Graham Rihn is the founder and CEO of RoadRunner Recycling. The company is on a mission to elevate recycling in a world dominated by waste. RoadRunner provides custom recycling and waste solutions engineered to improve waste stream management, serving commercial businesses from more than 20 industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, education, retail and hospitality. Visit roadrunnerwm.com.
Events of all sizes inevitably generate trash and recyclable waste, creating a significant issue for facility managers. The 2019 Daytona 500, the largest single-day sporting event in the U.S., infamously created enough trash to equal the weight of the entire 43-car starting field. From the nametags to the event schedules, to the plastic water bottles at the welcome table, corporate events are not excluded from this issue. The hospitality industry, especially event centers, are missing a significant opportunity to upgrade sustainability practices by streamlining complex waste and recycling programs.
Waste and recycling are often overlooked as simply another service; however, optimizing those services can not only bolster your company’s sustainability efforts, but also save time and money — an especially critical consideration as COVID-19 has shuttered or stunted most event operations. Moreover, studies have shown that companies focused on sustainability have a competitive advantage, build stronger customer loyalty and attract highly engaged employees.
Statistics aside, it’s often hard to know where to begin when tackling waste and recycling. For companies just beginning their sustainability journeys, here are a few ways to get started:
To kick things off, you’ll want to review your current waste and recycling practices, and ask yourself a few questions: Where am I seeing the most waste build up? What types of materials are typically disposed of? Where is there room for improvement in our processes? Before making any changes to your recycling program, you also need to assess what materials are most commonly generated and establish a baseline on which you can improve.
Start by reviewing past collection payments from your current waste and recycling provider. You may find that you’re overpaying for too many pickups or using the wrong size containers. Some overages may be harder to spot within invoices due to industry jargon, hence why it can be helpful to get a third-party service involved with both auditing your waste and analyzing your bill. Typical terms to look out for include:
Dry run: Also called a trip fee. This is when a hauler comes to service your container and it is either empty or unable to be serviced due to an obstacle blocking the way — resulting in additional charges.
Extra yardage: These charges occur when the container is filled over its capacity. Haulers cannot legally transport a load that weighs more than 10 tons and, when there is extra waste build up, this can add to charges and also cause extra work for event center employees. Right-sizing your containers can address this issue.
Container swap: Also known as an exchange, this can result in charges when switching out an old container with a new one.
More than just the above terms, there are additional causes for fees and overages. For example, a single piece of contaminated material can send an entire bin of recyclables to a landfill and lead to costly fees, essentially defeating the purpose of the recycling program. Common items that make their way into the recycling stream by mistake include plastic bags, food residue, used paper and plastic products, non-recyclable plastics (usually #3-7), disposable cups, plastic straws and broken glass.
A reminder that contracting the help of a third-party service to audit your waste practices and identify these issues is a wise investment, often saving your company time and money down the road, and ensuring that good intentions lead to lasting results.
Once you’ve identified any inefficiencies with your current provider, it’s time to take a look at the makeup of the waste you’re generating. In addition to plastic and paper, you’ll want to take note of your food waste, which accounts for 30% of what we throw away. If all food waste in the United States was composted annually, it would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas as taking 2 million cars off the road.
Instead of becoming waste, these organic materials can be easily composted and used to create nutrient-rich soil to help plants grow and keep the supply chain healthy. Implementing a compost program will keep heavy food waste out of landfills and reduce methane and greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment.
The benefits of composting cannot be understated. By implementing a food waste program at your facility, you can:
Add nutrients and organic matter back to the soil, which is great for up-leveling any outdoor landscaping.
Reduce your reliance on synthetic fertilizers.
Divert methane-producing organic materials from landfills — helping save money on your waste bill.
Improve your soil’s water-retention capacity.
Most food can be composted. A good rule of thumb is if it comes from the earth — fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, bread, pasta, eggshells, etc. — it can be given back to the earth as well. Just be sure to keep produce stickers, plastic silverware, gloves and yard trimmings away from your compost bin.
Meet Clean-Stream Recycling
The root of contamination is often a result of single-stream recycling, an outdated recycling method that involves combining all materials (paper, plastic, glass, metals and cardboard) in one container during the initial recycling process. This unfortunately results in increased contamination and most single-stream recyclables, 80% to be exact, ending up in a landfill. Luckily, a better method exists: Clean-stream recycling. While this approach requires a small change in process — to separate your recyclables at the source — the results are impactful and lead to significant increases in recycling rates by reducing contamination. Adopting a clean-stream program in which all materials are separated can be much more effective, but, of course, requires some initial effort to set up. Additionally, all cities accept different types of materials, so you’ll want to check with your hauling service provider and potentially a third-party service to understand which items can be processed and how best to organize your recycling streams.
Once you have completed the information gathering necessary to recycle intelligently, implementing a clean-stream program for your event center can be straightforward and successful with the right initial bin setup, instructions and team in place.
First, you’ll need to clearly label different receptacles for paper, plastic, glass, metals, cardboard and compost, both behind the scenes and guest-facing. A helpful tip: Using stickers on the bins, informational posters and different colored bins for each type of item, can ensure both employees and attendees easily know how, and where, to recycle. It can also be helpful to provide educational materials, such as pamphlets or one-sheets, to guests as they begin to attend events after your new recycling system is in place. Lastly, and even more importantly than educating attendees, is training your employees on the new process. When all staff, including upper management, are educated on how best to use the new system and can lead by example — success is inevitable. Make your employees recycling advocates and prepare to see results.
The opportunities for conference and event centers to optimize their waste and recycling programs shouldn’t be overlooked. Implementing a new and improved program takes time and resources, but the chance to boost your bottom line and your sustainability efforts makes the process well worth it. Don’t worry either: You don’t have to do it alone because third-party service providers can help manage hauler relationships, as well as contribute everything needed for a successful, and sustainable, waste and recycling program from the right-sized bins, to educational materials, to appropriate signage, and more. Saving money for your business while saving the planet in the process, what could be better? | AC&F |