Exploring this Job
You can start to explore a career as a recycling coordinator by familiarizing yourself with the issues involved in the field. Why is sorting garbage so costly? Why are some materials recycled and not others? Where are the markets? What are some creative uses for recyclable materials? Find out what's going on both nationally and in your area. Some states have more extensive recycling programs than others; for example, some have bottle deposit laws or other innovative programs to boost recycling efforts. Get to know who's doing what and what remains to be done. Read books on the topic and industry-related magazines; two informative publications are Recycling Today (https://www.recyclingtoday.com) and Resource Recycling (https://www.resource-recycling.com).
Arrange a tour of a local material recovery facility and talk with the staff there. You might even volunteer to work for a recycling organization. Large and small communities often have groups that support recycling with fund drives and information campaigns. Also, most municipal public meetings and workshops are good places to learn about how you can help with recycling in your community.
As recycling becomes more widespread, fewer recycling coordinators are faced with the task of organizing a municipal program from scratch. Instead, recycling coordinators work to improve current recycling rates in several ways. While recycling coordinators spend some time on administrative tasks, such as meeting with waste haulers and government officials and writing reports, they often need a considerable amount of time for public-education efforts. Only a small portion of the average recycling coordinator's job is spent sitting behind a desk.
Educating the public on proper separation of recyclables as well as explaining the need for recycling are a large part of a recycling coordinator's job. Good verbal communication skills are essential for a recycling coordinator to succeed in this role. Getting people who haven't recycled before to start doing so can take some convincing. Recycling coordinators spread their message by speaking to community groups, businesses, and schools. They use persuasive speaking skills to urge people to do the extra work of peeling labels from and washing bottles and jars instead of just throwing them out, and separating newspapers, magazines, cardboard, and other types of paper. Even as recycling increases in this country, many people are accustomed to disposing of trash as quickly as possible without giving it a second thought. It is the task of a recycling coordinator to get people to change such habits, and how well a recycling coordinator is able to do this can make the difference in the success of the entire program.
In some communities, recycling coordinators have economics on their side when it comes to getting people to change their habits. In so-called pay-as-you-throw programs, residents pay for garbage disposal based on how much waste their household produces. So recycling, although it may mean extra work, makes sense because it saves the homeowner money. For example, residents may be charged extra for any waste they set out at the curb beyond one garbage can per week. In communities with these programs, recycling rates tend to be higher, and recycling coordinators have an easier task of convincing people to recycle. Another part of a recycling coordinator's role as educator is answering questions about how recyclables are to be separated. Especially with new programs, residents often have questions about separating recyclables, such as what type of paper can be set out with newspaper, whether labels should be peeled from jars, and even keeping track of which week of the month or day of the week they should set their recyclables out with the trash. Fielding these types of calls always demands some portion of a recycling coordinator's time.
Most recycling coordinators spend a minimal amount of time on record keeping, perhaps 5 percent, one coordinator estimates. The coordinator is responsible for making monthly, or sometimes quarterly, reports to state and federal government agencies. Recycling coordinators also fill out grant applications for state and federal funding to improve their programs.
Some recycling coordinators work on military bases or college campuses. The goal of a recycling coordinator in one of these settings is the same as a municipal recycling coordinator—getting people to recycle. Their responsibilities may differ, however. The recycling coordinator on a college campus, for example, has a new set of residents every year to educate about the college's recycling program.
Recycling coordinators who come up with creative uses for waste may find opportunities in other fields as well. For example, recycling of computers and computer parts is a growing area. Some with knowledge in this area have founded their own companies or work for computer manufacturers.