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Breaking the cycle

September 19, 2010
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One of the main tasks in-house cleaning professionals face is disposing of the garbage the facility generates.

Trash disposal has been a long-time problem — dating back to when people began to establish permanent settlements.

Historically, the problem was addressed by burning or burying the waste. The “out of sight, out of mind” mentality seemed to put people at ease; but with everything we now know about our environment, we need a real solution.

That’s where JanSan pros come into play.

Recycling is a way to reduce the amount of useable material that is disposed of each year while also saving money.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, recycling became a hot issue with many states passing mandatory recycling laws, the plastics industry developing a material- identification system for plastic bottles, and large corporations such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola using more recycled materials in their packaging.

Around this time, the school district I work for began to set up its recycling program.

Step by step
Whether you are setting up a multi-item recycling program for a large school district, or a single-item recycling program for a small office or company, there are five basic steps to help make your program successful:

1. Select a recycling coordinator

With one person overseeing the program, there will be more accountability, a consistent monitoring of the program, and a source of information and resources for employees.

2. Choose a recycling service provider and work together to set up the program

Work with a trash disposal company to conduct a waste assessment. By doing this, a determination can be made of what items make up the majority of your site’s trash and how best to recycle them.

3. Buy materials needed to collect and handle the recyclables

For white paper pickup, facility managers can purchase large blue bins for classrooms or high-need areas, and smaller blue bins for offices. For collection, try using 44-gallon containers with wheels to make the job easier.

For metals, such as soda cans, 40-gallon covered trash cans with holes cut in the lids can serve as a disposal area. Place these in common areas, cafeterias, etc., and be sure to label them “Soda cans only.”

Plastics such as milk and juice containers can be emptied into five-gallon plastic containers with screened lids before placement in a trash bag.

Orange or other colorful bags come in handy for sorting. Use them to contain each item, with similar items sorted together in one bag. Cardboard boxes should be broken down and placed in a specified area.

Most service providers will provide a dumpster for to-be-recycled items, but make sure to discuss who will do the sorting — the responsibility could lie with the maintenance department or the provider.

4. Implement the program

The most important component of a successful recycling plan is educating the custodial crew and promoting the program to building tenants. Without buy-in to the program, the plan will likely fail.

Get tenants involved by offering incentives. If you work in a school system, hold a competition to see which class can recycle the most paper monthly. After the results are tallied, offer the top three classes a pizza party or ice cream social.

With more colleges expecting community service from applicants, this program benefits the student, the school and the taxpayer.

My district earned tremendous savings through the 1990s. Today, we divert more than 42 percent of our solid waste from landfill disposal — 12 percent over the state-mandated level — resulting in a savings of about $116,000 monthly.

We continue to recycle corrugated cardboard, white paper, magazines, phone books, aluminum cans, tin cans, and milk and juice cartons.

The result: National recognition from “Keep America Beautiful” (, the Outstanding Institutional/ Business Award from RecycleFlorida Today, as well as awards from state and local organizations.

5. Monitor the program, solicit feedback and make adjustments

Once your program is in place, it is vital that you monitor its progress for cost effectiveness, changes in the market, employee participation and the program’s impact on the environment.

Several years ago, the recycling market had a downturn, with recycling costs skyrocketing and some materials no longer being recycled.

For instance, costs to recycle polystyrene (Styrofoam) quadrupled, and many polystyrene manufacturers have since gone out of business.

Originally, my facility got a credit per cubic yard of Styrofoam to be recycled; we now have to pay for pickup.

Another issue to consider: There are insect infestation and odor problems associated with storing soda cans.

If your provider picks up by volume and the dumpster isn’t full on pickup day, you’re paying to dispose of air. If they pick up by weight, and the collection area is not covered, you’re paying more for rain-soaked material or to dispose of items the public sometimes places into dumpsters.

If trash gets mixed in with recyclables, the entire load is contaminated and considered trash; all your time spent collecting will be wasted.

You can’t assume the program will continue to run by itself. It takes time and commitment to make it work.

Recycle the unexpected
There are some items aside from the obvious that can be recycled, such as:

  • Toner cartridges from copy machines and printers
  • Cell phones
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • Solvents and other flammable liquids
  • Mercury-containing devices
  • Paints, stains and other coatings

There are sources out there to recycle everything from cameras and clothes to prescription glasses and used tires. It costs about $30 a ton to recycle trash, $50 a ton to put it into a landfill, and $65 to $75 a ton to burn it.

So what items can your facility recycle? You’re only limited by your imagination.

And by going above and beyond the call of recycling duty, you’re not only doing your facility a service, but also your community and its citizens.

Bill Herndon is the master crew leader for Timber Creek High School, Orlando, FL.
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