Recycling

Q

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
http://www.ucar.edu/esp/policy.html
.) 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.

Answered on March 23, 2001

A

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