Recycling Signage Best Practices

Looking to improve your company’s recycling program? Try improving your signage. Below are a few best practices for using recycling signage at your facility (click here to view example signs).

Image Source:; ID#: 416709460
Image Source:; ID#: 416709460

Label Everything
Using signage is a great way to increase participation in your recycling efforts and reduce the chance of contamination. But labeling one or two break room recycling containers will not be as effective as labeling everything. The best way to use recycling signage is by placing labels on and/or near every disposal container (or area) throughout your facility. This means labeling not just your recycling stations, but your organics, refuse, waste to energy, and any other waste stream collection area as well. For instance, if you collect cardboard boxes on a pallet and plastic film in a gaylord next to each other, be sure to have separate signs for each.

Color Code
Color coding can be as simple as keeping signage for all refuse containers one color and signage for all recycling containers another. However, when possible, assigning a color for each waste stream can help create pattern recognition for more successful behavior modification. For instance, if your facility collects cardboard, mixed office paper, supersacks, mixed plastic, and waste to energy as 5 separate waste streams, try having 5 specific colors for each stream’s signage. Some programs also color code containers to further build patterns for easy recognition.

Stay Eye Level
Recycling signage is useless if it isn’t visible. To ensure your recycling signage is easy to read, try placing it at eye level on or next to all containers. If your containers do not sit at eye level, consider hanging signs above them to draw attention downward to the container. In some instances, it may be best to have both a sign above the container and a label directly on the container.

Include Examples
Simply naming your recycling streams may not effectively translate what items should be placed with each stream. This is why it is very important to include examples in your signage. The best examples will be items that employees encounter on a daily basis. For example, if you want people to place corrugated containers, empty kraft ingredient bags, white cardboard, brown cardboard, tissue boxes, glove boxes, and dust mask boxes in a stream labeled “Cardboard,” list these items as examples on your signage.

Example - Recycling Signs - Include Examples
Example by Northstar Recycling

Include Pictures
Always include images of your examples. Even items people use daily may have multiple names. For instance, stretch film is sometimes referred to as LDPE film or plastic wrap. Images also can help clarify any extenuating factors affecting whether or not something should be recycled. For example, some kraft ingredient bags come with a poly lining while others do not. If you only want employees placing unlined kraft bags in your cardboard recycling stream, it would be helpful to include an image showing the unlined bag.

List Don’ts
Sometimes it can be just as helpful to clarify what should not be placed in a recycling container as what should. Looking back at the example of poly lined kraft bags vs. unlined kraft bags, if you do not want employees placing poly lined bags in your cardboard stream, consider including it in a list of “don’ts” at the bottom of your sign. Listing don’ts is a great way to address common recycling mistakes. However, to ensure this section does not overpower your list of positive examples, we suggest including it towards the bottom of your sign, perhaps in a smaller font.

Get Started
Now that you’ve read our best practices, it’s time to start improving recycling signage at your facility. For reference, we’ve included some examples you can view here. For best results, remember to be consistent and check with your recycler regarding what materials should go with each recycling stream. Good luck!

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