How to Take Your Building’s Recycling Program to the Next Level

Jeff Roney · August 28, 2021

As landfills reach capacity and oceans fill with trash and microplastics, the problem of finding solutions to the world’s growing trash problem is back in the news after a year dominated by COVID-related headlines. Businesses and individual consumers are increasingly prioritizing sustainability. For building operators and other real estate professionals, establishing a robust recycling program is one way to meet the demand for eco-friendly properties while also combating environmental pollution and complying with state and local mandates to divert trash from landfills.

Whether you’re dealing with commercial properties or multifamily residential complexes, most tenants want to do the right thing and reduce, reuse and recycle wherever they can. However, tenants may lapse into complacency unless they receive regular communications about where and how to recycle. It’s also helpful if they understand how their individual recycling efforts contribute to the overall health of their community. Property managers that leverage technology and omnichannel communications to promote recycling can drive compliance with recycling efforts through clear, concise messaging.

Having a positive impact on the environment by recycling your property’s waste can be a great draw for prospective tenants, especially Millennial and Gen Z consumers who want their spending to align with their values. However, recycling waste is also becoming a business necessity as more jurisdictions pass recycling mandates at the state and local level. As communities restrict the amount and kinds of waste that can be sent to landfills, the cost of non-compliance, in the form of fines and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) fee hikes, will continue to rise. Moreover, while recycling programs are most prevalent on the East and West coasts, adoption in the Midwest and South is growing and will continue to do so as landfills reach capacity.

Communication = success

Your effectiveness in promoting your recycling program will be a deciding factor in its success. Establishing clear goals and quantifiable benchmarks, then communicating them to tenants, are effective for driving compliance. Start with a baseline of how much waste your community currently diverts from landfills and set a specific target for where you’d like to be. Stating benchmarks in terms of volume or percentages provides tenants with a concrete frame of reference and metrics for measuring progress. Once you’ve communicated goals and benchmarks, provide tenants and employees with actionable steps they can take to achieve them. 

While communication is critical to the success of your recycling program, it’s also vital to follow up with regular reports about your progress and to identify any areas for improvement. Without regular communication, tenants may assume that the program is working well and relax their recycling efforts. To combat this regular reports that provide hard data about the success of your program can help tenants see that their individual actions are having a positive impact.

Unless you’re generating a high volume of waste, it can be difficult to show overall improvement on a month-to-month basis. For many communities, quarterly reporting hits that sweet spot between too much information and not enough. These can be augmented with semi-annual and annual reports that provide a means to assess and communicate the effectiveness of your recycling program over the long-term, as well as a wealth of information for both client-facing communications and internal stakeholders.

In addition to communicating regularly with tenants, you will also want to report recycling goals and metrics to your employees, because they are responsible for operating your recycling program. Communications from the top can increase employee engagement by showing that management truly supports the recycling program. 

Commercial vs. residential

When communicating with tenants, provide clear instructions on what can be recycled and where. There are a lot of misconceptions about what can and can’t be recycled. Understanding what can and can’t be recycled is especially important for multifamily residential complexes because these communities tend to generate more food waste. Most recyclable waste needs to be clean in order to be recycled so uninformed residents can defeat the purpose of your recycling program by sending contaminated materials to landfills. 

Although communications with commercial and residential tenants share some common elements, like where and how to recycle materials, there are some important differences as well. In general, communications with residential tenants should emphasize the availability of the recycling program and its convenience. By contrast, communications with commercial tenants should provide more information on the types of materials that can be recycled to adhere to local mandates and avoid fines for non-compliance. Information on recyclable materials can also help commercial tenants generate revenue by selling recyclable commodities on the secondary market.

The process for establishing a recycling program is similar for residential and commercial properties. In both cases, the first step is to identify the different types of waste being generated. The easiest and simplest way to do this is with a basic waste audit. While more in-depth audits may separate materials by type and measure waste by quantity and volume, a more basic audit can be as simple as observing and tracking what types of materials are going to landfill versus recycling. These types of audits can be performed with a minimal investment of time and labor to yield valuable information for a successful recycling program.

Technology’s role

When collecting data for your recycling program, leverage technology to maximize efficiency and convenience. Apps that track materials by type and location can be used to generate reports for both internal stakeholders and client-facing communications. You can also upload photos of waste and record the weights of various materials. Using GPS, some of these apps can even pinpoint the location of recycling containers and equipment in relation to tenants. This information can be invaluable for determining the optimal placement of recycling containers and greatly increase overall compliance with your recycling program. 

One note of caution: your data is only as good as the people interpreting it. Automation has come a long way, but there’s still no substitute for human expertise when it comes to analyzing data and using that information to design and implement an effective recycling program. If you plan on using technology, make sure you have qualified people on hand to interpret your data and consider retaining a facility services company with expertise in this area.

Once you’ve collected your data, defined your goals, and identified quantifiable benchmarks, you can create communications with clear messaging for employees and tenants. It’s important to cast a wide net when distributing this important information. In addition to your company website and tenant portals, take advantage of email newsletters and monthly invoices to report recycling goals and celebrate achievements. Social media is also a great way to spread the news about your recycling efforts to prospective tenants while onsite posters and bulletins provide visual reminders for existing tenants.

With so many headlines about pollution and climate change, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by environmental challenges. Conducting a waste audit, setting and communicating recycling goals and benchmarks, and leveraging technology and omnichannel communications are three ways you can foster enthusiastic participation in your recycling program among tenants and employees. People like to know that they are contributing to a better world. Timely, effective communications that helps tenants understand the impact of their actions is vital to the success of a recycling program and is one of the most powerful ways buildings can reduce their environmental footprint and make a positive contribution to their communities.

Jeff Roney
Jeff is Vice President of Operations for RWS Facility Services and has over 20 years of industry experience serving various roles with increasing responsibility in operations, account management, procurement, human resources, and business development.