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7 steps to successful cardboard recycling

Many restaurant owners want to recycle but don’t know how or where to begin. Follow these 7 steps from the National Restaurant Association to get started.

Starting with a big, complex recycling program can be difficult for a several reasons:

  • Different cities and counties take different materials.
  • Training staff can be time consuming.
  • Establishing a front-of-house recycling bin system can take up considerable space.

Even if you can’t tackle everything at once, you can start by recycling the material that takes up about 25 percent of your dumpster. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s cardboard!

“Focusing on recycling your cardboard will help you get big bang for your buck by reducing the size of your waste stream and the need for a big dumpster to hold your ‘trash’,” says Jeff Clark, program director for the NRA’s Conserve program.

Waste material, such as cardboard shipping boxes, often has significant market value as useful new products. Boxes can be recycled and turned into paper cups or other items if the material isn’t contaminated.

Discover seven tips on how to begin:

Find out if you can recycle on premise. If you rent your space, check your lease to make sure you can place additional bins out back. If you can, make sure there’s enough room throughout the space and/or parking lot.

Train staff to safely cut up boxes and lay them flat in the cardboard bin. That will reduce empty space between loosely packed boxes so you can fit more in for each pick up. The result: You’lll save money and look more organized and clean to your customers and employees.

Put only cardboard in the cardboard recycling bin. Don’t contaminate the pile with other bags, bottles or cans, and keep it as dry as possible.

Ask your recycler whether he or she accepts waxed cardboard from foodstuff deliveries. Waxed cardboard must be separated from normal cardboard because the wax contaminates pulp during reprocessing.

Find out who will pick it up. Call local recycling centers and government agencies for information on finding the right hauler. Get references from neighboring business owners. And check out, where haulers bid for your business.

Get baled out. If you have space constraints at your restaurant, ask the recycler about a cardboard baler to crush and bind the cardboard. Make sure you ask whether he or she can use the baled material as is. If not, ask what companies would accept it instead. Also, ask city or state environmental agencies about financial assistance to buy baling equipment.

Log your savings; revisit your efforts. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so track your cardboard recycling by weight, if possible, as well as monetary savings. Once you have a successful program in place, consider expanding to single-stream recycling.

Visit the NRA’s Conserve program for more information about sustainability tips and tools, and check out the NRA’s partnership with LeanPath to provide operators with food-waste tracking technology.

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