The growing concern for the planet’s long-term health is fueling an uptick in the demand for programs and products aimed at helping corporate America reduce, reuse and recycle.

Robert Johnson, president of California Supply North Inc., Union City, Calif., says everyone has a responsibility to conserve and use products that promote recycling any time there is an opportunity.

Johnson practices what he preaches: the exec has a recycling program set up in his company’s office, where cardboard, paper and plastic products are separated from trash that goes to the local landfill.

“It’s a two-fold process for us. We recycle everything we can in our office,” he says. “We also encourage our customers to set up recycling programs.”

While it’s not impossible, educating customers about how a recycling program works and following through on a plan of action can be time-consuming and challenging, even for the most die-hard eco-conscious end user.

One of the challenges to implementing a recycling program in a corporate environment is educating workers and addressing the misconceptions and confusion, says Robert Nagel, president of Bob Nagel Distributing Co., Portland, Ore.

But armed with a strong sense of social responsibility, the right tools and a detailed plan, anyone in any environment — offices, schools, hospitals, restaurants, retail centers — can build a long-term, successful recycling program.

“It’s not that difficult to start a recycling program. In fact, anyone can do it,” says Johnson. “Once you’ve realized this is something your company should do, you can make plans and determine what your goals are.”

With Americans generating an average of four pounds of garbage per day, there is clearly a market for social responsibility.

The Right Placement

In school and office environments, common items that can be recycled include aluminum, cardboard, catalogs, file folders, ink toner, paper, phone books, plastic and magazines. In restaurants, retail centers and hospitals, it’s mainly cardboard, paper and plastic.

It’s important to place recycling collection bins and containers near the waste receptacles to help prevent tenants from throwing away recyclables, says Nagel. This also reduces confusion about where waste should be disposed of and what can be recycled. Bins and containers should also be labeled so materials are sorted and placed appropriately, says Nagel.

In office settings, each desk and workstation should have a small- to medium-sized paper-recycling bin next to the trash receptacle, jan/san distributors say. Larger collection bins should be placed in copier, mail and break rooms.

A larger consolidation bin can be placed in a central location that is accessible for all employees and later dumped by janitorial workers, says Johnson.

Receptacles are a big item in nearly every environment, although the size, shape, color and function vary. When it comes to selecting receptacles for indoor use, customers tend to base their decision on color, shape and function, while durability, size and security rank high for outdoor consideration. Offices, schools and restaurants favor attractive, durable and functional containers that make it easy to clean up.

Recycling receptacles with a small area for inserting cans or a swing lid is ideal for aluminum and plastic bottle recycling. Some customers use trash liners that fit the container while others rinse the can out regularly, distributors say.

Public places such as parks, shopping centers and retail outlets want large, durable receptacles with swing lids or open tops that can withstand vandalism, varying weather conditions and large volumes of garbage.

In facilities with kitchens or cafeterias, such as hospitals, schools and restaurants, there can be confusion regarding disposing of food waste. Since food does not break down in landfills, it is best to recycle it at a controlled compost pile. Trash liners that meet national standards set by the Biodegradable Products Institute are ideal for compost piles because the bags decompose into the soil along with the food.

Building A Program

After identifying the proper products, distributors can help customers get the program started. Customers should do a little research to see what kinds of recycling services are available in their area, says Johnson. If a business is located in an office building, Johnson suggests contacting the property manager about on-site programs. If there are no recycling programs available, businesses can check with local waste management companies. Customers should ask if pick-up is available, how much they charge and what products they accept (aluminum, cardboard and newspapers, for example).

It’s also important to get building occupants involved. Tenants who are excited about the recycling program are more likely to participate, says Johnson. It’s critical to explain clearly what the recycling program is about, what kinds of products are accepted and where employees should dispose of them. So whether there is a large recycling bin in the break room or small receptacles throughout the building designed for certain collections, people are more likely to use them efficiently if they know about it. Many companies even hold contests and offer incentive rewards as a way to encourage recycling.

Distributors can help customers with educational materials, including signage, posters, internal newsletters and e-mails to remind workers about the company’s recycling program, says Bill Nourse, president of Brookmeade Hardware and Supply Co., Nashville, Tenn.

A consistent message about recycling ensures people are aware of the program and keeps the momentum going strong even after the initial excitement wears off.

It’s important for customers to track how well the recycling program is working — or not working. By tracking the progress over a period of time, end users can see how much aluminum, cardboard, glass and paper has been collected. Posting a chart of the results in a common area where everyone can view the information encourages participation. It’s also not a bad idea to list expectations and goals ahead of time to give building occupants something to work toward, says Nagel.

Customer Recycling

Jan/san distributors say many of their customers have started looking closely at what they are throwing away.

Many of Nourse’s customers have taken a conscious approach to how their materials are packaged and consider how those products are disposed. End users are asking about concentrated cleaning supplies, which minimize packaging material, meaning less trash to throw away and ultimately fewer dollars spent on disposal fees, says Nourse.

Recycling takes extra effort and requires an investment of time, money and resources. But the benefits to the workplace environment, company’s bottom line and the planet make it worth all the hassle.

“We need to be thinking about the future generations that will take over,” says Johnson. “We need to care about how we treat the environment and make sure we don’t turn it into an eyesore or ruin it altogether.”

Becky Bergman is a freelance writer based in Mooresville, N.C.