How to Start a Recycling Program

Let's Get Started

Recycling in your place of business has several far-reaching benefits. While not always cost-free, recycling often costs less than solid waste disposal services and can save your company on trash hauling costs. In addition, consumers are more conscious than ever about where they spend their money, seeking companies that demonstrate concern for their environmental impacts. For District residents, recycling is becoming an expectation not only at home, but where they work and where they spend their money.   As the work force in the region continues to attract younger people to the area, many firms also find that their potential employees want to work for companies with commitments to sustainability, community involvement, and social responsibility.

The Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne Recycling District can help your businesses recycle successfully. From planning your program, to successfully working with your hauler and educating your employees, STW Recycling District has resources to help.  In fact, we’ve identified seven steps below to design and implement a successful business recycling program. Don’t see what you need? Let us know.  Contact us for Businesses at

Developing a Recycling Plan

A recycling plan helps to organize the information necessary for a successful recycling program. The plan can also identify responsibilities for implementing the program and the goals that you would like to achieve. A recycling plan also serves as an important reference document when things change. For example, if a contracted custodial service provider changes, the plan is a great reference for how recycling is handled in your place of business. Similarly, elements of the plan can be helpful during on-boarding of new employees or opening a new location. 

Include these Representatives

To create an effective plan, you’ll want to include a cross-section of departments and employees.  Involving the right people in the planning of a program not only allows for the identification of potential challenges that need to be addressed prior to starting a program, it creates a deeper understanding of the program and employee buy-in when it is time to move to implementation. Consider including the following representatives when creating your plan:

Resources - Recycling Plan

Working with Your Haulers

In most cases, businesses already have an established waste hauling partner they’ve selected to handle their trash services. Oftentimes this service doesn’t include recycling.  Knowing how to navigate a conversation for recycling services from a hauler is essential to be able to establish a program that will achieve your goals within your budget.

Research Haulers and Services

First, find out who is your current hauler for trash. If your current hauler offers recycling services (not all do), it is often advantageous to add this service through them. If your current hauler doesn’t offer recycling, or if you would like to make sure that you are getting the best services and rates available, do some research on available haulers in the area.  Your local health department can provide a list of active service providers in your county. Gather a basic understanding on the services the haulers provide and the recyclable materials they can collect. 

Questions to ask your hauler


Have all prospective haulers visit your facility for a walkthrough of your operation. Discuss what type of containers will be used to store the recyclables prior to collection by the contractor (i.e. a second dumpster for recycling adjacent to the existing trash dumpster, wheeled carts placed by the loading dock, etc.)   Identify where the recycling containers will be placed. Is there adequate space? Share any expectations or restrictions to servicing the containers that the hauler needs to know about. For example, if there is a busy time for deliveries for your operation there should be communication well ahead of time to your hauler to determine when trash and recycling service should be conducted to avoid conflicts with deliveries. If you conducted a waste audit, provide that information to the haulers to give them more information about your operation.


After the walkthrough the hauler should be able to put a proposal together for the requested services. Review the following: 


Make sure that the rates to provide the service are clear.  There could be multiple rates: rates to haul the containers, tonnage fees to process the materials, and monthly service charges. Compare the prices to what your facility is expected to generate for recyclables and calculate the expected annual expense and/or revenues. If you don’t understand the proposed rates, don’t be afraid to ask questions!

  • Consider reviewing your trash collection agreement at the same time. Often when starting a recycling program there is an opportunity to reduce the frequency of your trash service. Review any available waste audit data to get an idea of how much recyclable material is going to be diverted from the trash that would previously have been disposed.
Contamination Charges:

Some companies charge a fee if the recyclables that are collected are contaminated with too many non-recyclable items. This occurs when employees are putting the wrong materials in your recycling containers. Heavy contamination of recyclables can cause problems when processing the materials, resulting in additional expenses, and requiring more material to be landfilled. While contamination charges are an acceptable practice, make sure that the terms and requirements are clear:

  • Make sure that you will receive at least one “warning” prior to receiving any contamination charges, This will allow you time to correct the problem before incurring a charge.
  • If any charges are assessed, make sure that the contamination is documented with photographs and provided to you.  This will provide more certainty on the nature of the problem.
Term of Agreement: 

Make sure that the length of the contract is clear and fully understood. While less common than in the past, some waste contractors will include an “automatic renewal” provision in the contract that renews the contract for an additional full term if you don’t proactively terminate the agreement within a small window of time prior to the scheduled termination date of the agreement. This is not to your advantage and should be removed.  

Invoicing & Data: 

Discuss the billing process:

  • If you have specific invoicing needs for your internal accounting systems make sure that those are communicated well ahead of time to the hauler.

Line Items:

  • Ask to have different services, such as trash and recycling, broken out in separate line items in order to associate cost saving measures to your program. Seeing one combined cost gives limited insight when tracking the savings, a recycling program can provide.


  • Inquire about reports on your volumes to allow for tracking of progress in your program. Typically, these reports can be generated at the same time as invoices are sent out by haulers. If actual volumes can’t be given due to the type of services, check to see if a standard weight can be determined based on density of the waste & recyclable being hauled, the size of collection container or dumpster, and the frequency of service over a week or months’ time.
Resources - Working with your Haulers

Property Management

If your business is currently leasing your space, you’ll want to engage your landlord or property management group early in your process of establishing a recycling program. They should be able to help with providing information as well as adjusting existing agreements under their control.

Questions to consider

Who is responsible for contracting waste services?

If the property manager is responsible, be sure to communicate how important recycling is to them.

If you cannot convince the management company to add recycling to your building services, you can choose to contract those services independently with a “valet” type of hauler who can service your office individually.

If they are, ask for their help and support in making any procedural changes that are necessary to implement your recycling program.  For instance, make sure that the custodial service provider clearly understands that the recycling containers are always emptied into the recycling dumpster, and the trash in the trash dumpster. As simple as this sounds, whether through lack of communication, confusion, or a desire to finish the cleaning work quickly, this is a common point in the system where things can go wrong. Your custodial service, whether internal or externally provided, is often a critical component to a successful program.

As an alternative, your Green Team may choose to collect the recycling in your space and allow the contracted housekeeping service to collect the trash only. If needed, consider alternative options to ensure your recycling program is sustainable and successful.

If you are located in a building with multiple tenants, engage other businesses to determine their interest in having recycling service offered at your building.

  • The more tenants that are interested in recycling services, the more likely the property management or landlord is to make changes to keep their tenants happy.

Engaging the property management or landlord group will be very important if a hauler suggests that any facility improvements are needed to offer recycling.

Recycling Container Placement and Signage

For any recycling program to be successful, recycling containers must be as easy and convenient for employees to use as your current trash receptacles.  The design and signage on recycling containers is also very important for program success.  

When selecting and placing your recycling containers

Place a recycling container with every waste receptacle

Placing the containers together assures that it is always as easy to recycle as it is to throw something away.  Employees should always have easy access to a recycling container.

Placing containers behind doors, under counters, or obscuring signage inhibits the usage of the containers can lead to higher levels of contamination. 

While containers may be different sizes or styles depending on their location, using consistent signage is important to reinforce what materials are accepted in your program.  All recycling containers should be the same color (blue is recommended) and all trash containers should be a different consistent color. This helps create a consistent way to identify the containers and what is acceptable to place in them.

The type of opening in the recycling container can also help your employees easily identify that it is a recycling container and what materials should be placed inside.  For example, some recycling containers have a small, round opening when compared to a trash container, indicating that it is for recycling bottles and cans.  Another common opening type is “Saturn” shaped, signally that it is a recycling container for receiving mixed recycling including bottles, cans, and paper.  

When you place recycling containers in your workspace consider reducing the number and size of trash containers at the same time.  Making recycling containers equally or more prominent in your workspace will subtly send a message about the importance of the recycling program to your staff.

When placing new recycling containers throughout your workspace, make sure the group that handles the recycling and trash is present during the process.

  • Ensure they are aware of the locations of the containers and encourage them to give suggestions based on their workflow or potential problem areas.
  • If they are not able to be present at that time, make sure you do a walk-through with them after the containers have been placed.

Recycling Signage

  • Labeling should be consistent, not only for recycling containers but normal trash containers as well.
  • Use images whenever possible.
  • Make sure the labels are color coded to the container they represent.
  • Labels should showcase what materials are accepted. Customize your labels to only show the accepted items that are generated in your facility.

If possible have contact information posted on the signs or nearby for employees to contact if there are questions about the recycling program.

Resources - Property Management

Questions Your Plan Should Answer

What are the goals for the program?

Goals can be helpful to organize and prioritize the appropriate actions to take. 

Consider making your goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound (“SMART”)

Determined by your Recycling Service Provider

Does this change for specific parts of your operation?

Will different containers be used in different places, such as desk side, adjacent to copiers, in break rooms, and in public spaces?

Where can employees find copies of the signage if it needs to be replaced?

Floor Plans showing the exact locations of the containers can be helpful

  • Internally (Housekeeping/Custodial)
  • How often is that service to be expected?
  • Who is responsible for maintaining internal recycling containers?
  • Where will recyclables be stored internally prior to collection by your service provider?
  • Who will be the point of contact for the internal service?
  • Externally (Service Provider/Hauler)
  • How often is that service to be expected?
  • Where will the recyclables be stored externally?   
  • Who will be the internal point of contact for the service provider?

Some businesses organize Green Teams to help develop recycling plans and programs. Green Teams are typically comprised of employees who are highly interested in sustainability issues. The most successful Green Teams are supported by their leadership.

  • Leverages the energy of employees who are interested in sustainability
  • Provides feedback to management on potential sustainability programs
  • Can organize and engage other co-workers on sustainability projects

Whether your business is big or small there is value in learning about the waste that your operation is generating. Waste is generated in every place of business, but the type and amount of waste can vary significantly from establishment to establishment. To best manage your waste stream, The District recommends that you conduct some type of “waste audit” to familiarize yourself with the waste that your business generates. A waste audit is an analysis of the types and quantities of waste that you generate, and where that material is generated. While a waste audit may be most valuable if no recycling is taking place in your place of work and you are planning to start a new recycling program, even if your business currently has a recycling program in place there is still value in conducting a waste audit.

Here is a waste audit manual for you to utilize in your efforts (developing plan currently and will need to be added)

Central Collection/Storage Area

If your operation is in a multi-story building or a facility with a large footprint, you might need to identify areas in the building where recyclables will be temporarily stored prior to delivering to the loading dock or other final location for collection by your service provider.  If this is the case, you must consider the volumes and length of time that containers will be stored in these areas to determine if there is enough space.


  • Is the storage site large enough?
  • Is there easy access to freight elevators and loading docks?
  • Does the area comply with local fire and building codes?
  • How much waste can be stored before safety and code violations become a concern?


Educating employees on your recycling program is imperative to success.  While most employees probably have a sense that recycling is “a good thing to do,” your employees will not know what materials can and cannot be recycled at work unless they are educated on the issue.  Additionally, most won’t understand the wide range of environmental and economic benefits of recycling. Developing an understanding of the impacts of your recycling program will help cultivate a workplace culture that values your recycling program.  Taking time to educate your employees is a very important step in ensuring the long-term success of your program. 

Initial Education

If you are kicking off your program, you’ll want to make sure an announcement or kick-off event is created to build awareness and excitement for the new program. If you have the support of the executive leadership of your company, try and get them involved in the process. Having their involvement and presence can be important to improve attendance at an event or to pay attention to an announcement of the program.

Types of notices or events that can be used:
  • Newsletter or memo from leadership announcing the program and why it’s important.
  • Tabling kickoff event where staff can learn about the program at their leisure and ask questions.
  • Video highlighting the program and how to use it.
  • Position volunteers at your recycling stations helping build awareness and helping employees use the program correctly.
  • Speaker or presenter – contact us, we may be able to provide a speaker for you event!

When you begin to educate your staff, you will want to focus on emphasizing what materials are accepted and what is not. Make sure to communicate where they can find containers, familiarize them with the signage, and discuss any other protocols such as not bagging recyclables (an almost universal requirement of service providers). Make sure they know who to reach out to if they have questions or if they notice contamination or service-related issues. If you conducted a waste audit you may want to share those findings with your staff to help them gain insight into your organization’s waste stream and any goals for the program that you would like to achieve. Setting the correct expectations for this program is essential for all staff members, from the enthusiastic recyclers to those that are more apathetic.

Continuous Education

Not everyone in the organization will be able to turn into “super recyclers” right away. It is important to have a plan in place for continued education.

Reasons to continue educating staff:
  • New employees are hired.
  • Your company changes to a new service provider that accepts a slightly different set of materials.
  • Renovation to work areas changes the location of your recycling containers.
  • People forget! Periodic reminders on the company’s recycling program and procedures are important for a successful program.

Having a designated individual or group in charge of keeping tabs on when changes to the program occur and coordinating updates to staff can be useful. Also, building recycling education into any on-boarding process can be beneficial to get new staff up to speed on what is accepted and where containers are located. There is also a benefit to having an interval-based training schedule where all staff are reminded on the program on a regular basis (quarterly, semi-annually, or annually).  STW Recycling District strongly recommends that you provide a program update/training on the program to all staff members at least once a year.  

STW Recycling District Education offerings

The STW Recycling District offers a full-time Outreach Coordinator who is available to come and speak to your team.

If you are interested, you can make a request here:

Other Education Ideas

Below are some additional ideas that you may be able to use as part of your ongoing training efforts.

  • Report on your success!
  • Report to all employees on the amount of material that you recycled
  • Organize a “Lunch & Learn” session on recycling
  • Invite a guest speaker to talk about recycling or other sustainability topics.
  • Earth Day and America Recycles Day are great days to promote your program and celebrate your success!
    • Earth day is celebrated each year on April 22nd.
    • America Recycles Day is celebrated each year on November 15th.

Ensuring a Sustainable Program

Assessing your program periodically throughout the year can help you stay on target for achieving your recycling program goals. One of the most common causes of an under-performing recycling programs is the fact that nobody paused to ask the simple question, “How Are We Doing?”  Below are a few ideas to help ensure that your program will continue to be successful for years to come.

Check-In with Stakeholders

Touch base with all the parties that worked to start your recycling program and see how they think things are progressing. Let them give honest feedback on improvements.

Check-In with your Hauler

As important as it is to touch base with internal operations, make sure you touch base with your hauler. Your program is a partnership with them, and their guidance and insight can be helpful to find more streamlined approaches that might help their turnaround time and help your internal operations as well. They can also give great feedback on the quality of the material leaving your facility.

Survey Staff

A survey can be conducted with all staff to determine if they correctly understand what can and can’t be recycled and whether they have ideas to improve the program.

Schedule Follow-Up Training

Have periodic training sessions with your teams. This can help make sure messages remain consistent. Make sure to highlight areas that could improve and success stories.

Use Data Driven Reports if Possible

Data can be a great tool to show tangible results to your company. Tracking how much trash vs. recyclables are being disposed of each month can help illustrate progress and galvanize the rest of your employees to want to share new ideas on other recyclables that the company could target next. Data also can show cost savings to C-Suite members by illustrating the program’s savings to the company’s bottom line.

Conduct a Follow-Up Waste Audit

Conducting a waste audit after your program has been implemented for a period of time can be a great tool to educate staff as well as understanding the progress they have made in recycling. Consider doing the audit in a highly visible area for staff to become engaged and see the results as well as ask questions. Make sure to publish results to the entire company to show progress.  

Custodial staff

The importance of custodial staff to the success of your program cannot be overstated. 

Check in with them on:
  • What are they seeing in the recycling and trash containers that they service?  
  • Are there certain areas of the building where they see more contamination in the recycling, or more recyclables in the trash?   
  • Are they experiencing any issues with the service provider?   
  • A check-in with custodial staff can be particularly important if you use outside, contracted custodial service.  These companies sometimes experience high turnover, so the individuals who service your recycling containers at the end of the day may change frequently.
    • Are they being trained on where to take your recyclables once they are collected?  
    • Do they understand your expectations regarding your recycling program?  
    • Regular check-ins with a contracted service can be an important step to prevent mishaps in the servicing of your recycling containers.

Tell Your Story!

Communicating your waste reduction and recycling performance can have a positive impact on how people view your business.  A 2020 study of consumers by IBM and the National Retail Federation indicates that “awareness of global environmental issues is changing the habits of consumers wherever they live.”  The study indicates that these attitudes are driving brand choice: 

  • 77% of consumers indicate that it is moderately or very important that brands are “sustainable and/or environmentally responsible” and
  • 76% indicate that they are seeking brands that “support recycling,” identifying it as a moderately or very important brand attribute.

Given that sustainability has now become a key part of consumers’ decision-making process, it’s imperative that brands and retailers increase their focus and improve their ability to meet these preferences. This offers competitors of all sizes the opportunity to build trust, especially with Purpose-driven consumers. (IBM, “Meet the 2020 consumers driving change”)

Businesses of all types have also learned that a good social media strategy is critical because it can reach many people and it doesn’t have to be expensive. It also provides a direct interaction with customers. As part of your social media strategy, consider using your recycling success story to demonstrate your corporate commitment to sustainability! If you are tracking your waste diversion (and you should), share your goals and your progress at meeting those goals.

  • How many pounds of recycling did you divert last year?
  • Have you started a food waste composting program in your cafeteria? 

These are good, positive stories to share with the public. Tell your story!