

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Roger Guzowski

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