A recent article published by the Argus Leader pointed out a lingering issue in our community that is slowly starting to get noticed: Commercial businesses aren’t recycling.
Why Aren’t Businesses Recycling?
Businesses opt-out of single stream recycling in the Sioux Falls area for many different reasons. One reason the Argus article points out is due to the lack of knowledge on what can actually be recycled. When non-recyclables are included in the single stream bin, it can lead to contamination. The article states, “That’s not to say we don’t want to recycle or that we don’t try. It’s just that we’re not as discerning about what does and doesn’t belong in a recycling bin as we ought to be.”
Why does it matter? As mentioned in the article, contamination can lead to fees. If a load comes in with 65% recyclable material, but the rest is a mix of popcorn, diapers, pet-waste bags, tree branches and kitchen knives, the recycling facility has to have a team of people dig through the entire load, find the diapers and other non-recyclables, dig them out and separate them manually, then pay to properly dispose of them. If these “contaminates” are not caught immediately, they can get stuck in the machinery and cause jams or breakdowns – or come face to face with people on the line. Hand-sorting out non-recyclables like diapers, branches, or kitchen knives is not only a danger to worker health and safety, but it slows down the process and results in less material being generated for reuse.
To help offset the cleanup cost of trash that comes in, the recycler passes a small portion onto the hauler. This helps reduce the cost, notifies the hauler that there was trash in the load, and reinforces the message that material needs to be as clean as possible- which can then all be relayed to the original generator (aka the business). It’s up to the hauler whether any fees or information is passed along to their customer, but it does help encourage getting the right things in the bin. The average load received at Millennium contains less than 5% trash. If a load does end up with a fee, it is always considerably cheaper than land-filling the entire load and the “clean” weights help the hauler meet the city enforced goal, so there is still more benefit to haulers to recycle than to trash the materials. Any loads that come in with 1% recyclables and 99% trash, as mentioned in the article, would be turned away.
Another reason businesses aren’t recycling is the lack of knowledge on what their options are. Many businesses don’t know what to ask for from their waste hauler or aren’t sure where to get started. They’ve been doing just trash or cardboard for years, and making a change has never made it onto their agenda.
Why Should Businesses be Recycling?
Recycling saves money. Because recycling costs haulers much less than landfilling (even with possible contamination fees), many charge customers less for recycling services than they do for trash. An initial or reoccurring recycling container fee usually pays for itself over time in the overall reduced cost per ton. Another way to cut costs involves finding creative ways to use less, reuse or replace non-recyclable items that would normally be thrown away (Examples: Re-purpose printed one-sided paper as note paper, send emails instead of printing, use real mugs in the break-room instead of Styrofoam cups that can’t be recycled).
Recycling is good for your brand. People like doing business with companies who share their values. Having recycling bins available to customers or displaying your single-stream container outside your building shows your commitment to the community. The more you do, the more people believe your sustainability initiative is genuine, not just “green washing”.
Recycling boosts employee morale. Employee disengagement comes from bad morale or lack of belief in the company. When businesses do positive things like recycling, it helps employees view the organization as a more caring part of the community. Involving employees in your sustainability initiatives like recycling helps them feel like part of something more than just a day-to-day money machine. Check out our business recycling page to get some ideas for recycling education and motivation.
How Can Your Business Get Started?
The first step to getting your business recycling program started is getting management on board. Present the importance of recycling and how it will be both beneficial and feasible for your company by saving money through avoiding disposal costs, improving public image and corporate sustainability, and improving employee morale to ‘do the right thing’!
Next step is identifying recyclable items your company generates. Common single stream items include paper, cardboard, cans and bottles, but don’t overlook the more unique items like packing material, specialty paper or plastics, pallets, electronics and other office equipment that could be recycled separately. When recyclable materials are identified, it’s easier to educate on the “yes’s” and avoid the “no’s” altogether which can lead to contamination. Millennium offers free onsite waste audits to help you identify these items.
After you’ve identified your recyclables, create a collection process and choose the best spots for your recycling bins. Millennium’s free waste audits can help you identify the right hauler and best collection and labeling practices for your unique business.
Last but definitely not least, educate and motivate your coworkers! After you’ve done all of the hard work getting your program setup, it’s very important to make sure your team members (especially custodial staff) know about the program and know where to go with questions. It’s also important to keep people motivated so there’s momentum even after the initial start. You can do this by monitoring the results and sharing successes, or even making incentives for involvement. Again, Millennium can help you out with ideas on how to best educate and motivate your team.
We are here to help you! Millennium works very closely with the city of Sioux Falls to help them educate both residents and businesses. Our community is lucky to have such a great city team who cares about recycling and continues to push forward with their education efforts. Just last year, the city sent out 70,000 informational flyers about what you can and can’t put in the bin, and will soon be distributing bin labels with the same message. Together, we can make recycling work! Contact us to schedule a free waste audit for your business, schedule a tour of the recycling process, or to just have one of our team members stop out and speak to your group on the benefits of recycling.