When you set up a recycling program at a facility (an office building, a theme park, a college campus, or any other building) one struggle that you often encounter is that some people think they already know everything about recycling because they recycle at home.
But as anyone who works outside the home can tell you on a Monday morning, work is not home. And as anyone who has spent a couple days with the kids at a theme park or on a camping trip at a state forest can tell you, a vacation is not home (some people can tell you that halfway through the car ride there). Nor is an athletic event, a music festival, or a conference center home. So, when it comes to setting up recycling and other sustainable materials management programs in those locations, you are going to have a different program than you do at home.
When you communicate recycling information to your employees or your guests, you don’t just have a recycling program, you have your recycling program. It is different than they are used to at home. The collection logistics are different. The bins are different. You have different types of stuff that you discard, so the stuff you can recycle will likely be different, perhaps dramatically so. How do you communicate that to your guests, employees, or students?
Step 1: Brand your program
By branding your program, you establish it as something new. It sidesteps their “I already know about recycling” barrier rather than challenging it. They may know a ton about recycling at home. You’re not disputing that. But by branding your program, you have served notice that your program is something different than they do at home. It’s something that they don’t yet know. Heck, I have been in this field for decades and have served on more committees than I can even keep track of anymore. Yet, every time I set foot in a new facility, there is a moment where I recognize that I don’t know bunk about recycling in that facility. I don’t know what can be recycled, where it can be recycled, etc., and I have to take a minute to learn. Branding your program helps people come to that same realization.
Step 2: Where are the bins?
At home, people know where the recycling bins are. At your facility, they don’t. And sometimes, they don’t even know where to begin looking. To avoid that issue, use high-aesthetic bins that can be placed in visible locations so that people can find the bins quickly and easily.
Step 3: What can and can’t be recycled?
Make sure bins are well labeled. If someone has an item in their hand to discard, you want them to be able to quickly identify which bin the item should be placed in. But keep in mind that the labels and images that you use need to be customized to the items you have to discard, because what you have to discard in your facility is different than what you discard at home.
Communicating what can and cannot be recycled may depend on whether you have an open facility (people will be bringing stuff from home or nearby retailers) or a closed facility (security is tight enough that the only thing people will have inside your facility is stuff they bought from a concessions stand or on-site store). If you have a closed facility, you can use images of the items you sell in the concessions and on-site store and link those items to the appropriate recycling, compost, or trash bin. If you have an open facility, you may have to broaden your images and terminology to include other types of stuff that people will typically bring in.
How will you educate people about the recycling program at your facility? When you do, will you recognize that for most people, their frame of reference is how they recycle at home?