Chapter 4
How to Start A Recycling Program

This section outlines a step-by-step approach that will help to establish an effective recycling program on campus.

I. Writing a Proposal
Most college campus recycling programs have developed out of student and/or faculty interest rather than coming from central administration itself. However, institutionalizing a campus recycling program is an administrative responsibility. Therefore, it is necessary to write a proposal to illustrate how beneficial an innovative waste management program can be for a school. The following are some general steps for writing a waste management proposal.  

1. Research Past Recycling Efforts
Extensive research and planning must go into a proposal for it to be convincing. Before drafting a proposal, check into past attempts at setting up a recycling program and learn from previous mistakes.                                                                                                                                                     

2. Identify College, Local and State Laws, Executive Orders and Policies on Waste Prevention and Recycling
It is critical to investigate any applicable ordinances that can be used to help establish a program, including in-house institutional policies, mandates, guidelines and rules. If these exist, identify and utilize them in the process of creating a waste prevention and recycling program. Colleges, as visible community leaders, strive to be in compliance with all laws and policies.  

3. Identify Advocates, Allies and Local Programs
Find supporters within the local government, university administration, and community organizations who are willing to advocate for and assist in the establishment of a program. Build alliances and bridges. Networking is one of the most valuable assets and essential steps in creating a successful program.    

Connect with other institutions of higher education (including community colleges) in the area to gather information on how other local programs are being funded, structured, and staffed, and how materials are being marketed.

4. Examine the University Waste Stream
Determine the composition of campus waste. Which wastes are recyclable locally, and in what quantities are these wastes being produced? Glass, aluminum, cardboard, office paper, and newspaper are usually the most abundant. Food products and campus ground trimmings also present possibilities for waste reduction through composting. Be sure to examine offices, classrooms, cafeterias, lounges, and dormitories for the waste stream study. See Chapter 6: Solid Waste Audits of this handbook for waste analysis details.  

5. Economic Argument
This is the most important section of a proposal. Recycling as a campus policy makes sense both economically and environmentally. Demonstrate to administrators that the school may save money on disposal and generate income from the sale of recyclables. This is called demonstrating cost-avoidance and revenue potential and is a critical component in creating an economically viable campus recycling program. Review the County Solid Waste Management Plan. Determine how the college fits into that plan and what impact the college has on the local waste stream.  

       a. Research Markets for Recyclable Materials

            Are there recycling markets available in the local area? For what materials do these markets exist? It is a big mistake to collect materials that do not currently have an established market. Instead of recyclables, the end result is waste. Identify local waste management companies that handle recyclables and other recycling processors in the area. Initially focus on high grade office paper (i.e. 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. Obtain price lists from local brokers and inquire as to their collection methods; it may be necessary to deliver recyclables to brokers, or materials may be able to be picked up at a central location on campus.  

b. Research Current Cost and Methods of Waste Disposal

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

c. Questions to Consider

Recycling is an effective way to avoid costly disposal fees as landfill space becomes scarcer. 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 help operate and publicize the recycling program, or for incentive and education programs.

6. Decide What Type of Collection Process Will Work Best
Depending on recycling programs in the community surrounding campus, it may be possible to work the program into one that is already established. Otherwise, it will be necessary to shop around for brokers to sell to, and/or businesses that will collect and transfer materials to the brokers.  The size of the institution is also a factor, as discussed in section III.


This is the key to a consistent waste management strategy. When trash and recycling collection is not sited together, recyclables end up in the trash and trash ends up contaminating the recycling. As recycling becomes more prevalent, including trash in the collection system is often overlooked, which creates problems for both the participants and the program. 

Some Possible Collection Methods

a. Drop-off Center
This is the easiest to set up from a programming point of view. Arrange for a central site where recyclables can be deposited. The recycling coordinator will have to arrange material shipments to brokers. The problem with this arrangement is that participation may be low, unless the center is in a convenient location.  

Beware: public drop-off sites often become dumping grounds. One way to reduce illegal dumping and contamination is to mount a camera (even a non-working one), and request that campus security monitor the area during their rounds. These strategies help ensure the success of a drop-off center.   

Another idea is to staff the drop-off sites. Hours would be limited, but the drop-off center will be better managed for everyone: participants can receive on-site education and the program will be more likely to receive well-prepared material.  

b. Building Pickups
For greater participation, a weekly pickup at each building or group of buildings is preferable.  Containers for each type of recyclable material should be provided to allow for recyclables to be separated accordingly. The pickup process can be made easier by assigning to one person in each building the responsibility of putting the containers outside the evening before pickup will occur. Building pickups simplify materials tracking procedures while presenting opportunities for   campus recycling competitions. See Chapter 29: Campus Sustainability for more information about campus waste reduction competitions.    

c. In-House Pickup                
Depending on how the broker runs the collection system, it may be possible for him/her to collect the containers themselves from each building. Find out if the campus will still receive the proceeds from recyclables if the broker picks materials up directly from sites (as opposed to a campus centralized location). Examine the possibility of involving the custodial staff in the collection. When trash is converted to recycling, the amount of materials handled still remains the same, so the program would not be detracting from current disposal processes.  

d. Outside Contractor
There are some companies that will completely run a program, including supplying containers, collection, and maintenance. Sometimes the campus can share in the recycled materials revenue while saving money on labor and disposal costs. Be sure to research creative waste hauling contracts. For instance, many schools have built in contract language that rewards increased recycling by a hauler.

The best way in which to separate recyclables must also be considered as part of the collection process as there is a spectrum of material separation options. Single stream collection involves all recyclable materials being collected in one bin. On the opposite end of the spectrum is source separation which involves separating materials by both type and quality. Commingling falls somewhere in between with materials being separated by type, but not necessarily by grade. For more detailed information about the benefits and drawbacks of these collection system variations and more specific definitions, see Chapter 9: Commingling and Single Stream Collection.  

6. Request an Initial Capital Investment to Buy Necessary Materials
Some schools have proposed adding a recycling charge to the student activities fee to help fund the program. Cooperatively funded programs are the most successful (i.e. programs jointly funded by central administration and student fees.) Creating a funding structure that incorporates financial commitments from both the school's central administration and students gives the campus community ownership of the process and also provides extra insurance for the program's financial stability and longevity.  

Once the program is running, it will continue to be essential to demonstrate that the program saves money for the college. 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. 

At a minimum, college recycling programs require:

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 the school will be participating in an environmentally sound practice by encouraging resource and energy conservation, while supporting a market for the materials collected on campus.    

Purchasing plays an important role in campus waste generation and provides an opportunity to reduce waste and overall campus costs. Examine campus waste stream costs; on larger campuses, these are in the millions- no small change. Waste reduction and recycling saves college campuses notable amounts of money. Encourage vendor responsibility by incorporating waste reduction, recycled content, and end use take-back recycling into contracts. A relevant example is carpeting contracts. 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, while reducing the impact on landfills. 

8. Develop an organizational structure
Determine a program organizational structure, delineate roles and responsibilities, and establish funding mechanisms. Meet with a core group of organizers to write organizational documents. These should outline the purpose and mission of the recycling program and how it fits into the school's mission as a whole. Include hiring processes and specific guidelines for choosing contractors. These documents should be written broadly enough so as to allow for flexibility as both the market and the program itself will adapt over time to meet the campus's needs. However, the documents should provide enough structure so as to avoid future conflicts/controversy within the program or with contractors or administrators.  

The organizational documents should also describe clear responsibilities for staff members at all levels of the organization. This will create ease within the hiring process and provide clear expectations for all workers. Responsibilities and needs may shift within the organization over time, so be sure to allow for the possibility of creating new positions. 

The basis for funding mechanisms can be included in the organizational documents, but a separate funding plan should be established as well. Itemize costs and make funding plans and budgets as detailed and clear as possible.  

9. Hire a Recycling Coordinator and other staff members
For a program to be successful, it is important to hire employees to be responsible for program maintenance. Establish an institutionalized program with on-going paid staff and supplemental opportunities for volunteers in less critical roles such as assistance at events or educational activities. Volunteers play an important role in a recycling program, but it is difficult to run a recycling program strictly with volunteer help. Hiring paid staff members will help to ensure day to day efficiency and build institutional memory.     

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

Hire a full-time paid recycling coordinator to keep the program running smoothly. Programs relying on volunteers or short-time student coordinators have low success rates and also provide little security for program longevity and development.   

Programs that operate strictly by utilizing custodial staff are also tricky as the recycling coordinator often works secondarily through a custodial supervisor who has other priorities in addition to 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 both academic and experiential components. 

10. Use RecycleMania as a Pilot Project, Tracking Tool, and Educational Opportunity
The annual RecycleMania Competition provides a unique opportunity for schools to begin collecting recyclables and educating the campus about waste reduction, reuse, and recycling even before an institutionalized recycling program is implemented. Schools competing in the RecycleMania competition strive to collect the greatest quantity of recyclables and to reduce the amount of trash generated on campus. To determine the winners, schools must use a tracking mechanism. This is a perfect way to test different collection methods, tracking procedures, and the effectiveness of educational programs and activities. Pilot projects are essential to creating a solid program because they allow for trial and error so that mistakes can be corrected before a recycling system is put in place on a larger scale. By using RecycleMania as a pilot, a school creates publicity for its efforts and networks with other schools in addition to achieving the goals of a traditional pilot project.    

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 because it adds visibility to the program. The logo is something that can be placed on recycling collection containers, painted on collection vehicles, and printed on t-shirts, stationary, posters, etc. 

2. Create a Department Contact List
Make sure to have a mechanism to be contacted and to contact other departments regarding updates on recycling procedures. It is important that the program be easily accessible both by phone and by email. Likewise, setting up a department contact list is helpful in terms of disseminating information throughout 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 a limited amount of materials. This is critical first step. The idea is to build a foundation and grow from there. It may be easiest to concentrate on one or two materials at first as the university community becomes accustomed to the idea of recycling. Consider circulating a questionnaire to receive feedback that will help make the program more accessible.  

4. Early Publicity
 It is important to publicize the recycling program from its inception to ensure that the population being served is fully aware that recycling is now available on campus. Make it a point to use recycled paper for publicity, information, and other printed materials, and make it known that this is being done. Model the message. 

Use the pilot program to address problems as they arise and streamline the collection and transportation processes. Be creative in troubleshooting challenges such as limited storage space, lack of janitorial cooperation in leaving the recycling bins alone, trash being thrown in recycling containers, etc. Make sure to label all bins clearly and consistently so that they are immediately and easily recognizable. (See Chapter 22: Education and Promotion- Getting the Word Out.)  

Post clear, easily readable recycling guidelines and program contact information at each collection site. This will help to identify the sites and give campus participants an opportunity to help by preparing recyclables properly.  

5. Collection Practices
Work with the local recycling markets to determine what materials can be recycled locally.  Examine the different marketing possibilities and weigh total costs of collection with potential revenue and cost savings.  If possible, utilize a source separated collection system from the start or a dual stream system (i.e. all paper collected together and all glass/metal/plastic collected together). This increases the marketability of the materials (due to higher quality materials with less contamination), reduces labor costs, and encourages individual responsibility and participation. For more information about the collection systems see Chapter 9: Commingling and Single Stream Collection.  

A good method of collection is to pick up the full containers and exchange for empty ones. This saves time by eliminating the need to dump and re-bundle the recyclables as separation avoids contamination. In creating a collection program, strive for efficiency. Picking up recyclables in areas that generate small amounts may require less 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 dropping 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 the Waste Stream/Demonstrate Cost Benefits
Tracking the waste stream will allow the program to continually respond to changes in the waste stream as new products are introduced into the market. A detailed analysis of cost benefits (cost savings from garbage costs and revenue generated from recyclables, savings from volunteer hours, savings from labor costs, other savings from reuse programs, etc...) is critical.  It provides valuable information for the program as well as the institution as a whole. 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 campuses, another approach is hiring a recycling consultant to suggest the best system for the campus. Depending on the specific situation, it may prove easier to hire an outside contractor to handle the whole process. If nothing 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. 

Small Schools (under 3,000 students)
Small schools generally have an advantage over larger schools in starting a recycling program because of the smaller volume of collectable materials and a more consolidated campus. Coordinating a collection program with 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. However, establishing an actual department does add stability and continuity. One possible set-back for a small school is that some brokers will only make pickups for larger volumes of materials, but this will rarely be a problem if materials can be transported to the brokers' site or other groups can be enlisted to assist in the process.       

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. A larger volume of material will also create more jobs for students, which may make it preferable to establish an administrative department for the recycling program which includes a full-time coordinator. A full-time position is necessary to coordinate the multiple routes and pickup days, identify markets for the collected materials, and create opportunities for continued waste reduction on campus. A full-time recycling coordinator will have plenty of work to do besides everyday operations.  

Education and 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 than one full-time recycling coordinator. As programs evolve, the need for other coordinators (each to focus on specific aspects of the program such as food waste, recycling in housing areas, paper, etc.) becomes self-evident. Professional contractors can be hired to either aid or run a program.

2. Encourage Reduction Practices
Incorporate waste reduction practices into all aspects of the campus recycling effort. Be sure to consider that as waste increases, more resources will be needed to increase 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 play an important role in campus waste reduction as campus institutional waste is mostly generated from the outside. When looking at the campus waste stream, remember the 3Rs and ask: “Can this be Reduced? Reused? Recycled?” It is amazing how much waste generation can be decreased 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 in every aspect of daily life. Recycling opens the door to resource conservation in all areas of campus life from facilities to academics and involves much more than simply creating another place to put garbage. Remember to think beyond the can and be ready for endless possibilities to create a zero waste recycling effort.

Make Recycling a Campus Success!
Establishing a recycling program on 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. A recycling program can provide an avenue for anyone and everyone to make a difference.         


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