Unfortunately, it only takes one discarded pizza slice or one misplaced coffee cup to contaminate the contents of a recycling bin. For this reason, clearly marked receptacles and ongoing education are essential for successful waste management.

"Every municipality is different, and even within the same city, commercial recycling pick-up can vary from residential recycling pick-up," says Laura Craven, director of communications and marketing, Imperial Dade, Jersey City, New Jersey. "The infrastructure for recycling is inconsistent, and it's a nationwide challenge."

First and foremost, distributors need to be aware of local recycling guidelines to help clients identify what can and cannot be recycled in their area as well as address any common misconceptions.

Communication modes such as email blasts, PowerPoint presentations and even notices posted in the elevator can educate building tenants and promote mindful recycling practices.

Imperial Dade has a handbook for customers to educate them about recycling. The book identifies all resin codes, offers helpful tips, and includes a glossary of composting and recycling terms. Resin ID codes, which identify the resin used to make the plastic product, are creating confusion in the industry — a contributing factor to contamination, says Craven.

"People mistake the resin ID code for a recyclable symbol and assume that the product is recyclable when it may not be," she says. "Some municipalities accept codes 1, 2 and 3, others only take code 1, and unfortunately some don't take any. So you have to look at the resin ID code and match it with the recycling guidelines for your business."

Craven also advises distributors to conduct a site survey with the customer to identify areas where they can improve on their waste diversion efforts. "Take a walk around the building and do an analysis of all the materials being used that are going into the waste stream," says Craven. "Next, guide the client on the different options that they have for diverting their waste to a recycling center or — even better — to a composting bin."

In a cafeteria, for example, distributors may try to steer clients toward food packaging that has a resin ID code 1 because it's the most commonly accepted code for recycling. Craven also cautions customers against mistaking resin ID code 7 packaging for code 1 packaging.

"People like to go with non-petroleum–based packaging, like PLA, which looks like plastic but is actually made of corn," she says. "That's resin ID code 7, which is never recyclable. The consumer might put it in the recycling bin because it looks the same as a code 1, but it will gum up the entire load of resin at the recycling center."

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