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Why Is It So Darn Difficult To Get People Excited About Recycling?

By Patrick Ettorre, CLR National Sales Manager

On the surface, everyone should be motivated to recycle. We all share the natural resources on this planet and by now, it should be understood that those resources are finite. So why is it so difficult to motivate people to place their waste into the proper collection containers? And beyond that, why is it so challenging to convince people to choose a recyclable product over a disposable product?

I’ve worked in sales at Closed Loop Recycling (CLR) for over five years, and have helped hundreds of manufacturing customers implement our PPE and absorbent recycling programs. In all those calls, meetings, and training sessions, I have found that the biggest bottleneck to a successful recycling program is simply the natural human tendency to embrace the status quo and resist change. It takes less effort to be reactive than proactive. It’s more convenient to consider present needs than plan for future needs. And it’s easier to “sit tight” than take action.

So what does this mean? It means that we, as the recycling professionals, need to create a system that makes it easier and more rewarding to reuse and recycle than it is to throw away and grab new materials. We need to specify the ways that seemingly small choices affect the world around us, and we need to tangibly reward employees that are making a difference. No matter how unique the recycling program, I have noticed four common themes that are crucial to a successful sustainable culture change.

1. Make it Fun: In all of my training sessions with new end users, I emphasize the energy that I bring to the room; if the trainer is not excited, the trainees will follow suit. I play upbeat, relevant music like “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Hungry Planet” as the employees walk in and take their seats, and hand out bite-sized candy bars to employees who remain engaged and answer questions correctly. Have I been looked at by some employees as an oddball? Absolutely! But I can promise high energy, “oddball” training session is more memorable and thus more effective. 

PPE station with reusable absorbents2. Make it Simple: In all aspects of implementation, we must maintain a focus on simplifying the process of recycling. If a landfill bin is closer to the employee’s work area than a recycling container, passionately pitch the decision-maker to implement a change! If all forms of recyclable material need to be segregated into separate containers, continuously look for ways to offer single-stream recycling! While simplification is never easy and recycling certainly requires effort to sustain, a focus on ease of use may be the key to long term success.

3. Incentivize: The carrot is almost always a superior form of motivation to the stick. If an employee is not naturally interested in recycling, create a program that rewards the mindset you wish to see.  I have seen clients offer bonuses to employees who spearhead new recycling initiatives or lead recycling round-tables with colleagues. Others have offered a day of paid time off for “random acts of environmental stewardship” to an employee who went above and beyond to properly recycle.

4. Communicate: The final and most important, ongoing part of an effective recycling program is communication. Schedule training sessions ahead of time in an area free of distractions. Place standard operating procedures in new-hire packets and near recycling hot spots around your facility. Make sure to have visuals that communicate the specific impact of recycling. Stay away from generalities; instead, focus on the exact changes to daily tasks and their distinct impacts on your local environment. Once communicated, check-in on the program’s acceptance with end users every month. Much like standard maintenance on a car, sticking to a proactive schedule will save you more time and effort in the long run.

Want to start a successful recycling program?

 

Patrick Ettorre has worked at CLR’s St. Louis headquarters since 2014. As National Sales Manager, he travels from state to state to train the Sales team, help customers implement recycling programs, and represent CLR at trade shows.

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