Recycling: Hooray for Clean Your Files Day

In addition to housing inmates, a jail has desktops and file cabinets that become cluttered, just like any other business.

The Jackson County, Mo., jail is no exception. Fraught with papers and crammed with thousands of law books in its library, the county cleaned up and reorganized by participating in the fifth annual Clean Your Files day event this past April.

Clean Your Files Day is an annual Earth Day event hosted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Washington, D.C., as part of their Recycling at Work campaign. The nationwide event is designed to increase the amount of recycled paper generated in the workplace by purging unnecessary files.

The program began in Chicago in 1995 as a pilot project, which resulted in recycling figures that were 12 times the normal collection rate. Participation can vary from a single office building or government agency to a citywide effort that includes government, businesses and schools.

The Recycling at Work Campaign provides participants with promotional materials and training tools to coordinate, plan and promote their local events. Businesses or agencies develop local events and promotion by coordinating with office managers, waste haulers and businesses.

“Aside from the environmental benefits of recovering paper, Clean Your Files day is a good community-building program,” says Paulo Heyman, environmental programs manager for the Conference of Mayors. “This is a grassroots program, but the results can be assessed on a national scale.”

Last year, more than 140 cities and 100 other businesses, schools and government offices hosted Clean Your Files Day events, resulting in 500 tons of paper recycled. This year, Waste Management Inc., Houston, signed on as a national sponsor, and participation was even greater. Approximately 145 cities and 185 other organizations took part in the event.

Jackson County alone collected law books from the jail's library for recycling and replaced them with four computers that stored the legal material on space-saving CD-ROMs. The books were only part of the more than 54 tons of material collected by the county.

The reason for the growth in participation, Heyman says, is a combination of in-creased media coverage and the regional Clean Your Files workshops that take place around the country. Jackson County, for example, hosted a workshop last year that was the largest in the event's history, attracting several county organizations. This helped to garner the county a 2001 Recycling at Work Award for its outstanding recycling programs.

According to Heyman, Jackson County received an award because it made Clean Your Files Day into a community project.

This year, Jackson County had more than 50 organizations participate in the training workshop. “We had a diverse group of people attending, including [nonprofits], for-profits [and] some people from out of state,” says Chris Bussen, the county's conservation coordinator. “We're the biggest county in the [Kansas City] metro area, so it made logical sense for us to take the lead.”

In addition to collecting office paper and law books from the county jail, this year the county's mission expanded to include a variety of recyclables such as batteries, paint, toner cartridges and furniture.

“We made it into a Clean Out Your Buildings Day,” Bussen says.

Although this year's events are completed, the Conference of Mayors is organizing a radio tour of mayors to spread the word about Clean Your Files Day for next year.

For radio tour information or to plan for next year's event, visit For additional recycling information, visit