Whether waste receptacles are placed in a hospital, a hotel or a fast food restaurant, they all have the same purpose — to keep a public area free of environmentally harmful trash and litter. But that is where the similarities end. Not all receptacles are created equal and what works well in food service might not work well in healthcare, and what serves healthcare's waste removal needs might not meet the needs of a hotel.

Waste receptacles need to be large enough to accommodate their surroundings; durable enough to stand the test of time; and attractive enough that they are not eyesores for the facility.  

This sounds simple enough, until one considers the variety of options on the market. Materials range from concrete and stainless steel to hard plastic. Sizes range from four gallons to 60 gallons. And designs run the gamut from foot-activated receptacles to those with round holes in the center lid. These are not a one-size-fits-all product, says Garry McCain, sales manager of Five Star Janitorial Supply in Leesville, La.

Set A Receptacle Budget

McCain says first and foremost organizations need to set a budget for the waste receptacles they intend to purchase. He recommends taking a long-range view and purchasing the best quality products money can buy as receptacles should last many years. Many organizations focus on the present and set their budgets low, which he believes is a mistake.  

According to McCain, allocating just $55 a can may limit receptacle options. But for $20 more, facility managers could invest in a waste receptacle that lasts longer and is easier to clean and maintain.

"They're going to have a rubberized can for 10-20 years while they may need to replace a metal one in three to four years," he explains. "That plastic one may cost more to begin with, but in the long run you're going to save money because it will last longer."

Isis Naguib, director of housekeeping at the Millennium Hotel in Minneapolis, agrees. The 321-guestroom hotel uses gray, plastic cans stenciled with the types of items for collection.

"They are hard plastic and they last a long time," she says. "I haven't changed mine, ever."

Though there's certainly a case for plastic, the choice of material should reflect the location. Commercial steel receptacles work well in areas where graffiti and vandalism are an issue, but not in areas where forklifts and or carts might damage the exterior.

Galvanized steel and stone aggregate units are suitable for outdoors because they are less likely to crack, chip, rust or warp in harsh weather. In areas where aesthetics is important, a plastic container wrapped in a wooden enclosure, or one made of polished chrome, stainless steel, brass or fiberglass in a color that matches the décor might be a good choice.

Size Does Matter

Before purchasing, facility managers are encouraged to also consider capacity. When receptacles are too small, trash can overflow, becoming an eyesore for facilities. Distributors agree that outdoor trash receptacles need a capacity of at least 35 gallons with 40 gallons being ideal, while indoor units can be as small as 15 gallons in light traffic areas.

At Five Star Janitorial Supplies, "We have 7-gallon cans in our offices, 32- to 55-gallon containers on the floor, and 33- to 65-gallon receptacles in the warehouse," says McCain. "The biggest part of capacity decisions is the business themselves. What size is going to fully satisfy the facility needs without hampering business in any way?"

The Millennium Hotel uses 60-gallon trash receptacles on every floor into which trash from smaller guestroom receptacles is emptied. Housekeepers collect waste in bags on their cart and deliver it to the larger containers when they are finished cleaning, Naguib says.

Recycling Considerations

In an effort to divert more trash, facilities are expanding recycling programs by adding appropriate bins to the collection sites. Selecting recycling bins that meet a facility's needs requires research.

First, since the program is designed to reduce waste, it is prudent to consider purchasing recycling bins made with recyclable content. Then select a product that creates an entire recycling and waste station, says Naguib.

"We have one waste basket divided into three, one for cans and glass, one for newspapers, and one for trash," she says. "If you create a single station, I think people are more likely to recycle."

Mitch Birchfield, environmental services director and hazardous materials manager at Seattle Children's Hospital adds that sometimes collecting all recyclables in one container can contribute to compliance. The hospital's program is fashioned after the recycling programs people have at home.

"We wanted to be able to put plastics, paper, cans and bottles into a single container and have the vendor with the materials recovery facility process it," he says. This method requires less sorting by his staff.

No matter which method of collection is used, proper signage is a critical part of any recycling program. Letting people know what products are accepted in each container not only increases overall participation rates but also helps reduce contamination.

Signage might include word labels or images depicting recyclable materials. Birchfield uses banners to designate recycling stations and the types of waste they accept.

"The sign tells people at a glance what can and cannot be recycled," he says. "We put  pictures of actual items that can be recycled on one side and denote items that cannot be recycled, such as food waste, on the other."

The Millennium Hotel also uses signs denoting recycling stations. There's a sign above each container about the type of recyclable it is designed to hold. One receptacle holds cans, papers and glass, while another holds cardboard. The hotel also puts educational materials about its program in guestrooms.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.