Mark Petruzzi from GreenSeal in front of green trees

Opportunities to reduce single-use plastics and encourage building occupant buy-in

Most days my inbox contains at least one article covering developments in the current state of recycling in the United States. China’s National Sword policy has all but eliminated the export of U.S. recyclables to China. Other countries have started to follow China’s lead by announcing future restrictions on U.S. recyclables (e.g., Vietnam, India), particularly on plastic waste. Undoubtedly, your facility has experienced some changes as a result.

I previously shared thoughts on how to examine departmental purchases to reduce the amount of plastic generated and used within cleaning operations. Thinking more broadly about the facility, perhaps there are also ways you could influence behavior that reduces the amount of single-use plastic brought into the buildings, as well as the amount of recycling generated.

Much like adding walk-off mats keeps dirt and other contaminants from being tracked into the building, consider what equipment or infrastructure you could add to keep materials that are getting harder to recycle out of your facility.

With summer’s arrival, bottled water is likely to be one of the most popular beverages sold in single-use plastic bottles. Although many government agencies, campuses and corporations have a policy to officially avoid the purchase of bottled water as part of their sustainable procurement, employees and visitors may still bring them into the facility and dispose of them in recycling containers.

Limiting recycling means reducing these single-use plastic bottles. But, in order to truly impact a behavioral change, the alternative needs to be easier and have some benefit (the “what’s in it for me?”).

Take the example of carrying around a reusable water bottle. While I will turn my reusable water bottle sideways to fill it up at a traditional drinking fountain, the arc of the water flow sometimes means I can’t quite fill it all the way to the top. Putting aside the perceptual hurdle many people have of drinking from a restroom tap, the spacing between faucet and sink in most restrooms doesn’t permit a water bottle to fit underneath. Or the motion sensor won’t trigger. Or you have to depress the lever repeatedly due to the automatic shut-off. Kitchen sinks usually meet the height requirements, but part of the human behavior we’re trying to overcome is the perception of tap water drinkability.

Water bottle filling stations that filter and cool tap water are one option that can reduce the amount of bottled water (and plastic bottles) brought into your facility. The water is free, delivered cold and filtered, and the building occupant didn’t even have to leave the facility (that’s four benefits by my count). Other options would be a dedicated tap for filtered water at kitchen or breakroom sinks, or a plumbed-in (i.e. no big bottles to wrestle) freestanding water dispensing station.

Custodial operations are continually challenged to work smarter, not harder. Before passing along higher recycling costs or dropping materials from your recycling program, give some thought to options for behavior change that can benefit the bottom line and the planet.

Mark Petruzzi is Green Seal’s former Senior Vice President of Outreach and Strategic Relations. He’s in his third decade of striving for more sustainable purchasing and operations by using his engineering powers for good. He can be reached at