How to set up a School / College Recycling Program

FOR A MORE INDEPTH LOOK GO HERE - Recycling And Beyond A College Campus Primer

This section will help you establish an effective recycling program on your campus.  Recycling, as the word indicates, is a cyclical process.  Along with removing materials from the waste stream, it is also necessary to find a market for them.  In order for the re-manufacturers to provide successful and profitable service, our society must support their ventures by purchasing recycled products.  Our waste, whether recycled or not, doesn't simply disappear after it's out of sight.  The following outline can help you start a successful recycling program for your campus

I. Writing a Proposal:

Most college campus recycling programs have developed out of student and/or faculty interest rather than coming from the administration itself.  But institutionalizing a campus recycling program, must come from the administration.  Therefore, it is necessary to write a proposal to illustrate how beneficial waste management can be for your particular school.  Following are some general steps for writing a waste management proposal:

1. Research Past Problems:

Research and planning must go into a proposal for it to be convincing.  Before drafting your proposal, check into past attempts at setting up a recycling program and learn from previous mistakes.  Also, investigate any applicable city or campus ordinances that supports recycling and can be used to help establish your program.

2. Identify College, Local and State Laws, Executive Orders and Policies on Waste Prevention and Recycling:

This is a critical component.  If these exist, identify and utilize them in the process of creating a waste prevention and recycling program.  Colleges, as a visible community entity, strive to be in compliance with all laws and policies and leaders in the greater local community.  Additionally, identify advocates in these areas to assist in supporting the establishment of a program.  Build alliances and bridges.  Identify your advocates on campus and in the local community.  Networking also is a valuable asset.  

3. Examine the University Waste Stream:

What wastes are recyclable, and in what quantities?  Glass, aluminum, cardboard, office paper, and newspaper are usually the most abundant.  Food products and campus ground trimmings are also possibilities for composting.  Be sure to examine offices, classrooms, cafeterias, lounges and dormitories for the study.

See Waste Audit section of this handbook for waste analysis details.

4. Economic Argument:

This is the most important section of your proposal.  Recycling as a campus policy makes sense both economically and environmentally.  Demonstrate to the administration that your school may save money on disposal, and will generate income from the sale of recyclables.  This is called demonstrating cost-avoidance and also revenue potential.  This is a critical component in creating a sustainable campus recycling program.

a. Check Out Markets for Recyclable Materials:

Are there recycling markets available in your area and for what materials?  It is a big mistake to collect materials that you do not have a ready market for.  Instead of recyclables, you end up with waste.  Identify local waste management companies that handle recyclables and other recycling processors in your area.  You may want to initially focus on high·grade office paper, especially computer paper, since it brings in the biggest revenue and is usually plentiful on college campuses.
Paper brokers may also accept other materials or have information on where to take them What prices do these brokers pay for materials? Obtain a list of prices from local brokers. What are the brokers' collection methods? It may be necessary to deliver the recyclables to them, or they may pick them up at a central location on campus.

b. Look at the Current Cost and Methods of Waste Disposal:

Determine how the waste is handled on your campus.  Many campuses handle their own waste, while others contract out waste disposal.  Examine how to incorporate a recycling program into your existing campus waste management operation.

Review the County Solid Waste Management Plan and determine how the college fits into that plan and also what impact your college has on the local waste stream.

Be a critical thinker and detective:
How much does the school spend on disposal?
Is the charge by weight, volume, or is it a fixed rate?
If the charge is by weight or volume then the economic incentive for recycling is greater.             Where does the waste go? Landfill? Incineration?
Include information on the environmental consequences of such  disposal practices in the report.
What are the projected future landfill costs? Recycling is an effective way to avoid the exorbitant landfill costs as  space becomes more scarce.

Explicitly outline the potential savings for the school. Explain that the cost of waste disposal will decrease as volume decreases, and that money can be generated from the sale of recyclable materials. This money can be used to operate the recycling program, to publicize it, or for incentive programs.

5. Decide What Type of Collection Process Will Work Best:

Depending on recycling programs in the community surrounding your campus, you may be able to work your program into one that is already established.  Otherwise, it will be necessary to shop around for brokers to sell to, and/or businesses to collect and transfer your materials to the brokers.  The size of the institution is also a factor, as discussed in section III.

Some Possible Collection Methods:

**IMPORTANT: ALWAYS SITE RECYCLING NEXT TO A GARBAGE BIN!!!  This is the key to a consistent waste management strategy.  Without this, recyclables end up in the trash and trash ends up in the recycling.  As recycling is becoming more prevalent, including trash in the collection system is often overlooked which creates problems for the participants and the program.

a. A Drop·off Center:

This is the easiest to set up.  Arrange for a central site where people can deposit their recyclables.  The recycling coordinator will have to arrange transportation of the materials to the broker.  The problem with this arrangement is that participation may be low, unless the center is in a convenient location.  Beware, often public drop-off sites become dumping grounds.  Always site with trash and if this is a campus site, have a camera mounted (even a non-working one), and have security make rounds to monitor this area.  These strategies help ensure success of a drop-off center.
Another idea is to have a station that is staffed.  Hours would be limited but things will be better managed for everyone: participants can receive on-site education and the program will have an easier time servicing well prepared monitored material.

b. Building Pickups:

For greater participation, a weekly pickup at each building or group of building is preferable.  Containers for each recyclable material should be provided to allow people to separate their recyclables accordingly.  The pickup process can be made easier by assigning one person in each building the responsibility of putting the containers outside the night before the day of the pickup.  Building pickups make for a good dorm/building competition to see who recycles the most.

c. In·House Pickup:

Depending on the collection system your local broker runs, it may be possible to have them collect the containers themselves from each building. Find out if your school will get the proceeds from you recyclables if the broker picks them up.  Also, examine the possibility of involving the custodial staff in the collection as when trash is converted to recycling, the amount of materials handled still remains the same.

d. Outside Contractor:

There are some companies who will completely run your program, including supplying containers, pickup., and maintenance.  Sometimes the school can share in the proceeds while saving money on disposal costs.

6. Ask For an Initial Capital Investment to Buy Necessary Materials:

Some schools have proposed adding a recycling cost to the student activities fee to help fund the program.  Cooperatively funded programs are the most successful.  Creating a funding structure that incorporates a financial commitment from the administration and students gives the campus community ownership of the process and also provides extra insurance that at any time, the program won't be eliminated.
Once the program is running it will be attractive to demonstrate that the program saves money for the University.  Depending upon the program resources, there may be an opportunity for the program to be self sustaining.  Self sustaining college recycling programs are ones that have incorporated a college effort into a recycling processing operation.  If you don't have the resources to create this model, at the least, it is easy to demonstrate direct cost savings and revenue which administrators can recognize as being valuable.

At a minimums, college recycling programs require:

Containers for separating and storing materials
A vehicle for transport (either borrowed from college facilities or purchased solely for recycling use)
A warehouse to process and stage materials
An established recycling office that manages recycling staff and administrative functions Labor of course!

7. Purchase Recycled Products:

It is important to buy products made from recycled materials in order to strengthen the market for recyclables.  Although recycled paper is currently more expensive then virgin paper, the price will decrease as the demand increases.  Point out that your school will be participating in an environmentally sound practice by encouraging resource and energy conservation.

Purchasing plays an important role in campus waste generation and provides an opportunity to reduce waste and overall campus costs.  Contracting for products and vendor services also provide and opportunity to create extended producer responsibility such that the responsibility for waste reduction and recycling is put on the contractor.  Take a look at your campus waste stream costs, on larger campuses, these are in the millions, no small change.  Waste reduction and recycling saves colleges notable amounts of money.  Encourage vendor responsibility by incorporating waste reduction, recycled content and end use take back recycling at the point of contracting.  A relevant example is in carpeting.

Many manufacturers are creating carpet contracts with colleges that provide recycling of old carpets, recycled content new carpets and end use recycling of worn out carpets.  This practice alone is saving colleges money.

8. Hire a Recycling Coordinator, determine a program organizational structure, delineate roles and responsibilities, establish funding mechanism and...:

For your program to be successful, it is important to employ people who will be responsible for proper maintenance of the program.  Most importantly is to establish an institutionalized program with on-going paid staff with supplemental opportunities for volunteers in less critical roles (help at events, doing educational activities etc...).   It is difficult to run a recycling program strictly with volunteer help.

Students are a valuable asset to a campus recycling effort and many programs employ students to perform recycling and other administrative duties.  Additionally, there are many opportunities for students to get involved through internships and class projects.  Utilize students as resources as much as possible.  This is also an opportunity to provide an academic hands-on experience for students to compliment the college experience.

Hire a full-time paid recycling coordinator to keep the program running smoothly.  Programs operating on volunteers or short-time student coordinators only have a low success rate and also provide little security for program longevity and development.  Programs operating utilizing custodians are tricky as often the recycling coordinator works secondarily through a custodial supervisor and remember, the custodians have other priorities besides recycling.  Programs with specialized recycling staff are more coherent and focused.  Programs utilizing students as recyclers (who do collection, processing and other assorted tasks including program education),  have reduced costs and the benefit of providing valuable student jobs with an experiential component.  The key to this is a full-time coordinator(s).

II. Implementing a Program

1. Create a Program Name and Logo:

Create a logo that the campus community can identify with the recycling effort.  This is a critical tool in implementing a successful program.  The logo is something that can be placed on recycling collection containers, painted on collection vehicles, for use on t-shirts, stationary, posters etc....

2. Create A Phone Contact/Department Contact List

Make sure to have some mechanism to be contacted and a way to contact departments on updates on recycling procedures.  It is important that people can contact the program and likewise setting up a department contact list is helpful in terms of getting information out to campus.  Some campuses have designated Recycling Coordinators in each department.

3. Set Up a Pilot Program to Ensure Program Longevity:

Start small with a representative sample of buildings and limited amount of materials.  This was critical.  The idea is to build a foundation and grow from there.   It may be easiest to concentrate on one or two materials at first to get the university community accustomed to the idea of recycling.

Consider circulating a questionnaire to find out where the most support exists. It is important to publicize your recycling program early to make sure people are aware that recycling has arrived on campus. Make it a point to use recycled paper for publicity, information, and other printed materials, and make it known that you are doing so.  Model your message.

Use the pilot program to work out problems and streamline the collection and transportation process.  Some obstacles to watch out for are limited storage space, lack of janitorial cooperation in leaving the recycling bins alone, people throwing trash in the recycling containers, etc. Make sure to label your bins clearly and consistently so that everyone recognized them.

4.Set-Up Recycling Guidelines at Each Recycling Site.

Create and set-up an easy to read recycling guidelines poster which includes contact info. for questions.  Also, this will help identify the sites and give folks an opportunity to help by preparing recyclables properly.

5. Collection Practices

It is also advised that you initiate a source separated collection system, from the start.  This increases the marketability of the materials and reduces your labor costs by encouraging individual responsibility and participation.
Other programs have found that it is difficult to get people to separate their paper by type after they're used to throwing it all into one container.  A good method of collection is to pick up the full containers and leave empty ones in their place.  This saves time by eliminating the need to dump and re-bundle the recyclables, and it keeps them separated.

In creating a collection program, strive for efficiency.  Picking up recyclables in areas that generate small amounts, may require in-frequent pick-ups.  Not all sites have the same bin type and collection requirements. Additionally, consider back-haul possibilities in all aspects of waste generation.  When you drop off items, organize to pick-up other items.  This saves resources including money and labor

Creative advertising and incentives, such as prizes or coupons for the building that recycles the most can greatly increase participation.

6. Track Your Waste Stream/Demonstrate Cost Benefits

Track your waste stream and cost benefits (cost savings from garbage costs and revenue generated from recyclables, volunteer hours savings from labor costs, other savings from reuse programs etc...).  This is the most valuable piece of information you can create.  It provides valuable information for the program as well as the institution.  This mechanism is the key to justifying a recycling program's existence.

See the Tracking section of this guide for more information.

III. Special Considerations

1. Size of School:

For all schools, another approach may be to hire a recycling consultant to come to your school and suggest the best system for your campus (see section IV). Depending on your specific situation, it may prove easier to hire an outside contractor to handle the whole process.  If not anything else, this could be just what is needed to convince the administration to institute a campus recycling program. Here are some specific considerations for small and large schools:

a.  Small Schools (under 3,000 students):

A small school generally has an advantage in starting a recycling program because of its smaller volume of collectable materials and a more consolidated campus. Coordinating your collection program with that of the surrounding community may also be easier. A separate recycling department or office may not be necessary for a small school, as long as there are one or two people to coordinate the program. But establishing an actual department does add stability and continuity. One possible set back for a small school is that some of the brokers will only make large pickups. This is rarely a problem if you are able to transport the waste to their site yourself, or enlist some other group to do so.

b. Large School (10,000 students or more):

The large quantity of recyclable materials generated by large schools will be of great interest to recycling brokers. The larger volume will also create more jobs for students, which may make it preferable to establish an administrative department for recycling with a full·time coordinator. A full·time position is necessary to coordinate the multiple routes and pickup days, as well as finding markets for the collected materials.  A full-time recycling coordinator will have plenty to do besides operations.  Education/promotion, program administration, materials tracking and employee management are part of the multitude of tasks involved in running a successful recycling program.  Additionally, larger schools often have more then one full-time recycling coordinator.  As program's evolve, the need for other coordinators becomes self-evident. You may want to bring in a professional contractor to either aid or run your program. See section IV for more information on outside consultants.

2. Encourage Reduction Practices:

Incorporate waste reduction practices into all aspects of the campus recycling effort.  Since 1990, average per person waste has nearly doubled from 4 pounds to 7 pounds.  Be sure to consider that as waste increases that more resources will be needed to maintain increasing recycling recovery rates.

Incorporating waste reduction practices into recycling efforts presents an opportunity for a large payoff in reducing the waste before it is produced.  College campuses provide endless opportunities for waste reduction from encouraging double sided copying practices to reducing packaging and vendor waste from contracts.  Purchasing and contracting plays an important role in campus waste reduction as campus institutional waste is mostly generated from the outside.  When looking at your waste stream, remember the 3R's...and ask "Can this be Reduced? Reused? Recycled?"  You will be amazed at how much you can reduce the waste stream by reviewing the fundamentals.

3.  Recycling and Beyond:

As campus recycling programs begin to grow, colleges are finding that establishing campus recycling practices goes beyond the garbage can.  In reality, waste generation and consumption are inherent to every aspect of daily life.  Recycling opens the door to resource conservation in all areas of campus life from facilities to academics and involve much more then creating another place to put garbage.

This guide touches on the many aspects that campus recycling programs come to play an important role in.  Remember to think beyond the can and be ready for the endless possibilities to create a zero waste recycling effort.

Make Recycling a Success on Your Campus!

Establishing a recycling program on your campus will provide students and faculty with an opportunity to turn concern for the environment into positive action. Those who have previously been unaware of the need to recycle will receive a practical education on the importance of conserving natural resources, energy and valuable open·space. Your recycling program can provide an avenue for everyone to make a difference.

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