EDUCATION: Encouraging Recycling

Sometimes baby steps can lead to big changes. Keeping this in mind, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Boston, has devised workshops to help more than 90 municipalities and community recycling coordinators spur small business recycling.

“A little more than half [more than 4.5 million tons] of what goes to disposal in Massachusetts is from the business community,” says Julia Wolfe, commercial waste reduction coordinator for the state's Bureau of Waste Prevention. To that end, the summer workshops, “Promoting Businesses Recycling in Your Community: A Workshop for Municipalities,” encouraged municipalities to approach businesses without recycling programs and assist businesses that already are recycling to do more.

One of most effective ways to motivate businesses to recycle is through one-on-one contact, according to the DEP. Consequently, it supplied workshop attendees with toolkits that helped municipalities identify which community partners to share recycling ideas and concerns with, such as a specially formed solid waste committee, a city's chamber of commerce or a private hauler with strong community ties. Participants also received Recycling Services Directories listing Massachusetts service-providers.

“Oftentimes, small- and medium-sized businesses … don't know who services their community,” Wolfe says. But armed with the information on where to start recycling, municipalities then can teach businesses how to begin a recycling program, she says.

An inventory sheet, also provided in the toolkit, indicated where and how municipalities should begin approaching businesses. And the workshops provided successful strategies that other cities have implemented.

For example, San Francisco issues cash payments to businesses that recycle.

Stonington, Mass., developed a franchise agreement in which businesses and residents are required to recycle. The municipality then contracted out its collection services, “so it has a lot of power … to set the rate,” Wolfe says.

To help encourage recycling in its community, Springfield, Mass., in 1999, passed an ordinance targeting office buildings. Businesses were required to self-haul recyclables to the local landfill, contract with a private recycler or recycle with the city service. But to aid these efforts, Springfield developed a “Business Recycling Guide” that provided area businesses technical and equipment assistance. The city's efforts resulted in collecting 64.3 tons of cardboard and paper in 2001.

Beyond establishing recycling regulations or ordinances, the workshops indicated that local governments can influence solid waste marketplace economics through structuring rates, fees and taxes, including garbage collection rates, pay-as-you-throw franchise fees, permit fees, facility taxes and grants.

The workshops also taught municipalities how to gather data and apply for the state's Municipal Recycling Incentive Program (MRIP) grant. The MRIP allows communities to receive cash for business recycling materials. Once a business recycling program is established and tonnages increase, the city is paid up to 20 percent of the additional recycling tonnage generated, Wolfe says. However, to qualify, communities must be able to measure their recycling performance, which requires they create a business recycling criteria.

To further improve recycling and to reduce costs, the DEP discussed how municipalities should educate businesses about Massachusetts' waste bans. Approximately nine materials, including paper and cardboard, are banned from landfills and incinerators. “If a load is rejected, the cost could be passed on to the generators,” Wolfe explains.

Overall, Wolfe says the workshops indicated to local governments that they hold tremendous power in determining how business recycling plays out in their communities. “If communities look at solid waste … and [create an agreement] as with cable or utilities … they [may be] able to reduce rates because more people will be signed on,” she says.

In its survey of 450 city businesses, the DEP and the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC), Brattleboro, Vt., which conducted the survey, determined that businesses are looking for simplicity when recycling. “[Businesses need] recycling to be economical and easy,” says Mary Ann Remolador, NERC's program manager. “[They need] a person who knows recycling and can help them.”

Ultimately, the DEP's workshops were designed to help municipalities do just that.