In addition to providing educational materials, distributors can reinforce good recycling practices by providing customers with clearly marked, color-coded systems to collect and store recyclables and waste. Receptacles that use messaging and images prompt customers to recycle correctly and reduce the incidence of misplaced items.

WAXIE Sanitary Supply has partnered with Recycle Across America, a non-profit organization that promotes standardized labeling to help people recycle the right way. Users can customize and order stickers and labels for recycling receptacles to help communicate what goes into them.

In addition to pictograms, color-coding can serve as a cue for customers and help them to avoid recycling mix-ups.

"A lot of people already recognize that blue is for recycling and green is for food," says Schneringer. "That's a good start."

Imperial Dade sells a customizable system with intuitive lid openings that makes recycling virtually foolproof.

"The customer knows what to put in the bin based on the shape of the lid insert," says Craven. "You can't put a water bottle in the paper bin, for example, because the lid has a long, narrow insert. So it reinforces good recycling habits and gives building occupants as many hints as possible."

Bin placement can also impact recycling habits. A walk-through of the customer's facility can help determine the best location for recycling bins, such as high-traffic areas and alongside waste receptacles.

Gove recommends clients get rid of single-stream recycling bins and opt for a centralized three-bin system that separates paper from glass, metal and plastic.

"Studies show that when you walk up to three bins — one for paper, one for glass/metal/plastic and one for trash — you're more likely to consider the options and make the right choice," says Gove.

In particular, Gove advocates getting rid of desk-side bins entirely.

"Some of the buildings we work in have desk-side bins for paper, and they become contaminated very easily," she says. "People may be drinking from a water bottle or a soda can while they work, and they get lazy and throw it in the recycling bin. Liquid can leak out onto the paper, and paper is the most delicate recycling stream. The same goes for a trash bin under the desk. A water bottle or soda can does not belong in that waste stream either."

For customers that are committed to improving their recycling and waste management programs, Gove recommends an audit to gauge their progress.

"If you have the resources, conduct waste auditing to see where you are and what areas you need to work on," says Gove. "It can be expensive, but it's the only way to really know if you're improving your diversion rate."

While distributors serve as a valuable resource for customers, the success of any recycling program is in the hands of the customer and the building's tenants. "We try to chip away at one thing at a time and at least give them the knowledge and options to be an A-plus recycler," says Gove.

Kassandra Kania is a freelancer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.

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Distributors Must Educate Customers On Recycling Guidelines