Rev Up Recycling

By Nancy Ferguson

The summons to “go green” is all around us. Camps, though, have been doing this for years--long before it was popular. However, it can be useful to periodically evaluate ways to be even more effective in your efforts by assessing current policies, doing a “trash audit,” and improving communication with both staff members and campers/guests.


Review Policies
First, review your recycling policy; if one does not exist, develop one. Invite a group of staff members and supporters to either review or create a policy. Include board members in the process to build support, and stress the importance of recycling in their own homes and businesses.

Prepare for the meeting by gathering information. Locate some current statistics about recycling, such as that every ton of paper recycled saves 4,100 kilowatts of electricity for three hours (EPA figures). Exact figures demonstrate the ways a camp’s recycling efforts have an impact. Web sites such as the National Recycling Coalition ( ) and Earth911 ( ) provide up-to-date data about recycling results.

Also, before the meeting, research what recycling is possible in the area. Recycling facilities differ, so before proposing recycling motor oil, for example, make sure that it can be done. Find out if recycling is picked up or if it has to be delivered and any costs to participate in a program.

Clearly state to the policy-writing group the reasons that recycling is important. The National Resources Defense Council provides a list of eight reasons ( ):

• Saves trees
• Protects wildlife and biodiversity
• Reduces toxic chemicals
• Curbs global warming
• Reduces water pollution
• Reduces the need for landfills
• Reduces the need for incinerators
• Creates jobs and promotes economic development.

Another element to examine is how recycling fits with the values reflected in the mission statement of the camp. If you have an overall environmental policy statement, be sure to give that to the group.

The policy should be practical. It must include a “chain of responsibility” for staff members, and clear instructions on how each department will participate, as well as what exactly is to be recycled. Avoid merely naming items to be recycled. Instead, include specific items in the policy, where each will be collected, and by whom. Build as many details into the plan as possible so staff members understand the role they are to play in supporting the commitment to recycle.

Do A Trash Audit
Once the policy is created, efforts will need to be assessed. To do this, conduct a “trash audit.” Although this is a messy and time-consuming task, it is the best way to determine how well you are doing in present recycling practices and in determining exactly what to improve.

To conduct an audit effectively, involve a staff member from each department--kitchen, office, maintenance, housekeeping, etc. Each person must follow through on all the steps of the audit, or it will not produce accurate results. For a small camp, collect trash from all over, bring it to one place, and do an overall audit.

Begin by setting a time period for the audit. Explain that a designated person in each department will collect the department’s trash during that period. To reduce the mess somewhat, have the kitchen separate wet garbage from other trash when it is collected. You may decide not to search through the wet garbage.

At the end of the collection period, weigh the trash. Then unload the bags and sort the contents into categories, such as paper, plastics, cleaners, etc. Examine the trash to find out what is currently being thrown away and how much of it can be recycled. Use this information to figure out how more trash can be recycled. This is a messy process, so plenty of plastic gloves and a resistance to the “ugh response” are needed. The ultimate goal of the audit is to determine the weight of the trash and how to increase the weight of the recyclables.

Train Staff
A recycling program is only as effective as the people who actually do the recycling. In the case of a camp, that is the entire staff. Each employee needs to be familiar with the camp policy, the reasons it is important, and the everyday procedures for collecting and sorting trash. Make time following the audit to meet with each department and to share the results. Be sure to show some of the trash and talk about specific ways some of it can be recycled.

Introduce the recycling policy and camp practices to the summer staff. Those members are an important link in the chain between the policy and the campers and guests. Remind staff that recycling begins in the staff lounge!

Interpret The Policy To Guests
One reason to recycle at camp is to reduce the camp’s environmental footprint. However, it is also equally important to interpret the policy and practices to campers and guests. Here are some suggestions:

  • Post a list of reasons to recycle in a variety of locations. Download a list from the Internet or create your own.
  • Include a statement about recycling in written materials sent out to campers and guests prior to arriving in camp. If you use recycled paper, insert the recycling symbol on all written materials.
  • Provide containers for recycling in the dining hall, meeting rooms and cabins. Mark them clearly so they will not be confused for trashcans.
  • Place trashcans and recycling containers near areas where campers and guests enjoy refreshments or play games.
  • Make information about recycling a part of the verbal welcome to campers and guests. Point out where to find recycling containers as well as what is recycled at camp.
  • Invite campers and guests to be part of the recycling efforts by letting them sort paper, squash cans, and flatten boxes.
  • Place reminders to recycle on dining tables and cabin doors.

Nancy Ferguson is an Outdoor Ministries consultant, specializing in the creation of program resources for faith-based camps. She is the author of several books, including Training Staff to be Spiritual Leaders. She can be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .