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May 2001

Delphi Question: Recycling operations

Question #469 (received 9 February):

There are ongoing problems with recycling operations at UCAR/NCAR. Recently it was announced that [Physical Plant Services] is looking for volunteers to help train our contracted custodial staff. "High custodial turnover" was mentioned as the source of the problems, but really it goes deeper than just that. We will continue to have such problems as long as we rely on a contracted custodial service.

The turnover in such services is high because they're probably paying minimum wages, offering little or no other tangible benefits, and relying almost exclusively on a relatively transient labor force. Good economic times ensure that such jobs can be found nearly anywhere.

Even without any turnover, it's probably still difficult to convey the importance of recycling to the many laborers. Language and cultural barriers contribute, but they would not otherwise be insurmountable if only turnover was not such a predominant factor.

There can be no doubt that we're failing to meet our goals as spelled out in UCAR Policy 1-1-22, "Environmental Stewardship." (see the policy.) For the last several years, we've fairly well stagnated or even fallen backwards in meeting those goals. For instance, we no longer collect and properly deal with paperboard or "OP2." Contamination issues jeopardize our existing office-paper- recycling program. Other items that also were once recycled here are no longer. Most of this can be attributed to failings of our contracted custodial service—failings that are not likely to be permanently remedied, given the aforementioned problems.

Not all that long ago, UCAR used to have its own custodial staff. There was considerable controversy when those employees were laid off and the work was contracted out. Frankly, it's deplorable that an organization such as ours with a large staff of well-educated people making generally good salaries is offering (via a contractor) low-paying jobs with few or no benefits to people desperate enough to take them.

While it's admirable that we have a devoted set of volunteers to help promote and manage recycling operations and that we're scheduling our own training sessions to help out the contract service, this is not a satisfactory long-term solution. We need our own custodial staff to meet our established policy effectively and move forward with our longer-term goals.

How much do we really save by contracting out custodial services? Please factor in the cost of "managing" the contractor, as we've had to do rather extensively all along and propose to do even more of now.

Response (23 March):

There seem to be several issues raised in this Delphi question. I will try to respond to each of them.

Because most of the complaints about problems with recycling efforts come to us via the Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC), Physical Plant Services staff felt it would be more effective to request the participation of the committee and other interested parties in demonstrating to custodial personnel what the recycling problems are and how they can be corrected within the limitations of the custodial firm's contract obligations. I note that we also asked interested staff to help train the custodial staff about proper recycling processes when the custodial staff were UCAR employees.

The current economic climate in Colorado, and particularly on the Front Range, has created turnover problems for any employer needing to fill jobs in the lower salary ranges. This is true of other jobs in these salary ranges occupied by UCAR employees. There is no evidence that the turnover rate among the custodial staff changed when we hired a contractor for these services.

The decision, made several years ago, to eliminate the in-house custodial staff in favor of contracted services was based on significant economic, performance, and management considerations. If UCAR were to reinstate an in-house custodial staff, our pay rates would not be much different from those presently paid by our contractor. Our past experience has demonstrated that an in-house custodial group would require considerably more management than a contracted service, and this was one of the reasons for the decision to move to a contractor. Although UCAR would offer a benefits package that might be better than our contractor provides its employees, historical evidence in some of UCAR's lower paying job categories indicates that we would experience the same high turnover as our contractor.

As for language and cultural barriers, these are issues that, with the increasing globalization of our population, we all must learn to overcome at all levels of our staff and in our lives away from UCAR. UCAR staff must extend the same courtesies and equal treatment to the contracted staff as we do to our fellow employees.

Other than the fact that we no longer collect the low-grade mixed paper formerly labeled OP2, UCAR management, the Contracts Office, Physical Plant Services, and Safety and Site Services have met and continue to meet the responsibilities outlined in UCAR Policy 1-1- 22. The decision to discontinue collecting OP2 was based on a decision by Eco-Cycle to no longer provide collection services for this grade of paper. Other than hanging files and interoffice mail envelopes, our facility generates very few OP2 materials. Eco- Cycle will still accept OP2 paper delivered to its facility. More information on what guides UCAR's paper-recycling efforts can be found at Eco-cycle.

We do in fact experience some contamination of our recycled paper, although this is not necessarily attributable to our custodial contractor. The contractor's responsibility is to collect the desk-side recycling and place it in the Eco-Cycle collection hoppers. The contractor's responsibility is to insure that categories of recycling do not get intermixed. Our employees are also responsible for not mixing different categories of materials, for example mixing desk-side recycled paper with aluminum cans. The contractor has to assume that employees are using the desk- side recycling bins properly, as recommended by ESC. We plan to remind all staff about proper recycling practices.

In summary, our contractor may not be doing a perfect job of collecting recyclable materials. This does not mean that we are failing to meet our goals for recycling. It does mean that we need more effort by all concerned with recycling at UCAR to insure that we are meeting our goals within the guidelines of our Environmental Stewardship Policy.

—John Pereira, director Physical Plant Services

Questions and suggestions from the staff to management may be submitted in confidence to the coordinator, Janet Evans (ext. 1114, ML room 517). They should be submitted in written form, preferably via interoffice mail in a sealed envelope marked confidential; they must be signed. Detailed procedures for submitting questions are given in the UCAR Policies and Procedures Manual, section 4-1-2. Questions and answers of general interest to staff are submitted to Staff Notes Monthly by Janet. They may be edited for publication. For more information, including links to questions and answers published in Staff Notes Monthly and a log of all questions submitted since 1995, see the Delphi Service Web page.


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Last revised: Mon May 21 14:55:25 MDT 2001