With so many different resource recovery providers out there it can be tricky to choose one that’s affordable, reliable and kind to the planet. We’ve pulled together the top questions you can ask a potential provider to help you find your best match. No provider is going to be everything to everyone though, so use your best judgement based on what's most important to you.
Before you jump in, remember to think ‘resource recovery, not waste’. In the new circular economy, landfill is a thing from the past. Instead, everything's meant to find another use.
BOOST YOUR GREEN CREDENTIALS: Reducing your waste is good for your bottom line and it’s terrific PR! More and more customers seek out businesses who’re doing the right thing. They check out the ‘about section’ on your website, trawl through your socials and may even ask you tricky questions about your business practises. ‘Being green’ is a key selling point for your business and if you’re aligned with a fantastic waste provider, this can be a fabulous way to boost your eco credentials.
10 Essential Questions
1. What collections do you offer? Having just one (instead of several) providers can save you significant costs, so it’s good to know if they can only help with just a couple, or all your materials. Your provider should also have specific processes in place for all materials. Ideally you’d be asked to separate everything (ie paper, glass, plastic, organics etc.) at your premises. Commingled materials are often more difficult to separate and recycle which can result in more landfill.
2. What happens with my materials? You’ll want the company to be able to provide an immediate answer to this. No long ‘hmmms’ or ‘ahhhhs’. They need to be able to tell you exactly what happens with each resource. Where does it get sent? how does it get processed? Where do the recyclables end up after processing? Can they name any specific companies that use the recyclables to produce new goods? What percentage of recyclable plastic (paper, etc.) they collect actually gets recycled? What evidence do they have, e.g. an official waste report? Also ask how they are disposing of any non-recyclable waste….
3. Sticking to government regulations. Ask the provider what licenses they have in place and if they can show you copies. You want a reputable and compliant company… remember if they aren’t doing the right thing and the public becomes aware, this can reflect very negatively on your business.
4. Sustainability practises: There are big differences when it comes to a genuine commitment to sustainability. Here are some simple factors to look out for:
Education: Do they allocate resources to educate their customers and help them waste less / recycle more? Check if they have a blog and/or active social media presence discussing sustainability; do they run, or are involved with, a dedicated school program; do they provide education materials for clients and the public?
Local Ownership: Ideally, your provider is locally owned and run. This is not always possible and there are some great international providers highly committed to sustainability - so balance this against your other criteria.
Do they really maximise recycling? Ask them what happens if bins are contaminated with the wrong or soiled materials. If the answer is “that’s fine, don’t worry about it”, something isn’t right.
Partnerships and collaboration: Who do they support, fund, work with? For example - do they fund sustainability challenges? Partner with zero waste groups? Support resource recovery innovation?
5. Customer satisfaction: You’ll want to know if other customers are happy with the provider. Check for online reviews and comments and take a look at their social media profiles. If they have a good online presence and engage with their audience, it can be a great indicator that they care about their customers. Even better, ask if they can give you the contact details of a couple of other local clients (ideally in the same industry). A couple of phone calls could save you a lot of trouble. Going through the process of asking your questions and seeing how long it takes to get your quote will also be a good indication for what it’s like to deal with the company. While you’re at it, also ask if you’ll be dealing with one main contact (e.g. will you have a dedicated account manager).
6. Contractual agreements: Contracts can be tricky! You’ll prefer a provider that is flexible and does not lock you into a binding contract for years to come, with ever increasing non-negotiable rates. Over time, you may find that you don’t need your landfill or recyclables collected as often, or you may want smaller bins. Make sure you understand when and how you can reduce collection frequency, types and bin sizes. In terms of contract termination, find out about the notice period as some providers offer very limited opportunity to opt out or change. The devil’s in the detail and it pays to read contracts carefully. Remember that a contract is a legal document. If you aren’t comfortable with the provider’s draft, you may like to seek legal advice.
7. Pricing: Find out how your provider calculates fees, based on collection frequency; actual weight of collected materials vs bin size; and type of materials. Remember it’s often more affordable to have a larger bin emptied fortnightly or even monthly. If your bins are half empty and you get charged the same amount as you would for a full bin, you’re not getting good value for money. Don’t be shy, ask to have a closer look at their cost strategies and see if they have a cost calculator to work out the best pricing. You also want to know about annual cost increases, any hidden fees, fees to make changes to the contract, and if the provider is offering incentives to maximise recycling. Specifically check if recycling and food bins are offered at lower rates than landfill. Food, for example, can be turned into compost - it’s a commodity. Ask how much you can save if you have a separate food / green bin. While a little time consuming at the start, it’s worth getting at least a couple of quotes to negotiate a good deal.
8. Acceptable items: Pay close attention to the items the provider cannot accept and why:
Can all food waste types be accepted? Providers should be able to collect most types of food waste but there may be some items where they are limited (e.g. oyster or mussel shells).
Plastic- what types of plastic can they NOT recycle? Remember the plastic recycling landscape is changing due to export bans and supply of recycled plastic exceeding demand. Many providers will therefore only accept high quality plastics and you’ll want to know if your materials are accepted before you’re locked into a contract.
What about hazardous materials? If you have hazardous materials (e.g. lubricants, chemicals, oils), it’s best to let the provider know early as they may not have the ability to remove them. They should be able to provide advice and point you in the right direction.
If certain items are not acceptable, don’t hesitate to ask ‘why’ and if they can provide an alternative solution.
9. Training: some providers assist with initial audits to help you reduce your waste and improve your recycling efforts. Check if they provide free training for staff and contractors (e.g. cleaners) as this can be really helpful in reducing bin contamination and volume, which in turn can save you a lot of money. Lastly, ask if they provide bin signage and posters to help you communicate with the wider team and customers (depending on your business). If you’re located in a strip of shops with shared bin locations, it’s important to communicate with other businesses and have clear signage to ensure your bins are being used correctly.
10. Skips: if you need a skip, we encourage you to be extra careful in selecting your provider. Ask how they process the skip content and how much gets recycled and where. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t send an entire truck load to landfill. There are plenty of good skip companies out there who’ll do the right thing and support your reputation as a responsible business.
A special note about compostable bioplastics
Many food venues have shifted to compostable bioplastic takeaway packaging. It’s sensational to see so many businesses wanting to do the right thing for the environment!
What many people don’t realise is that most compostable bioplastics require commercial composting facilities to decompose at high heat. They can’t go into the traditional fossil-fuel based plastic recycling stream, nor can they go into a standard home compost bin. If your business offers takeaway in compostable bioplastics and these are consumed close to your premises, make sure you mention this to your waste provider and ask them to help you ensure you compost them rather than sending them to landfill. They can often help you set up a separate bin for your customers. It sends a very positive message to your patrons as they’ll love that you’re doing the right thing.
We’ve also seen examples of several businesses banding together in a strip for a joint ‘compostable bioplastics’ collection. We are here to support you in getting this off the ground in your precinct! Please contact us and we can look at options together.
Resource Recovery Directory
(Amy Y: which site would you prefer we link to? PlanetArk?):
Planet Ark's business recycling directory lists a wide range of resource recovery services (including collection, transport or drop-off points).