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Managing a Recycling Center Means Juggling Many ResponsibilitiesManaging a Recycling Center Means Juggling Many Responsibilities

Will Flower

July 31, 2014

5 Min Read
Managing a Recycling Center Means Juggling Many Responsibilities

Managing a recycling operation is a tough job. You need to be focused on safety, customer service, operations, maintenance, cost control, logistics, compliance, commodity pricing, construction, sales, housekeeping and, most importantly, your people.

Good management skills are critical to the success of every recycling center. Managers need to “set the bar” and establish the standards for the way the recycling center operates, including the quality of the material that is produced and the way that employees and customers are treated.

There are three aspects of recycling center management that are vital to the success of every facility. First is the development and coaching of your team. Second is the process itself – that is, how the material is received, sorted, baled, stored and sold. And finally, handling the way you track and manage the overall performance of the plant and make adjustments for continuous improvement.


There are many people involved in the successful operation of a recycling center. Good managers must possess the skills to align individuals on the team so that everyone is working as a cohesive unit. Mechanics, laborers, controllers, equipment operators, sorters, supervisors and managers must all work together to ensure customers are getting great service.

The assembly of a great team starts with the hiring process where you have a chance to carefully select individuals who will be part of your team. Don’t just hire warm bodies to fill spots on the processing line. Instead, put some thought into what your needs are and the skills necessary to perform the job. Importantly, think about the type of attitude that is required to be part of your team. Take your time finding the right people and never hire someone who does not meet your expectations. Finding and hiring the right team is worth the time.

Setting clear expectations for the team is also important. Everyone needs to know what is expected of them both individually and as a team. When necessary, make adjustments to the team the same way a coach makes adjustments throughout a game.

Key Challenges

Managing a recycling centers can be a challenging. There are many factors that a manager must pay close attention to on a daily basis. As a leader, you will set the tone and the attitude for the recycling center. The following are some good habits of successful managers and supervisors:

  • Be visible – You can’t run a recycling center from your office. Visit each part of the operation and talk to people to review the day’s progress.

  • Keep the customer top of mind. Ask yourself a simple question, “Are we easy to do business with?” If you’re not, figure out how you can be a better partner and get everyone focused on improving customer service.

  • Keep safety the No. 1 priority of your team. The only good teams are safe teams. As a leader, protecting people is your No. 1 job.

  • Keep a close watch on key daily statistics and performance indicators. Watch for trends and use the indicators to make adjustments as needed.

  • Have regular staff meetings. Staff meetings ensure that everyone is on the same page. They should also be a place where ideas and concerns are freely discussed.

  • Always be selling. As the leader, you are the No. 1 salesperson for your facility. Always seek opportunities to grow your business.

Remember, being a good manager or effective supervisor is hard work. You need to set the example, tone and attitude for your operation.

The Process

Coordinating any one aspect of a recycling center can be challenging at times. But coordinating the entire process, from the initial receipt of recyclables to the processing and shipment of outbound commodities, is no easy task.

With so many moving parts, managers and supervisors at recycling centers must have the ability to see the “big picture,” and have an understanding of all facets of the recycling process. Talented managers make this look easy – especially managers with experience covering wide range of responsibilities, skills and knowledge, including operations, transportation, customer service, sales, safety, maintenance, budgeting, and purchasing.

Recycling is the fastest evolving aspect of the solid waste industry. Every day, there is new equipment, new technology and new services that can be applied to the recycling process. Managers need to carefully evaluate new equipment and technology to determine the environmental and economic benefits that can be gained from a new or altered process. It’s important to remember that management of a recycling center is a balance between labor and machines. Your ability to motivate and extract good work from the team also requires an understanding of the equipment’s limitations. Good managers know when to push for more productivity and when the process is running at maximum capacity. 


At the end of each day (and throughout the day), good managers are always assessing the performance of the team and the individuals on the team. The use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can help you spot trends (good and bad) in the operations. Carefully evaluating your KPI’s to make sure that sales are up, costs are down, everyone is safe, and you’re in compliance is a good daily habit (see sidebar story on good habits for managers). Over time, you’ll dive deeper into the statistics that will help you master operations at your recycling center. KPIs will also help you communicate with your team and set objectives for both short-term and long-term goals.

The bottom line is that managing and supervising a recycling center is both an art and a science. It requires a lot of skills and talent. But a manager or supervisor who understands the recycling process and is able to communicate his or her expectations to the team will be successful.

Will Flower is the president of Green Stream Recycling on Long Island, N.Y. The company is focused on advancing recycling on Long Island. Contact Will Flower at 631-566-4366 or at www.LongIslandRecycles.com

About the Author(s)

Will Flower

General Manager, Winters Bros. Waste Systems

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

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