The general public is intrigued by the operation of modern recycling centers. School groups, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, environmental organizations and civic groups regularly request tours to get an insider’s look at these amazing and sophisticated sorting operations. Many recycling centers offer tours to educate citizens, foster an awareness of sustainable practices and showcase their operations. Some recycling centers even have environmental educational centers incorporated into their design to accommodate visitors.

Providing a tour of a recycling center requires planning and preparation. One of the most critical elements of a successful facility tour is selecting the right person to serve as the tour guide. The tour guide can be a supervisor, office employee, manager or shift worker. Anyone can do the job so long as they have strong communication skills and are knowledgeable about the recycling process.

Tour guides should possess the ability to explain the intricate details of the recycling process using words that the general public understands. Specifically, tour guides should avoid using industry jargon and acronyms when giving tours as it may confuse visitors who may not be familiar with recycling terminology. Tour guides generally need to retain a lot of statistics and facts including the amount of material the recycling center accepts and processes on a daily basis. And, tour guides should also be able to talk about what happens to the various commodities once it leaves the facility.

The following are a few of the steps that managers can take to ensure tours are educational and, most importantly, safe.

Publicize the Availability of Tours

Information about tours can be placed on the facility’s website. Managers can post the times and days when tours are available. Restrictions and requirements can also be posted such as the need for adult supervision with school groups and children. Scheduling specific days for tours can minimize disruptions especially it the material flow coming into a facility is extra heavy on certain days.

Require Advanced Notification

People or groups should make the tour request at least two weeks prior to the requested tour date. Advanced notification gives managers time to plan for the event and assign people to help with the tour. With advanced notification you can better plan for the tour by gathering some basic information about the group wishing to take the tour.

Ask for the following information:

  • Name of Group
  • Date of the Tour
  • Time of the Tour
  • Contact Person
  • Contact Phone Number
  • Contact E-mail
  • Number of People in the Tour
  • Number of Adults
  • Number of Children
  • Any Special Needs?
  • Reason for the Tour?

Have a Plan

Managers should have a plan that details all activities from the time the group arrives to their departure from the facility. A staging area should be established where the group can gather and review safety requirements before the tour begins. If possible start the tour at the beginning of the recycling process usually on or near the tip floor area.

Move the tour group along the progression of the recyclables that are flowing through the recycling center. Explain what is happening and what is being sorted at the various stages. Show the baling process and end the tour in the bale storage area which is an excellent location to discuss commodity markets and explain what happens to the bales once they leave the recycling center.

Safety First

Ensuring the safety of guests at the recycling center is the host’s top responsibility. Explain to visitors that the recycling center is a complex manufacturing facility with lots of moving parts and can be dangerous if safety rules and precautions are not followed.

Remind visitors to listen to and obey the instructions of the tour guide and stick together as a group and be alert at all times. Have all visitors dress in appropriate personal protective equipment (hard hats, high visibility vests and safety glasses) and make sure all members of a tour group wear long pants and closed-toe shoes (no sandals or flip flops). Make sure equipment operators and supervisors are aware of all tours. At the start of the tour, radio ahead to all equipment operators letting them know that a tour is underway.


Every aspect of the recycling center should be neat, clean, and orderly.


  • Landscape and cut grass.
  • Make sure facility signage is clean.
  • Pickup any litter outside the tip floor area and along the fence line.
  • Flag - If there is a flagpole, make sure the flag that is flown is clean and not tattered.


  • Sweep and clean up
  • Walk ways should be clean and not cluttered.
  • Handrails should be clean.
  • Lighting should be bright especially on stairways.
  • Bale storage area should be orderly.
  • Pick up any loose materials on floor and under the equipment.
  • Clean around the baler and remove any loose material.

Wavier from Liability

Some facilities require participants to sign a waiver from liability. Talk to your legal counsel to determine if a waiver is needed.

Have a Contingency Plan

Even the best of plans can be interrupted by a mechanical breakdown or power failure. Tour guides should be able to explain the sorting process even if the plan is not running. Some facilities use video of the operation that they can show in case the facility is not running during the tour.

Being organized will help ensure that the tour is beneficial to the participants and that people leave with a better understanding and appreciation of recycling. Having an outline or script for the tour will prevent the tour guide from missing any major information about the recycling process. And remember, tour guides who have real passion about recycling and protecting the environment can put energy and excitement into the tour. Finally have a handout for people to take home reminding them of the items that can be recycled and how to properly prepare them for collection and recycling.


Will Flower is general manager with Winters Bros. Waste Systems in Long Island, N.Y.