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Recycling: A Sustainable Solution for Building Managers


Building managers find that effective recycling programs reduce waste management costs. Strong recycling programs also advance sustainability by reducing the need for new resources and the environmental impacts of landfills. Recycling turns the ‘waste’ stream into a resource stream than can be mined for materials.

Recycling services, the prices paid for recycled materials, and the demand for recycled materials are growing. Facility managers can take advantage of the continually evolving recycling market by reducing waste disposal costs through recycling and by getting paid for recyclable materials.

There are widespread recycling markets for paper, cardboard materials, HDPE and PET plastics, aluminum and steel cans, and glass. For example, prices earlier this year in Wisconsin were $1,800 per ton baled aluminum and $80 per ton for corrugated cardboard. Other growing recycled material markets include bricks, carpet, latex paint, oil, wood products, computer scrap, rubber, and textiles.

Sustainable building operation plans require effective waste management strategies because buildings create a large amount of waste through their operation and use. These strategies begin with source reduction because materials that are not brought into the building cannot become waste. Minimizing packaging materials for items brought into the building is an important step towards source reduction.

Although reduction is the most important form of waste management, recycling contributes to business sustainability by minimizing waste that is sent to a landfill or incinerated, reducing the need for virgin materials, thus reducing the environmental impact and cost of waste disposal.

Purchase Materials with Recycled Content

Facility mangers can help increase the markets for recycled materials by giving purchasing preference to products that contain recycled materials. The three arrowed recycling symbol represents collecting, remanufacturing, and purchasing, which completes the recycling loop and creates market development. Along with having a recycling program, businesses should incorporate the purchase of products containing recycled materials into their purchasing plans. This achieves the double benefit of reducing the environmental impacts of purchased products and fosters the growth of recycling markets.

U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings Rating System (LEED-EB) provides a valuable framework for facility managers to adopt recycling programs at their facilities. LEED-EB’s Materials and Resources category is geared at reducing the quantity of building waste. Materials and Resources Prerequisite 1 requires facilities to conduct a waste stream audit. The audit, conducted over a representative time period, involves identifying what is in the waste stream. The amounts of waste are recorded in weight or volume metrics and allow facility managers to determine the amount of waste on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.

The audit identifies what is working in the recycling program and what additional materials can be removed from the waste stream for recycling. This valuable information guides the ongoing improvement of the source reduction and recycling program.

The LEED-EB framework includes another prerequisite that requires sufficient building space be allocated for gathering and storing materials for recycling. These spaces should be easily accessible and effectively serve the entire building. This LEED-EB prerequisite requires that bins be included for at least paper, glass, plastics, cardboard, and metals. Equipment such as can crushers and cardboard balers can be used to minimize space allocated for recycling storage.

Michael Arny is president of the Leonardo Academy, Madison, Wisc. He can be reached at michaelarny@leonardoacademy.org. This article first appeared in Managing Green, a Leonardo Academy publication.