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How to Get Support for Your Recycling Program

During the 2013-2014 school year, the Clark County (Nevada) School District’s maintenance and operations department implemented a district-wide recycling program. Over the course of the year, they decreased solid waste generated from the district by 326 cubic yards and returned approximately $345,000 to the district’s budget. 

More than just a do-good-feel-good practice, recycling is an MRO best practice that can significantly impact the budget of any large brick-and-mortar facility. However, it requires cooperation between departments and individuals. If you manage a school, hospital or similar facility, one of your biggest challenges in implementing a viable recycling program will be getting the building occupants on board.

Here are a few tips to help you create a recycling program that encourages students, staff and other building users to participate:

Identify your allies 

The first step in changing to sustainable practices, according to Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti, authors of The Natural Step for Communities, is to identify what they call the “fire souls.” These are members of the community or organization who have a burning interest in sustainable development and are able and willing to work hard to help it happen. One way to identify these individuals is to send out a survey to students, staff and community members asking about their recycling habits. At the end of the survey, invite them to contact you if they would like to be involved in the creation of a recycling team. 

Build your support team

The next step is to create your team. This might consist of only you and two or three key people, or it could be a dozens-strong team, depending on the size of your organization and the complexity of your program needs. Regardless, you will want to be sure you have the following things in place:

1.    An appointed recycling coordinator. This could be a teacher, staff member, paid support person or even a student. (If it is a student, you’ll want to have a system in place for transferring duties to another individual when that student moves on.) Having a single point person will help your program stay focused and organized. 
2.    Buy-in from the top. Whether you’re dealing with administrators or the C-suite, it’s essential the top-level people in your organization are aware of the benefits of your program and are willing to support it. You’ll also want to work with your custodial staff and make sure they are on board. Any of these people may have questions and concerns, so be prepared to listen and educate them as necessary. 
3.    Goals for your recycling program. Working toward specific goals will help your team focus and can provide incentive for success. Your goals could focus on the percent of recyclable materials that are recycled, pounds of solid waste diverted, pounds of recyclables saved or the amount of money trimmed from your budget. 
4.    An organizational blueprint for your recycling team. Make sure everyone is clear on your goals, the tasks that need to be accomplished in order to meet those goals, and who is responsible for each task. 

Once these things are in place, your fire souls will be invaluable in recruiting enough people to build an effective recycling team. It is especially helpful when your team members are social peers of the people you need to engage, so encourage participation from members of all sectors of your organization—for example, students, faculty members and staff. 

Educate your community

Your green team can help coordinate the physical aspects of recycling if necessary. However, one of the most important functions will be educating other members of the community. The two big topics they’ll want to address are:

•    Why recycle? When people know the reason for a behavior change, they are much more likely to comply.
•    How to recycle? Educate people on exactly what they need to do in order to help you meet your recycling goals. 

Education can take many forms, including information tables, fliers, email communications and social media. Your team members may come up with additional suggestions. 

Make it fun for maximum engagement

To encourage maximum participation in your recycling program, you will need to make it a positive experience for all members of your organization and community. Here are some suggestions:

•    Contests. Everyone loves contests, and it’s especially fun when existing rivals are given a chance to outdo each other. Pit dorms, departments or office floors against each other to see who can recycle the most. Or, if your goal is to raise awareness, create a song, art or poetry contest. Be sure to offer cool prizes! 
•    Events. An event can serve two main purposes: educating your audience and increasing its interest and involvement. Guest speakers, films and information fairs are always popular. Or, organize a workshop where participants can create art via recyclable objects collected from your facility. 
•    Rewards. Offer incentives when goals are reached. These can range from pizza parties to cash rebates. The Clark County School District implemented a Recycling Rebate program where some of the savings from reduced garbage bills are funneled back to the individual schools to fund field trips, learning materials and custodial supplies. 

No matter how you decide to engage your people, you’ll have the most success if you cultivate a feeling of ownership within them. Be open to their ideas and involvement. You might find that your recycling movement takes on a life of its own.


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