Services & Maintenance: Waste Management Strategies

By Facility Executive Staff
From the January/February 2015 issue

Recycling in commercial enterprises is important because commercial waste makes up about 40% of total municipal solid waste, according to U.S. EPA. Many organizations are already collecting recyclables in high-profile programs, while others are in the beginning stages. Collecting recyclables requires effort and money, but it also saves money by reducing the volume of waste that an organization must dispose of. In addition, in some instances the sale of some recyclable materials can generate revenues for an organization.

Building a recycling program depends on projected costs and revenues, employee engagement, an organization’s environmental policy, solid waste laws, and community support. Facility Executive recently spoke with two facility professionals who are making strides at their organizations.

Brad Tomm, senior manager of campus operations and sustainability,, Las Vegas, NV.
Brad Tomm, senior manager of campus operations and sustainability,, Las Vegas, NV.

At the Zappos headquarters, what materials and items are recycled? In planning the recycling program, how much was influenced by internal goals and how much influenced by regulations (e.g. city, county)?

At the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas we recycle a wide variety of materials including the popular commodities such as cardboard, aluminum, plastics, paper, IT equipment, food scraps, and cooking oil. We also have special recycling events throughout the year for batteries, cell phones, and even Christmas trees. Our goal is pretty simple; we try to constantly increase recycling and decrease the amount of material we send to the landfill. Neither the City of Las Vegas nor Clark County requires residents or businesses to recycle. Recycling is championed by community members who realize that it is both good for business and good for the environment.

Please describe the logistics of the recycling program in your headquarters. What types of receptacles are used, and where are they placed throughout the facility? And, how do you engage occupants?

Inside Zappos’ LEED-Gold certified headquarters the sorting and recycling is performed by our employees. Instead of having individual trash/recycling baskets at an employee’s desk, we have split bin recycling cans spread throughout the office floors and in the breakrooms. Employees have to physically get up and walk to the recycling bin, which makes the whole experience active instead of passive; ultimately leading to increased recycling. Our awesomely passionate employees have really embraced office recycling and are always looking for ways to help out.

Zappos recycling policy. Throughout the day, our custodial team takes the separated materials to our recycling and waste management area where the bags are placed in either the recycling compactor or trash compactor. The compactors then go to either the recycling center or the landfill. The compactors are always weighed by the hauler, and we calculate our recycling rates based on these weights.

To keep employees engaged, our green team, LEAF, sends out occasional e-mails about changes to the recycling program, informational FAQs, and tips to improve the program. As with any company’s employee-focused programs, we sometimes have challenges keeping the engagement and motivation high. It’s natural for human beings to sometimes get set in their routine or become “too busy” to get involved.

While working at MGM Resorts International you developed programs that helped the company increase its recycling rate from 9.8% to more than 38%, between 2007-11. What key principles spurred this improvement?

The three key principles that spurred the recycling revolution on The Strip were: calculating the baseline recycling rates; creating a volunteer council to share best practices; and fostering friendly competition between the resorts. In 2008, I calculated the first recycling rates on The Strip for most of the large hotels. The rates were shockingly low and it was tough for most executives to swallow the news, but with that first baseline most resorts immediately set goals to improve their recycling programs.

Zappos composite photo.
At the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas, NV, the recycling program includes creating cardboard bales on site. The sale of those bales goes toward funding more environmental programs at the facility. (Photos:

Next, we created an intercompany Waste Council comprised of volunteers from each resort who were committed to tackling the operational systems of recycling. These early champions of recycling would meet quarterly to give updates and share best practices with their peers. We demonstrated to all present that recycling was doable and cost-effective for the company.

Finally, I created a simple recycling report that was circulated to all resort executives. All of the resorts were ranked by recycling rate, and no one wanted to be at the bottom of the list. Thus, recycling quickly started improve as the resorts competed with each other to be the number one recycler. Within a few years, recycling became a proud talking point for the hotels and casinos on The Strip. Since I left, I’ve heard recycling rates were getting close to 60% in 2014. That is a fantastic achievement and an incredible amount of waste being diverted from the landfill.

What changes, if any, in the marketplace have had the most impact on how you execute recycling at Zappos?

In Las Vegas, there is a franchise agreement that prevents competition for municipal solid waste hauling. However there is an open market for recycling services.

Having an open market for recycling has allowed many small businesses to enter the market and provide customer service-focused recycling services to companies like Zappos. Some of the small recycling businesses include the legendary Mr. Robert Combs at RC Farms, the famous pig farm in North Las Vegas, who started recycling in Las Vegas by collecting food scraps from the casinos’ buffets. I think that having competition for recycling services has helped advance and improve recycling for companies located in Las Vegas.

Paul O’Connell, director of technology services (also oversees environmental services), Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA.
Paul O’Connell, director of technology services (also oversees environmental services), Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA.

What motivated the decision to launch a composting program in 2010?

The composting program was part of an effort to become “more green” and to prepare for the 2014 Greenbuild Expo, the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual convention, coming to Morial Convention Center.

Since 2010, the Center been composting waste from the kitchen and foodservice areas on a regular basis. Our local environmental service partner, NOLA Green Roots, picks up and weighs the waste weekly.

What type of equipment was selected?

The initial equipment we chose was half yard containers in the kitchen areas. These are still in use today.

The composting efforts were taken to the next level for the Greenbuild meeting in 2014: a 30 yard open top container was placed in each of the four loading bays of the center to collect of the compostable waste from the front of house, such as cellulose based paper towels from the 34 restrooms.

Please describe the scope of the composting program. How has the volume of material changed since this program began?

Morial Convention Center. Collecting the waste for composting is done through our main prep kitchen. The volume has remained constant.

NOLA Green Roots estimated that during Greenbuild 2014, more than 9,000 pounds of organic material was composted. Another 2,827 pounds of food was donated to Second Harvest Food Bank.

Currently, the convention center diverts 15% of its waste to compost and recycling. During Greenbuild, the center exceeded its goal of 65% diversion, with a total of 78% of waste diverted to compost and recycling. This percentage represents more than 63,000 pounds of waste that was recycled in some way: aluminum, plastic and paper (19,500 pounds); cardboard (11,800 pounds); construction and demolition debris (10,460 pounds); plastic films (3,560 pounds); glass (3,854 pounds); and pallets (1,860 pounds).

In implementing the composting program, what type of training did the staff undergo?

Training staff involved instruction on what items are compostable and which are not. The biggest challenge has been to prevent the loads from being contaminated.

Prior to the launch of the composting program in 2010, recycling at Morial Convention Center was limited to cardboard. (Photos: Morial Convention Center.)
Prior to the launch of the composting program in 2010, recycling at Morial Convention Center was limited to cardboard. (Photos: Morial Convention Center.)

Please describe the process through which NOLA Green Roots collects materials from the convention center. Can you comment on how the materials collected from your facility are eventually used?

NOLA Green Roots send a truck to pick up the full containers and drops off empty ones. The materials are weighed off-site. NOLA Green Roots offers compost for sale.

What insight would you share with facility professionals who are considering composting for their facilities?

It requires a commitment, funding, and a local infrastructure to be able to compost. Food waste is very heavy and when removed from the landfill waste stream, this does reduce the pull cost per load.