Recycling Success Stories

The biggest challenge I face in implementing recycling programs at office buildings is getting employees to change their behavior. Assuming all the bins are in place, everything is labeled and we’ve done our job at educating people as to what goes where, I still find that 1) people are lazy, 2) people are skeptical, or 3) People don’t care.

Lazy. There’s only so much you can do to accommodate employees. The ‘easiest’ deskside set-up is two bins: one for recyclables (blue) and one for trash (black). You don’t have to get out of your seat to discard anything. However, all too often I find paper going in the trash bin or the blue bin isn’t used at all.

Other types of programs where employees have only one bin at their desk and they are responsible for taking either paper or trash to a central area, the most common gripe we get is “you expect me to get up and walk with my trash (or paper)!?” You get up to go to the bathroom, get coffee, get lunch, make copies, gossip with your coworkers, but you can’t get up to take your half full cup of cold coffee and dump it in the sink instead of making a mess at your desk? People don’t have a problem fetching things to bring back to their desk, but can’t fathom making the effort to take things away.

Skeptical. Some people just don’t believe their efforts are doing any good. I hear “The cleaners are mixing,” “it all gets put together in the same truck,” “it all just goes in the trash any way.” It doesn’t matter that I explain the process, or that I have a power point slide show illustrating what happens to your waste from desk-to-landfill. They are non-believers and nothing I say makes a difference. (Usually it is the hard-core, self-proclaimed recyclers that are the most skeptical.)

Don’t care. The people who don’t care are usually the high-level execs that expect to be catered to, or your average worker who is just too busy. Granted, people are busy. I’ve been to some of the largest trading floors where I’m sure billions of dollars of transactions are being monitored or traded (or whatever they do with the multiple screens). I’ve been to high-profile law firms where people work round the clock behind stacks of documents. I’ve been to creative agencies where people are constantly in brain storming sessions. Recycling is a low priority at work for many people.

So, how can I get through to the lazies and skeptics and don’t cares? They are perfectly capable of doing so many other things in their work day, placing their waste in a specific bin should be a no-brainer.

An article about how behavior science can help environmentalists at Triple Pundit advises, “Immerse yourself in their lives until you figure out how to create solutions that answer their real needs.”

As I continue to look at the real needs to get through to these three types, I want to know your recycling success stories.

How have you changed someone’s behavior and got them to recycle?


About Amy Marpman

Director of Recycling Services at Great Forest, Inc. in NYC. Continually finding the balance of idealism with the practical realities that make or break recycling programs.
This entry was posted in Recycling Success Stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Recycling Success Stories

  1. Hi Amy,

    I too am trying to get more people to recycle. I recently converted a local newspaper columist just by sending him an email after he became concerned over how many plastic bags he was coming home from the supermarket with each week. Please visist to view the post I wrote about his article.

    I agree about the lazy, too busy, my efforts don’t matter, etc. people who have every excuse in the book for not recycling. I live in Las Vegas and I’m starting a grass roots effort to get more folks in my neighborhood to recycle. Our casinos do a good job but not enough residents are getting involved, mostly due to the difficulty our recycling service has caused for them to do so. I’ve been home recyling for 7 years and it’s very hard work, not to mention extremely inconvenient. Our recycling service has just come out with a pilot program where only one “all purpose” garbage can style bin will be used instead of the current 3 tiny bins offered now where the homeowner sorts their trash by paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass. Unfortunately it is only offered in 8 communities out of over 2 million people who now call Las Vegas home. They just don’t have enough trucks to cover recycling valley wide. I am hoping to change all this and have just begun to tackle this great challenge. Any help or recommendations you could provide would be greatly appreciated. You can email me at or


    Rebecca Bours

  2. gotterak says:

    I complete agree with the idea of skepticism surrounding recycling. I think many people–even if they do believe their plastic, paper, etc. are being recycled–think it doesn’t actually make a difference. Part of the reason for this is that there just isn’t a lot of attention given to the things that are made of recycled materials. Granted, many plastic bottles or paper are, and they are marked with something like “20% post-consumer materials,” but people just don’t pay attention to that and believe the things they are recycling aren’t actually being re-produced. Personally, I’m trying to bring more attention to thing with my blog With many of my classmates, I’m trying to make them realize that there are very common products they can buy that use recycled materials–I think if people realize that their simple actions (tossing something in a recycling bin) can result in a tangible benefit (shirts made out of recycled plastic bottles), they will be much more inclined to pay attention and try to recycle.

    Abbie Gotter

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