How to Set Up a Recycling Program

This section describes the basic steps to developing a recycling program. It is designed to give you a sense of direction and a basic understanding of how programs are developed and put in place.

Your goal is to develop a practical, cost-effective, recycling plan that results in a SUSTAINABLE program in your facility.


Step 1: Select a recycling coordinator
Step 2: Conduct a waste audit
Step 3: Determine which materials to collect for recycling
Step 4: Select your collection contractor
Step 5: Design your collection system
Step 6: Promote employee/tenant participation

Use the Recycling Action Plan Worksheet 5 (click to download a PDF file containing Tables and Worksheets) to lay out your program design and to evaluate the costs and benefits to your business.

After you have gone through the basics in Steps 1 — 6, you can find additional information about:

Select a Recycling Coordinator (Step 1)

Your recycling coordinator will need to have good communication and organizational skills. Creativity, patience, persistence, a sense of humor, and good rapport with other people in your business are important character qualities.

If you are the owner or manager of a small business, you will probably be the coordinator, at least in the beginning.

The coordinator will spend anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks getting your recycling program off the ground. After that, he or she should need no more than a few hours a month to monitor it.

A coordinator’s role typically includes:

  • Conducting a waste audit and determining what to recycle
  • Selecting the contractor
  • Designing the collection system
  • Educating employees
  • Tracking the program’s progress

Depending on the size of your business, you may also need to designate area monitors to assist the coordinator in:

  • Keeping the collection containers free of non-recyclable material
  • Notifying the coordinator if containers overflow
  • Encouraging employee participation

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Conduct a Waste Audit (Step 2)

The reason to conduct a waste audit is to find out what’s in your trash. It may not sound appealing, but it is the quickest, most practical method. Also, who knows? You may learn all kinds of interesting things about your business when you find out what is going in the trash.

The waste audit will help you identify which materials to collect for recycling, what size and type of containers you will need, and what waste could possibly be prevented in the first place (see Waste Prevention). Click here for how to conduct a waste audit, including worksheets to help you through the process. Waste composition analyses of numerous types of businesses are also provided.

As part of your waste audit be sure to find out if your company or individual employees are already collecting any materials for recycling. You might want to include existing recycling activity in your collection system design.

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Decide What to Recycle (Step 3)

Now that you know your trash intimately, it’s easier to identify the recyclables. But how do you decide which ones you should collect for recycling:

1. Call the City’s Recycling Office for up-to-date information on current regulations which require recycling for certain materials. The following materials have already been BANNED or RESTRICTED from disposal facilities:

  • Tires
  • Green Waste (yard trimmings)
  • Appliances
  • Used Oil
  • Corrugated Cardboard
  • Scrap Metal
  • Auto Batteries
Bars and restaurants serving alcoholic beverages are required to recycle glass.

Office buildings 20,000 square feet or more are required to recycle office paper, newspaper and cardboard.

Hotels, restaurants, food courts, grocery stores, hospitals, and food manufacturers who generate large volumes of food waste are required to recycle food waste.

Go to Mandatory Recycling Laws for more details.

2. Determine which materials are generated in sufficient quantities to warrant collection in your recycling program.  For example, an auto repair shop would generate a lot of metals and used oil, but only a small amount of office paper.  Although the office paper may be recyclable, the separate collection of this paper may cost more in time and effort than it is worth.  Targeting the metals and used oil for recycling makes much more sense.  An office building, on the other hand, should focus on paper and not be concerned with the incidental metals in their trash.

3. Target materials with reliable markets. The following materials are currently recyclable and have stable markets:

  • Aluminum
  • Copper/Brass
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Food Waste
  • Glass
  • Green Waste
  • Newspaper
  • Office/Computer paper
  • Plastic Beverage/Bottles
  • Steel
  • Tires
  • Used Oil

The following materials can be recycled when a stable market exists:

  • Steel/tin cans -- 1
  • Plastic (other)
  • Magazines
  • Textiles
1 -- Steel/tin cans, as well as other ferrous metals, are magnetically extracted from the waste stream at the H-POWER waste-to-energy facility and sold for recycling.

The following materials may be recycled and reused on your premises with special equipment:

  • Solvents
  • Antifreeze
  • Frying oil

4. Calculate the costs and benefits of recycling the materials, compared to the costs of disposal.  Read through the next steps (4 and 5), and use the Recycling Action Plan worksheet.

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Select a Collection Contractor (Step 4)

Recycling Companies

Recycling Collectors

In selecting a collection contractor, you are looking for good, reliable service at the best price. You can check up on a contractor’s references to assess their service record. However, evaluating the best price is not as straightforward. The prices paid for recyclable materials vary with the type of material and can fluctuate dramatically from month to month.

Moreover, your company’s economic benefit from recycling will probably come from reduced disposal costs, rather than money paid to you from the sale of recyclables. More recycling means less waste and lower disposal fees. If disposal costs rise, businesses that recycle can expect greater savings.

Collection service can be provided by a refuse hauler, recycling company (or processor) or by a small collector.

A number of contracting scenarios are possible. For example:

1. If your refuse hauler provides both waste disposal and recycling collection, they should be able to offer a combined cost/pay structure. In other words, they would charge you for the hauling of both refuse and recyclables and credit you the current market value on the recyclables. This can reduce your overall disposal costs or at least provide a break-even arrangement.

2. A recycling company (or processor) may collect and pay you for a material or collect it at no charge/no pay, depending on the current value of each material. A small collector will most likely provide no charge/no pay service. If you select a recycler, you should discuss lowering disposal costs with your refuse hauler, once your recycling program is underway.

To select the best contractor for you, begin with your current refuse hauler. Since he is already providing your disposal service, it makes sense to start your recycling service investigation here.

When you talk to the various companies to compare prices and services, ask the following questions to help you make your decision. Once you have made the selection, include the information you have gathered in a written agreement.

  • What materials do you collect?
  • What materials do you purchase, and how much is paid for each?
  • Do you charge for collection of recyclables?
  • If you’re picking up trash and recyclables, what will be the net savings in my disposal costs?
  • Do you pick up on schedule or on call? If on schedule, how often? If on call, how much lead time is needed?
  • Do you provide collection and/or storage containers?
  • Will you help us organize and promote our recycling program?
  • Are you willing to sign a long-term agreement? (A one-year minimum is recommended.)
  • What is the allowable level of contamination? (Mixing of non-recyclables with recyclables.)
  • What are your reporting and accounting procedures? (Weight ticket, bill of lading, remittance advice, etc.)
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Will you provide a list of client references we can contact regarding the promptness, reliability, and quality of your service?

If you are a tenant in a building or facility with other tenants, ask your building manager if any recycling service is already being provided for the building or for another tenant. You may want to tie your program into an existing service. You may also want to encourage your building manager to help coordinate a building-wide effort.

If you have a small business, and at this point have determined that you do not generate enough recyclable material for pickup service, you can still recycle. Pool your efforts with other businesses in your building, shopping center, or block into centralized containers.

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Design the Collection System (Step 5)

Containers and Locations
Transferring to Central Collection and/or Storage
Central Collection/Storage Area


The goal is to design a collection system that is convenient for everyone and does not incur additional labor costs. By following the guidelines, you will wind up with just such a system for your business.

Containers and Locations

Make sure your recyclables can flow from individual employees to area collection containers or directly to central collection/storage.

Place area recycling containers in convenient locations normally frequented by employees. Copy machines are excellent locations in most offices. Bus stations work well in restaurants. Also place containers in areas that generate large amounts of recyclables, such as data centers, printing facilities, behind the bar, receiving departments.

Recycling containers should look distinctly different from trash containers. Label them clearly to show what material goes in them. Place regular trash cans nearby to avoid unwanted trash getting mixed in with the recyclables.

To select the best containers for your needs, consider the following: durability, cost, capacity, ease of handling, and attractiveness. Check with local vendors on the types and styles available. Look for ones made with some percentage of post-consumer recycled plastic. Purchasing recycled-content products is as important as collection. See a photo list of recycling container vendors.

While containers need to be convenient for everyone, you also need to consider the work involved in emptying them. Limit the locations to the minimum necessary to handle the quantities generated. By keeping in mind the needs of both employees and custodial or maintenance people you will find an acceptable balance that works for everyone involved.

Transferring to Central Collection and/or Storage


The most efficient approach is to incorporate recycling into your existing trash collection system. When introducing your employees or maintenance people to the new program, be sure they understand that they are handling the same amount of materials. They are simply doing it in a reorganized way. More material will be consolidated into a limited number of recycling containers, while less will be left in trash cans and wastebaskets.


The system can and should be designed so everyone does a little. Then no single individual is overburdened, and there should be no additional labor costs.

Employees "sort" recyclables as they put them into the different area collection containers. Maintenance staff empties these containers into central collection or storage bins. The contractor then makes a quick, one-stop pickup.

Central Collection/Storage Area

Most large companies keep their main storage bins in the basement or loading dock area. Determine the best location for you with your building or facility manager and your collection contractor, using these guidelines:

  • Is the site large enough?
  • Is there easy access to freight elevators and loading docks?
  • Does the area meet with local fire and building codes?
  • Are sprinklers required/in place?

Also, ask your collection contractor whether he will provide storage bins. If these will need to fit his collection vehicle and his crew will be handling them, it’s usually best that the contractor own them.

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Promote Employee/Tenant Participation (Step 6)

Employees will participate if they are informed about the program and its benefits. We recommend a three-step promotional campaign.

1. Program Announcement

Announce the start of the program with a brief, upbeat memo. The memo serves as your company’s official announcement of its new program. In a large company it should come from the president, CEO, or senior officer to indicate management’s enthusiastic support. In a small business, it should come from the owner or manager. Credibility is vital to the successful kick-off of your program.

The memo should highlight the benefits of the program to everyone, outline the collection procedure, and give the time for a meeting to formally introduce the recycling program and answer questions.

2. Meeting/Educational Session

Encourage everyone to attend an information session about the new program. You may wish to hold a separate meeting or to combine it with a regular one. If combining it, be sure the topic is last and that there is plenty of time so that people feel it is important and can ask the questions necessary for them to take ownership of the program. The meeting should focus on the cooperative nature of recycling and the importance of each individual to its continued success.

In a larger company, this meeting (and subsequent ones) would be conducted by the recycling coordinator. In a small business, it should be led by the owner or manager (unless an employee is going to be the coordinator).

Highlight the main points of the program, taking care to explain the separation and collection procedures. Emphasize the benefits to the environment, the company and the employees. If there is to be revenue from the program, take suggestions about how to utilize it. For example, some companies donate all or a percentage to charity. Others use it for office parties or to offset building maintenance costs.

3. Follow-Up

Follow-up can be done as a part of a regular meeting agenda or with memos or newsletters. Be sure to continue to remind people about what is and isn’t recyclable. Also, it’s good to repeat the DOs and DON’Ts and benefits of recycling.

Consistency is the key to any successful program, and recycling is no different. Reinforce yours by congratulating your employees frequently--point out the successes. Note how much is being taken out of the waste stream, how much was donated to charity, how big the party fund is, and so on. The point is to keep up the enthusiasm and involvement.

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© 2005 City & County of Honolulu's Department of Environmental Services.