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How to Set Up a Recycling Program

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Lasting and effective recycling programs are each unique, but they share many commonalities and the same basic foundation. Working with concessionaires and venue managers is key to a successful program—involve them as early as possible in the program’s planning stages. The following eight steps will help you design an effective recycling program.

Step 1: Select a Recycling Coordinator

Select a recycling coordinator to oversee the entire operation. This individual is responsible for designing the collection program, selecting a hauler or arranging in-house transportation of materials, facilitating education and outreach, and tracking progress. In addition, the recycling coordinator will address questions and concerns from venue managers, concessionaires, staff, and the public.

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Step 2: Determine the Waste Steam

Determine which materials are going to be recycled. Conduct a waste assessment to figure out what is currently being thrown away and identify how much of each material is tossed.

Many venues will generate predominantly bottles and cans, although some transportation venues will generate mainly newspapers. Many venues will also generate a large amount of cardboard from concessionaires’ packaging. Keeping this in mind, you might not need to conduct a formal waste assessment at all venues. Consider donating surplus food or composting food waste if feasible, when developing your recycling program.

Since recyclables are marketed by weight, you’ll need to estimate this for each material you plan to recycle. But before attempting to weigh a dumpster full of newspapers on a scale, use this shortcut. Calculate the volume for each major component of your recyclables as well as its percentage of total recyclables. Using this data, the volume-to-weight conversion chart (PDF) (21 pp, 236K, about PDF) Exit EPA will help you best estimate the amount of each material your venue will generate.

Information you obtain from a waste assessment or the volume-to-weight conversion chart will help you to determine which recyclables to collect. For example, if 45 percent of the waste steam is aluminum but only one percent is paper, you will likely want to focus on collecting aluminum, although, if efficient, paper might be worth adding. This assessment also will provide baseline data so you can calculate your recycling rate (the amount of materials recycled compared to the total amount of waste generated) and chart program success down the road.

Some of the materials that you should consider including:

Prices for recyclables, like all commodities, fluctuate with supply and demand. If you want to recycle a material but are having trouble finding a market where you live, please refer to Earth 911 for more information Exit EPA. Your local or state government recycling offices, the local chamber of commerce, or a local or regional recycling organization might also be able to help you find or develop new markets for materials you intend to collect.

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Step 3: Practice Waste Prevention

Waste prevention means using less material to get a job done—and ending up with less waste to manage. In addition to environmental benefits, waste prevention saves money. Take a good look at your recycling collection data to see ways to reduce waste first. The most common forms of waste prevention are reducing, reusing, and donating.

Modify current purchasing practices to reduce the amount of waste generated. For example:

Visit the Concessionaires & Vendors page to learn how to further reduce waste.

Reusing products and packaging prolongs their useful lives, delaying final disposal or recycling. Reuse is the repair, refurbishing, washing, or recovery of worn or used products, appliances, furniture, and building materials. You can, for example:

Prevent waste by donating products or materials to charities or nonprofits. For example:

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Step 4: Include Concessionaires, Staff, and Volunteers

You’ve researched the options and have developed your recycling program. Who at the venue knows about the program? Support from concessionaires, venue staff, and volunteers is essential when it comes to achieving a positive outcome. These groups are the program’s support system—they must be onboard and willing to work to make the program successful.

Visit the Volunteers page and the Concessionaires & Vendors page to gather ideas about how to include them.

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Step 5: Select a Contractor/Hauler

The first step in transporting recyclables from your program site to a recycler is to decide if you will contract out or haul recyclables using in-house staff.

If your venue chooses to contract with a hauler rather than haul recyclables directly, ask your current trash hauler if it also offers recycling pickup. Economically, this may be your best option. If your trash hauler does not provide recycling services, contact local recycling companies—they should be listed in your phone book.

Your venue also can consider using a resource management (RM) contract with haulers. Unlike traditional solid waste service contracts, RM compensates waste contractors based on achieving your organization’s waste reduction goals rather than on the volume of waste disposed of. As a result, RM aligns contractor incentives with your recycling goals and encourages innovative approaches that foster cost-effective resource efficiency through waste prevention and recycling. Visit EPA’s WasteWise website to learn more about resource management contracts.

A few venues, typically smaller-scale or one-time special events, haul their own waste. In this case, train staff to collect and transport recyclables, too. Contact your local recycling center for more information and to find local drop-off sites.

Because some contractors only accept single stream or multi-stream recycling collection, you need to select a collection method before choosing a contractor.

Some questions to ask when picking a service provider:

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Step 6: Set Up the Collection Program

Making recycling easy and convenient will greatly boost levels of public and vendor participation.


Collection bins should be placed where they are most convenient and close to where the recyclables are generated, such as near picnic areas in parks and near vendors in stadiums. Your waste assessment should help identify these locations. Ideally, place collection bins next to each trash can. Make sure that it’s just as easy for the public to recycle as it is to throw something away.

Collection Bins and Liners

To avoid confusion, the recycling bins should look different from trash cans and be easy to identify. Lids with round holes on recycling bins for bottles and cans will reduce contamination, which is when a foreign material (like a half-eaten pizza slice) is mixed into the recycling bin, making the recyclable material impure and difficult to recycle. The labels on the bins should be large and clear with both words and pictures indicating what is being collected. Make sure to clearly label the trash cans too.

If your community has a curbside recycling collection program, try coordinating the color of the venue’s bins with the color of the curbside bins. Patrons will likely associate the bin color with recycling and this can boost your participation rates.

Bins are usually made from steel, corrugated cardboard, or plastic. Try to purchase collection bins made of postconsumer recycled-content materials.

When selecting bins to use at your venue, consider:

You also will need appropriate plastic liners (bags) for the bins. Remember that as the bins are emptied, they will need new liners to collect more recyclables. If a single stream collection system is being used, consider using clear bags so the contents can be easily identified once filled. Some bag manufacturers even print the chasing arrows recycling symbols on their bags and many make recycled-content bags that you can purchase.

Storage and Pickup

Once the materials have been removed from the collection bins, they need to be stored on-site until picked up by a hauler or delivered to a transfer station or materials recovery facility.

Consider the size of the venue and available storage space when determining how frequently the recyclables must be hauled. Remember to take into account seasonal fluctuations in the quantity of recyclables generated (e.g., holidays, baseball season, summer vacations). Regularly monitor how full the recycling dumpster is when it is emptied. If it is only half full, save money by reducing the number of times the hauler collects the materials.

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Step 7: Facilitate Outreach and Education

Education is the best way to encourage the public and concessionaires to recycle. Use signs, displays, loudspeaker announcements, and/or text to teach them:

Include signage and/or literature at the site showing how much has been recycled already or goals that you are trying to reach. This will stimulate participation.

Likewise, use signs to clearly indicate recycling bin locations and instructions.

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Step 8: Monitor and Evaluate the Recycling Program

Use your baseline data collected before the program to evaluate progress. Determine the recycling rate by using the following formula:

Recycling rate =
Total recycled (by weight)
divided by total discarded (by weight) + recycled (by weight)

Determine the recycling rate for all of your recyclables combined and for each material independently. Track your progress over time as the recycling rate increases.

Visit our Program Monitoring and Evaluation page to measure your program’s success.

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