You can't judge a book by its cover, but you may judge a business by the way its outside is kept. First impressions count for a lot. Psychologically the nicer things appear on the outside, the better customers feel about the company inside.

"If you've got a crummy exterior, people think you're a crummy company," says Steve Spencer, facilities manager for State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill.

An unkempt exterior also negatively impacts how much cleaning must be done inside, adds Bill Griffin, president of Cleaning Consultant Services Inc., in Seattle, Wa.

"Cleaning starts outside and works its way in," he explains. "What we do outside impacts the overall cleanliness and cost of maintenance inside."

While exterior tasks often fall to landscaping and maintenance crews, Griffin insists that cleaning operations must pay attention to them as well. Unfortunately, he laments, many housekeepers have the attitude that "it's not their job." And that, he says, can be a mistake.

"I hear a lot that, 'It's my job to clean the inside of the building so I'm not stepping outside to pick up cigarette butts or trash by the front door,'" he says. "This thinking is in error because cleaning operations end up paying the price. My philosophy is if it's within five feet of the entrance and can be reached within a minute, it should be cleaned up — I don't care whose job it is."

Receptacle Selection

The low-hanging fruit in keeping facility exteriors clean includes trash receptacles, recycling containers and cigarette urns. These are items every facility needs to consider and no facility should be without.

But selecting the right container for the job isn't as easy as one might think. A simple Google search for commercial waste receptacles turns up literally thousands of choices. How do cleaning operations select the correct containers for their facility?

One manufacturer of waste receptacles, recycling containers and more suggests cleaning operations consider the following when making selections.

1) Traffic/capacity/servicing. How many people work in or visit the facility daily? How much waste are they depositing? How much trash do containers hold? How often are receptacles checked and emptied?

2) Location. Where will receptacles be placed? Are these areas protected from outdoor elements? What weather conditions might receptacles be subjected to?

3) Aesthetics. Do the aesthetics of the surroundings dictate a higher-end decorative solution or will a more utilitarian option suffice?

4) Cost. What is the facility budget?

5) Ergonomics. Does the receptacle need to meet ergonomic requirements? If so, one with front- or side-opening doors may be appropriate.

6) Waste stream management. How complex is the company's waste stream? How many refuse streams does it manage? Can receptacles be set up to allow for the collection of multiple waste streams (i.e. garbage, recyclables, etc.)?

Once these questions are answered, selection becomes easier. But some common sense still needs to be factored in.

For instance, consider what people are dumping in the trash and one might think a larger receptacle is needed. But going too large may cause more problems than it solves.

"You may wind up with people dumping a lot of things that shouldn't be in there, bringing in trash from home or cleaning out their cars," Griffin says.

Likewise, a can that's too small may quickly become an eyesore. If receptacles overflow because housekeepers cannot empty them often enough, people will avoid using them and the facility exterior may soon look "trashy."

At first blush, "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" seems the best possible placement for waste receptacles. If they cannot be viewed, they won't become an eyesore — even if they are overflowing. However, the farther they're placed from the building, the less likely they'll be used.

Place waste receptacles as near as possible to entryways, high-traffic areas and congregation and meeting points. As people enter the building, they may have coffee cups or other trash in their hands, Spencer explains, noting it's important to simplify the proper disposal of these items.

In some situations it may be appropriate to co-locate recycling and trash bins. But if the company features recycling as a key part of greening its operations, the facility may require separate areas for each.

According to industry experts, separating the two will drive down contamination rates in the recycling stream. Color coding and labeling receptacles also ensures recyclables are correctly sorted.

Also look at the design of the receptacle and how it fits into the overall perception of the facility. For example, say the can has a hole in the top for people to drop trash in. If one fails to consider the building's configuration that opening may become a place for rainwater to collect or a welcome sign for flies and other pests.

"If you don't have a lot of overhang protection, you'll probably want something with doors that lift up," says Spencer.

Likewise, if ergonomics plays a large role, the facility may require front/side opening containers. If small animals plague the area, door openings also make sense, while if larger animals are an issue, you may need to bolt down these receptacles.

In addition to functionality, there are a variety of materials to choose from including metal, plastic, concrete and fiberglass. All are not created equal, and all will not hold up equally outdoors. Durability requirements for waste receptacles differ from one climate to another; tougher environments require tougher materials. For instance, in Florida, where a receptacle may be subjected to plenty of sun, the material must withstand harsher ultra-violet conditions. In northern states, receptacles must endure both hot and cold temperatures.

Taking Out The Trash

Once trash receptacles and recycling containers are placed, they need to be maintained. First and foremost, they must be emptied regularly. State Farm cleaners check waste receptacles three times a day and empty them twice daily, says Spencer.

Receptacles should be double lined and washed out as needed, which at State Farm is at least once a week.

"If they have gunk all over them, people won't use them and they're going to draw pests," Spencer says. "You don't want pests hanging around outside your building; the next thing you know they're going to try to get inside."

While a disinfectant should be used, it's also important to remember that metal containers cannot be cleaned with harsh abrasives or solvents. Soap and water generally does the trick.

Waste receptacles are not a one-time purchase either. Experts recommend checking them regularly and replacing them as they age.

"If receptacles leak or are not cleaned properly, you're going to get odors, insects and [waste] drainage," says Griffin. "If drainage gets on sidewalks, it winds up people's shoes, then gets tracked inside."

Butt Patrol

As more and more companies make their facilities smoke-free, strategically placed smokers urns increase in importance.

Though State Farm recently banned smoking on its grounds, prior to this measure the company placed smokers urns and offered outdoor smoking shelters at every facility, all of which were maintained by cleaning crews.

Spencer recommends selecting urns and shelters that are easy and convenient to use. State Farm placed phones in smoking shelters so smokers could summon housekeeping when they needed cleaning. They also located shelters in inconspicuous areas, disguised by plants to hide them from view and placed signs directing smokers to them. Trash and recycling bins were set up to keep trash at bay.

State Farm also scheduled regular cleanings because without set times for smoke breaks, the areas become dirty throughout the day.

"These areas get messy," Spencer admits. "If you don't have a place for people to put their butts, they wind up on the ground. And even if you do [offer urns], trash still may wind up on the ground and cleaners have to pick it up. Our smoking shelters also had glass that needed cleaning because the smoke filmed it over."

Facility exteriors require regular cleaning as much as interiors. Trash receptacles, recycling containers and smokers urns greatly enhance a facility's appearance. And, when there's less dirt and trash lying around in company parking lots and on sidewalks, there's less coming inside.

According to experts, 90 percent of the soil in a building comes in with foot traffic. Keeping the area free of trash and cigarette butts is essential and a task cleaning operations need to pay attention to.

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