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September 30, 2011
Do You Have a Recycling Policy?

By Ana Ellington, BLR Senior Editor and Green Team Member

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Are you involved in sustainability efforts at your company? Businesses today recognize the importance of developing a companywide conservation program—or going green! It’s more than conserving our natural resources, it also means saving money and what business does not want to see their bottom line improve for simply being green. What about waste reduction and recycling?

Businesses can save money by reducing the amount of materials and energy they consume and by recycling materials. A policy that establishes your organization’s strategies for reducing consumption and recycling materials should include clear guidance on work procedures for conservation of energy and recycling. These strategies can save money, improve employee morale, and enhance your organization’s image in the community.

Numerous cities now require various businesses to recycle. For example, apartment complexes and office buildings may be required by local ordinance to recycle copy paper, newspaper, soda cans, and other items. If such a law applies to your facility, your policy should disclose its existence and remind employees of the cost of any violation.

Here are some tips and considerations for developing your company’s recycling policy. Then join the conversation and tells us steps you’ve taken in your going green journey!

Review of policy. Your policy should state that it will be reviewed at least once a year to make adjustments to any changes in law or changes in items that are acceptable for recycling.

Program administrator. Your policy should identify the person to be contacted when there are any questions regarding recycling. This individual should be readily available to answer questions regarding what items are to be recycled and to respond to suggestions for altering your recycling program.

Reduction in paper used. Your policy could encourage employees not to print or copy documents unnecessarily. Instead, you could encourage employees to maintain electronic copies of a document rather than paper copies.

Packaging. If your business packages items for others, your policy should state that you seek to minimize the amount of packaging used to reduce trash. Further, your policy should state that you encourage employees to make suggestions for reducing the amount of packaging while still protecting the product. Similarly, your policy should encourage employees to make suggestions on when to use recycled materials in your packaging.

Circulating materials. To reduce the number of copies of an item, you may be able to circulate one copy among several people. Additionally, you may want to implement an e-mail, voice mail, or networking system to permit the routing of information without producing a hard copy.

Confidentiality. If you have confidential documents, care should be taken to remind employees to discard those items properly. For example, you may require the items to be shredded before recycling. Recyclable items. Your policy should identify what items are to be recycled. Will you recycle paper only? Newspapers? Aluminum cans? Plastics?

Use of recycled material. Your policy can encourage use of items made from recycled materials. Your policy can also encourage the reuse of items before they are discarded. For example, copy paper printed only on one side can be recycled internally to make use of the blank back side (or even be made into scratch pads).

Items not to be recycled. Your policy should expressly describe any items that should not be placed in a container for recyclables. Otherwise, a few items that are not to be recycled can ruin the contents of an entire container.

Cleaning. If plastic containers or aluminum cans are to be rinsed out before placement in a recycling bin, you should advise employees of this in your policy.

Toxic materials. Expressly identify any toxic materials that are not to be placed in the recycling bins. For example, if you recycle a variety of cans, but not paint cans or oil cans, your policy should expressly inform employees of these restrictions. Similarly, if you recycle plastics, but not plastic containers for motor oil, your policy should so state.

OSHA. There may be Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations regarding the disposal of certain workplace items, for example, needles in health care facilities. OSHA may also regulate storage of items in the workplace. Often material safety data sheets will provide the needed information.

Environmental laws. Various federal and environmental laws regulate the disposal and recycling of materials, e.g., paint products, oil cans, tires, car batteries, or glass bottles.

Recycling laws. State laws or local laws may require certain businesses to recycle specific items. Office buildings may be required to recycle soda cans. Further, several states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation requiring that newspapers sold in these areas contain prescribed amounts of newsprint produced from postconsumer newspapers.

Color-coding containers. To make it easier for employees to readily identify which container to use for which items, you should consider color-coding the bins.

Location of bins. Location sites should be convenient for employees to recycle. At the same time, you should not have so many sites that it creates a burden to gather all the items.

Signage. Not only should your signs identify what a particular recycling bin is to contain, but it should also identify items not to be placed in the container. For example, your recycling bin for plastics ought to identify any item, such as plastic containers for motor oil, that are not to be placed in that recycling bin.

Safety. When identifying items that you will recycle, you should consider potential safety problems. For example, you may decide not to recycle glass because of the risk of breakage that may lead to a serious cut.

Pickup times. You should determine what is the most optimal time for the pickup of the recycled materials. For example, is one pickup a week sufficient? One pickup a month? Is morning, mid-afternoon, or some other time best?

Inefficiencies in recycling. Some manufacturers of copiers and printers warn against the use of recycled toner cartridges. Such manufacturers suggest that there can be some leakage of the material that may require the machine to be cleaned sooner than normal. Similarly, the use of the back side of a prior draft may cause your printer or copier to jam, resulting in inefficiencies or repairs.

Charitable donations. If you have items that have outlived their usefulness to your company, but are still in working order, you may want to consider giving such items to a charitable organization that could use them.

Share any tips you have with us at BLRGreenTeam@blr.com!

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