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Best Practices for Recycling Solutions

Tim J. Morton

In my 20 years of industrial design experience, it continues to surprise me how many people consider refuse collection to be an addition to a building rather than a core part of its design. As Director of Industrial Design at Rubbermaid Commercial Products, I am often tasked with helping hotels ensure waste is disposed of in the right bin—no small feat when you consider how much waste a hotel can generate on a busy day.

What are hotels to do when it comes to their refuse and recycling solutions? What are the common errors? Which bins work best in which areas? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to solve hotels’ collective challenges, but that does not mean they cannot plan accordingly. When designing a refuse and recycling program to bolster sustainability within a hotel, keep the following points in mind:

•    One Size Does Not Fit All:  Large, durable containers often work well in the back of house. But all too often hotels will slightly adapt these bins and place them in the front of house—a big mistake because they are very utility-driven and are not sympathetic to the overall experience that the hotel works so hard to create elsewhere. Decorative waste bins, specifically designed for front of house, provide essential functionality while aesthetically upholding the experience of its overall surroundings. For guestrooms, consider placing a small bin with a step-on feature in bathrooms to offer a sanitary, hands-free solution, along with a second waste basket near the desk/television area. Both will allow guests to dispose of trash no matter where they are in the room.

•    Location Matters More Than You Think: Transitional spaces are good locations for refuse collection. Whether it is between the lobby and the dining room or between the lobby and an exit, location is key to capturing waste streams. Other key areas that are often overlooked include conference rooms and pools/spas, both of which generate large (if not different) varieties of trash throughout the day. Lobbies are another key area where people often look for a bin to dispose of or recycle anything from coffee cups to newspapers, but have nowhere to do so. Again, each location will require a different kind of bin—whether it is a slim container with a step-on feature for a narrow hallway, a decorative option for a spa, or perhaps a larger, more durable container that can be rolled out for an outdoor recreation area.

•    Signage is Fine, But Iconography is Better: Many hotels think big, bold letters screaming “RECYCLING” or “TRASH” might be the key to bolstering proper waste disposal, but that sentiment may be misplaced. Iconography—pictures that literally show the desired outcome in action—are often more easily interpreted by guests, particularly those who do not speak English. As the saying goes, “Show—don’t tell.” Multilingual signage, while commendable, often is not as effective as clear, easy-to-read iconography that can help guests recycle and dispose of trash no matter what language they speak.

•    Understand the Local Authorities: Cities throughout the United States approach recycling in different ways. Some cities may not offer mixed stream recycling, requiring establishments to separate various materials. Another trend, particularly in New York, is that organic waste must be separated into its own stream. All too often, hotels fail to work with their local authorities to understand waste and recycling requirements and do not design programs to meet the established structure for the city in which they reside, further undermining their efforts. Reach out to local waste management and learn how to work together, which can save time and money down the road.

•    Integrate Recycling into the Overall Design: Many hotels would be wise to treat their recycling programs as part of their buildings’ overall aesthetic. That may require a degree of customization, which is why Rubbermaid Commercial Products designed Configure™, a collection of bins that can be tailored to meet the needs of any facility. Size, shape, color and surface material can be customized to give hotels the solutions they need to meet their recycling needs.

•    Recognize that Guests and Staff Have Different Needs: Once you have made it easy for guests to properly dispose of or recycle their trash, next you need to consider the maintenance staff’s needs. Are bins easy to empty or transfer to another location? And what about scale—are there enough bins on the property to capture all waste, or do staff have to constantly deal with overflowing bins? A successful refuse and recycling program will address the needs of guests and maintenance staff alike, which will ensure that a hotel’s steps toward more sustainable business practices are set up for success from the get-go.

Tim J. Morton, Director of Industrial Design, Rubbermaid Commercial and Tools, is a design leader who has been creating for some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies for more than 18 years. Since joining Newell Brands in 2014, Morton has led design teams for Home Solutions, Rubbermaid Commercial Products and Tools. Previously, Morton partnered with global clients as part of an international design consultancy in Austin, Texas, and Chicago. As an independent consultant in the United Kingdom, he led forward-thinking development for the LEGO Group across play materials and new ventures. With a passion for travel, discovery, user-centered design and emerging technologies, Morton brings experiences across multiple categories connected by the goal of creating products and experiences that enrich lives. Prior client partners have included Corning, Dell, LEGO, Flextronics, Harris, Kimberly Clark, Johnson Controls Inc., Kyocera, LEGO, Motorola, and Qualcomm.