How to Set Up a Recycling Bin

BigBelly recycle binPhoto: George100

Setting up a recycle bin in a business (store, restaurant, office) or an institution is not as simple as your home recycle bin. Several factors including placement and signs are important to their success.

Recycle Bin Placement
Something not everyone knows about recycling is that water and soda bottles should be emptied before being placed in recycling bins. Full bottles, or bottles with any liquid in them, mean extra weight in the trucks that transport recyclables – and the more a truck weighs, the more gasoline is consumed, making the whole process less environmentally friendly.

When we set up some recycling bins at a conference, we experienced the non-empty bottle problem. We set up wireframe-style recycling bins that hold a trash bag. Throughout the day, we watched the bags fill up. When we went to take down the bins at the end of the day, we almost could not pick them up without the trash bag breaking. We found that many of the beverage bottles were more than half full!

Empty bottlesPhoto: Toby Otter

To encourage people in offices and public places to properly recycle their plastic bottles, ecycler recommends placing recycling bins next to sinks or drains so that people can empty the bottles first. Or, placing a sign on the recycling bin to remind people to empty their bottles before depositing them in the bin.

Also, the recycle bin should be placed near to a trash can. Some people are creatures of convenience and will not seek out the garbage can if the recycle bin is more convenient for their dumping. In that case, garbage will end up in the recycle bin and can possibly taint the recyclables.

Recycle Bin Liners
What’s the point of a recycle bin liner? Despite the extra cost, the liner keeps the bin clean. It also makes it really easy for the collector to grab the contents of the bin. This is an important point, especially in a public (restaurant, shop, etc.) setting. The liner keeps any wasted liquids contained and it keeps all the bugs out. A clean (even hygienic) bin will continue to look nice and be an inviting asset to one’s store or restaurant.

recycle bin linersPhoto: Chuck Marean

The ecycler collector will be able to more quickly remove the contents of a bin that has a liner, rather than transferring the contents into another bag or a larger container. The transfer process not only adds time to the collector’s duties, but the noise (especially from aluminum cans) is an unwanted side-effect.

We, at ecycler, suggest using compostable liners – obviously a better choice for the environment. Or, at a minimum, liners that are manufactured with recycled plastics. The liners should be thick enough to resist tearing when the full bags are transported. A thickness of about 1.25 mil should be sufficient.

We’ve found that green or blue liners tend to reinforce the recycling idea. And, ideally the liners will have the universal recycling symbol printed on them. Ideally, you will find a liner made specifically for your recycling bin; otherwise, you can use a 30 or 33 gallon trash bag.

Recycle Bin Labels and Signage
When recycle bins are installed, one needs to clearly explain what is intended to be recycled. The bins therefore should be clearly labeled with what is expected to be recycled. For example, “Aluminum Cans ONLY!” or “Office Paper ONLY!“. People will only know the rules if you explain the rules to them.

Recycling bin labelPhoto: Cynthia Donovan

It is also a good idea to supplement the recycle bin label with some simple signage, as this will reinforce the message of the labels. But, don’t write a novel on the sign, as people will never read it! Just a few words to describe what should be recycled in this particular container. Attach the sign to the wall just behind the bin. Of course, it’s ideal to print the signs on 100% recycled paper.

Recycle Bin Materials
Recyclables can be placed in many kinds of bins. There are high-quality stainless steel receptacles, such as those found in commercial spaces and public transit depots. There are bins found in public parks, offices and outside municipal buildings. There are blue ones, green ones, yellow ones, red ones and white ones.

Some are made of corrugated plastic, others of formed plastic. Some have separate compartments for different kinds of recyclable items such as aluminum cans, newspapers and bottles. Others are simple bins, like the kinds many cities give to homeowners, in which all recyclables are tossed. Occasionally, bins are fashioned from wood and may include a lock to prevent animals (bears) from making a mess. Office paper is usually placed in blue trash-can like bins that a company picks up and removes for shredding.

The type of materials from which a recycle bin is made is determined by the type of environment in which the bin is to be placed. Whatever the kind of bin a home, office or public facility uses, the important thing is to encourage recycling by placing a container, clearly marked with a recycling symbol, out for people to see in high-traffic areas.

The Lesson
We’ve helped to set up hundreds of recycle bins over the years and our best practices can be condensed to the following five points:


  • Bottles and cans should be emptied before placing them in the recycle bin
  • Place a trash can near to the recycle bin for convenient disposal of trash in the appropriate receptacle and recyclables in their bin
  • Bins should have liners
  • Apply short and descriptive labels and signage to and around the bins
  • Right materials for right situation

Good luck with your next recycle bin!