How One Man Started A Recycling Program

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Real Readers is an series featuring the stories of real people making a difference in the world. Are you or someone you know going above and beyond to do something for the Earth? Tell us about it!

You are walking through your company’s cafeteria and buy a bottle of soda. After you finish your drink, you go to throw the bottle in the recycling bin and realize that there isn’t one. The same thing happens to you a few hours later when you accidentally print two sets of the same report. Do you just throw all this recyclable waste away? What can you do?

Pat Cosby, engineering aide for the Columbus Water Works in Columbus, Ga., felt the same way. One day as he was walking through the drafting room at his work, he went to throw something away and discovered all 10 trashcans available to him were full. It was a shock that all of this paper was simply being thrown away.

He started a personal mission to collect all of the copy paper and blueprints thrown into the trash every day for a month. At the end of each workday, he pulled all of the paper out of the trashcans, folded it and placed it in stacks around his work area. By the end of the month, he had such a large pile that his desk was barely visible.

He decided that all of this waste was simply too much to put back in the trash cans, and instead loaded it in his truck and took it to a local paper recycler. Then, Pat obtained some large recycling bins and directed his fellow co-workers to dispose of the paper in these bins in lieu of the trash cans.

Gaining Momentum

A few months later, they cleaned out their archive room and managed to recycle 400 pounds of paper. That was just the start. As Pat’s enthusiasm grew, so did the company’s passion for recycling. Suddenly they were recycling everything: aluminum cans, plastic bottles, cardboard, floppy disks and CDs.

He even made it a point to ask the maintenance crew to take old, burnt out fluorescent bulbs, place them back into their boxes and drop them off at Home Depot. This way, they could ensure that the items were disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. “Since 2001, we have kept over 147,000 pounds of paper and cardboard out of the landfill,” Pat noted.

After Pat conquered recycling at his work place, he began to see more potential in the community. For several years, Pat would drive through town after Christmas and see several trash bags and cardboard boxes out by the curb, filled with wrapping paper and packaging material (i.e. cardboard) left over from the holidays. This bothered Pat considerably, and he decided to take action.

Be a community superhero and start your own program. -

Be a community superhero and start your own program. -

Get it Started

Last year, Pat launched a community-wide Christmas wrapping paper recycling program. And here’s how he did it:

  1. He contacted the director of the city’s curbside recycling program and pitched his idea.
  2. He contacted Caraustar Industries, which is one of the city’s local paper and cardboard recyclers. They were all too happy to assist Pat, and the city of Columbus lent four trucks to assist with collecting the wrapping paper and cardboard. These were to be set up at the community’s four Christmas tree recycling drop off sites, which were located in parks around the town. Caraustar would then pick up the trucks when it was time.
  3. The next part was toughest for Pat. He had to get the word out, and there was absolutely no budget to do so. So, he went to work contacting the local television stations and the newspaper. The television stations gave him airtime that enabled him to market this new program. In addition to this, the newspaper wrote an article about it. Pat also spread the word through church leaders, in hopes that they would put this information into the hands of their congregations.

When all was said and done, Pat collected 500 pounds of wrapper paper. For the Christmas 2008 season, Pat ran the project again and collected 720 pounds. When asked about Christmas 2009, Pat said, “My goal this time around is 1,000 pounds.”

Looking Forward

Pat has additional hopes for starting another program in the near future for recycling clothes. His hope is to find a company that will accept used clothes that are not in good enough shape to donate, so they aren’t simply thrown away.

What You Can Do

If starting a recycling program in your community is right up your alley, Pat has plenty of advice. For a start, get in touch with your local paper recycling company if one exists. Usually, they are more than happy to help. They may assist in lending bins that you can set up at drop-off sites for members of the community to utilize. When these bins are full, you can usually contact them and they will pick them up and switch them out with empty bins.

Knowing the lingo helps as well. When you call up your local paper recycler, they will generally refer to this type of paper (wrapping paper) as “rag” paper, because the fiber content is small, which is why you cannot usually recycle this type of waste in your general recycling bins.

The next step is to get the word out. Contact your local news stations, radio stations, newspapers, schools, and churches. And most importantly, be motivated, diligent and optimistic!

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  1. just wanted to say how wonderful, our little family does what it can to pass it forward & we are lucky that our town has curbside pick up for most recyclables (glass, paper, plastic, cardboard ect) & we have some local charities for most other things (even a book exchange to drop off old magazines, books & catalogs at two Burger Kings) but their is a real lack of public drop offs. Your forward thinking wants me to ask around thanks.

  2. Pat’s story is a great encouragment to anyone who is looking for a way to make a difference. What a privilege it is to have “The Man” as a vital part of our community. Keep up the great work, Pat!

  3. What an inspiration! Just goes to show that ONE person CAN make not only a difference by his own actions, but actually can help engage others who never really thought about it before. I believe most people care, but just haven’t taken the time to realize some of the consequences of their actions. People like Pat show that one person’s effort to help the planet can turn a ripple into a wave of action that benefits us all. Kudos to Pat!

  4. Wow! What a story from one simple man. It puts the rest of us to shame. Just think what would happen if even 50% of the population were this recycle-conscious. Good work, Pat Cosby!

  5. My God are you an inspiration!! You can’t imagine how nuts it makes me that our office building doesn’t recycle. When I asked they said it’s mostly paper! Yeah? how about all the other waste we make? i.e. aluminum and plastic cups etc.? I want to go around each office in this building and ask them for 1 month to just collect the plastic accumulated in their offices that aren’t recycled!! by law I am told office buildings do not meet the same stringent codes!! Can you imagine MANHATTAN!! how much more could be done. I swear I would do it if I had someone with a big truck come and pick all this stuff up and really take it to be recycled. Bless you Pat Cosby! I wish I could do what you did!!! Should I give it a go?? would any one be interested to sponsor me??? you can do so by contact me via email.. Please know I do not want any thing in return, only your dedication to making sure this planet doesn’t continue to die a little every day..thanks for reading!

  6. Our Church members recycle the plastic, glass, cans and paper from the Church functions and everyday use. The Church would be charged for recycling so the members alternate taking the material and add it to their home recycling bins. We use large plastic Kitty liter containers to collect the recyclable items.

  7. Thank you everyone for all of the wonderful things you have said. Your kind words truly mean a lot to me and offer me a great deal of encouragement as well! I have been encouraged by some local folks to put together a web site that is all about the wrapping paper project, and I have begun to do so. I aim to have it ready for visitors by early fall of this year.

    To respond to Sonia about her desire to get her folks on board with recycling – there was no email shown so I elected to do a response as a post so perhaps others could benefit as well. There is a lot to say but I will try to be as short as I can and still offer you some suggestions. If you want to know more, or want me to go deeper – I can almost write a book on this stuff – feel free to write me at

    I can suggest to you a few things – but bear in mind it will be a lot of work for you personally! If you really want to do this, start by getting permission (and hopefully support) from the powers that be in your department, then find a place to keep the collected materials so they will not be a safety hazard to any one or a fire hazard to the building.

    Then you will have to make it really SIMPLE for everyone else. If it is paper you want to collect, near the copy machine, scoot the trash can over a bit and put a container next to it clearly marked “Recycle”. When you are near the copy machine tell folks to send the trash to the recycle box and not to the trash.

    Try not to get too upset when you co-horts constantly use the containers as trash buckets – it drives me crazy, but it is just par for the course.

    If it is aluminum and tin cans you want to do – if you have a break room near your area, put a recycle collection box or can there – again, it has to be very simple for the folks or else they will not want to participate. DO encourage NOT using styrofoam as it can not be recycled – instead, encourage them to bring their own cups/mugs from home and use them instead.

    Now, it will be up to YOU to watch over these containers and keep them emptied and neat and you will have to be sure the collected materials make it to the curbside on the collection day. There is just SO much I could tell you – but just don’t have the space here.

    Try to have a couple of co-workers around you to help you. I have a little help here and there but mostly, I have it to do by myself and it eats up a lot of my time at work as well as personal time.

    OH, So much to say, so little time! Sonia, I really hope that these things help you in at least making a serious attempt at it. Trust me, it is often very difficult to get people to change the their routines, but do know that there are a lot more folks out there that want to recycle, but they just have not been directly challenged or encouraged to do so.

    I hope the best of luck to you and everyone else who is encouraging and challenging others to recycle – it is a truly rewarding thing for me and I hope more people will come on board! Thank you all and together, WE CAN make a difference!

  8. I own a resale shop, so I thought that recycling other items besides clothing would be a great idea and could ask my customers to bring in other things that we could recycle, but when I called the local govt. recycling office they wanted to charge me for a recycling bin, about $60 a mo. I didn’t realize that businesses were being charged to recycle. It was definitely a turnoff and something we couldn’t afford to pay for.

  9. Pat , you are ve done great job, u are inspiration to me and other persons around me , who use to think on ur lines but didnt ve courage and inspiration to start recyling papers in our town , in our area in india we do not ve local recycling stations , i am very much thrilled to start thisvery earlly
    Keep it up pat

  10. Hi. I am a teacher at Sivananda FET School(Elangeni Collage). With my learners we are working on a project of CAN-CRASHER,with the aim of storing for recycling.I would be very pleased if you can help us in the Technological Process.

  11. Hi I want to open a recycling center of all types and want to help the public out with recycling and to put alittle money in there pockets and would like to know where all the BIG Company are to take my Loads in the USA.?
    Can one person take there loads to another state for high cash value.?
    Please contact me at my email.

  12. I’m a bartender and at first I started to bring home only champagne bottles to recycle. Than it progressed to champagne and wine bottles. Before long it I added beer bottles, plastic bottles, metal cans, and the cardboard boxes they all came in. In my neighborhood they pick up recyclables only twice a month and every time they picked up I had, on average, 20 boxes of neatly organized recyclables. One sad day I went to retrieve my recycle bins from the curb to find a note on my door that I couldn’t bring home recyclables from work any longer or they wouldn’t be serviced. Of course I want to set up a program to recycle all these valuable materials from work but I don’t know how to go about it. Please help it pains me to see the trash cans filled up all the time with the material I used to bring home.

  13. Hi myself Anthony, i am from Mumbai, INDIA.
    i too want to contribute to Global warmimg awareness.
    could u keep me some advice on how to start the paper recycle process.
    whom to meet and is there any expense.
    if u could plz find out the website so that i could contact such organisations in INDIA.

    Anthony F. W.

  14. Hi,
    I am from Trinidad and Tobago and I would like to begin recycling newspaper but there is no company that does that presently. I was wondering if i could do it at home and make my own recylced paper that I could possibly sell or use. How do i start is my biggest question? Could someone help me?

  15. Hi, I live in the British Virgin Islands and we dont have any recycling program in place. I am trying to create on begining with our Government. We do not have a local recycling plant here so i need ur advice and suggestions as to what is my next step not having this plant in place

  16. Great story. I’m new to this, but I appreciate all the comments and suggestions. I’ve started a program in my church office and am slowly incorporating it into the entire church community. We have curbside recycling in the city I live in, but not the county. It’s frustrating, but I call on my patience often. It was recently called to my attention, that in at least one of our city offices they don’t have recycling. I think this deserves a letter to the editor of our local newspaper and phone call to the mayor.

  17. i work in a casino and they dont recycle so for months i have been hounding any body in charge about recycling, they say they need to get permission from corp office , well just i day i collected all plastic for 3 hours not going out of my way and i got about 50 pounds and there was nothing i could do with it unless i would take the risk of getting fired i have volentered to collect it to take to recycle plant and i have to wait for approval and every day a huge trash truck comes and takes a house size bin to dump is there not any laws about this it really pisses me off by the way i work in nv

  18. Pingback: Living Green Below Your Means » Blog Archive » What to do if your office doesn’t recycle

  19. hi i want to open up a place were people can gring bottles cans plastic to i would like to no how i can do this people bring in there stuff and thern i pay therm for the cans and bottles &plactic 5 cents per can and thern i recycl it to a scrape yard can some body out there tell me how i can do this thank you email me at ok thank you glenn froment.

  20. hi i want to open up a place were people can bring bottles cans plastic to i would like to no how i can do this people bring in there stuff and thern i pay therm for the cans and bottles &plactic 5 cents per can and thern i recycl it to a scrape yard can some body out there tell me how i can do this thank you email me at ok thank you glenn froment.

  21. Folks: Has anyone noticed that there is no analysis and no questioning of why anyone is recycling? It is taken for granted that this is desirable. Would you be amazed to learn that once you subject recycling to some deeper analysis you discover that it is inefficient, wasteful and a way to support the creation and discarding of garbage? Recycling is a bit better than filling up a dump, but it is far, far from the best way to conserve resources. Recycling is a way of supporting the design of throw away products. It is a post-discard approach. First throw stuff away, then try to find some low level, barely worthwhile way to use up the least important part of what your products are made out of – the bare materials. Compared to redesigning products to be FUNCTIONALLY reused, repaired, refilled, remanufactured etc. for their original function, recycling is a paltry, almost useless afterthought. Why else do you think the garbage industry loves it so? The simplest example is the difference between REMELTING a glass bottle and REFILLING it. See the website.

  22. Pingback: New Dream Blog » Blog Archive » What to do if your office doesn’t recycle

  23. Hello, Pat had the MOJO to take action. Giving me more energy that it can be done! I run an east coast clutter cleanout company with the main goal of recycling, we have two resale stores that I have started to have customers bring in recyclables and we will take the steps to get it back to a recycler. we are small but I can feel the excitement with customers starving to do the right thing.

  24. Hello Everyone,

    A recent emailer from this site hade me to revisit and I was surprised to see that not only have the comments and suggestions continued, but “Earth 911” has developed a special slot just for the wrapping paper element. It has been several months since I was last here so I am impressed that the forum has continued.

    With that being said, let me offer one nuggett to the panel – and if you will, bear this in mind for anythine you may post to a thread – if you are really asking for some specific information, it could be helpful to have an email for folks to respond to. I have received several notes from folks asking for very specific suggestions, ideas, directions, encouragement, etc. and I have been most glad to offer whatever bit of help I could to them. I would love to know how those efforts are going.

    There was one man in Washington DC that wanted to start a recycling program in the complex he manages. This complex was 3 units total and each “unit” has something like 20 floors, with 18 (more or less) rooms per floor. He wanted some ideas on how to set it up as funds was not an option and I told him how I would go about it. That was back at the first of the year so I would really love to know how that is going.

    Now to make a few quick responces – “mcorpc c” I understand you work in a casino in Navada. It really surprises me that Los Vagas does not have some kind of recycling program in place ether public or (especially) private. You may have to do a lot of work to get aplan into place for your casino. Here is what I would do. I would get out the phone book (on a day off of course) and start talking to people in the waste industry to see what kind of interest you might be able to turn up. From there you would have to continue to knock on doors and rattle some bushes – at that point you would activly looking for people and or companies that could do something – perhaps one could contact the casino and offer to pick up the materials from them for free IF they at least collect it and put it in one spot for them. I anticipate there is a very large fee assiciated with a casino generating so much wast that is going to a landfill so perhaps study the numbers and sho the powers that be that “…if we recycled 10,000 lbs of plastic a week, we could drop the landfill fees by $4000 each week…”.

    That is just a place to start – give it a try and see where it goes – just don’t do something that would de comprimising to your employment, in this econimy, keeping the employment you have is a good thing!

    To: “Amilcar”, “Anestasia Tonge”, “Jeannette Morris”…You folks are in a much more difficult environment that we are here (usa) state side. What I would suggest for each of you is to start making calls and visiting local government officials, and even private enterprises to see who would be willing to step up and take the lead for such an effort. You may also try doing a LOT of research to see who in your region BUYS scrap materials and contact them to work out a means of them taking delivery of your waste. If they do not do it directly, perhaps they know of someone who could help.

    The key for any effort is to start talking to other people and ask questions, always look for answers and never give up! I believe that by talking to the right people, that pretty much anything is possible.

    As for “Jerry Guzman” the bartender – send me a note to my email address and I will have a series of questions to ask you and hopefully I can help you to find a solution to your delimma.

    Now – having said all of that…I am NOT an expert at any of this! I am a fallable human just like anyone else – I just happen to feel that we humans create far too much waste and as stewards of our (ONLY) planet – we must be more responsible for our actions and stop wasting our natural resources for the sake of convienence. If I had my way, anything that can be created by man MUST be made of renewable sources and must be able to be reused, reclaimed, recycled, repourposed or fully biodegradeable or some fome of all othe rest. It is a pipe dream, but if one must dream, might as well dream BIG right?

    Anyway, I will close here. I hope that some of this helps each of you in your efforts to make a difference. Just start talking to folks, call officials, do research. We are the ones that created the waste problem and it is up to us to fix it. It will not happen over night, but the more we try, the better off we all will be.

  25. For newspapers, you can learn about worm composting. Newspaper are compostable so you can make biodegrable planters and let them be planted in the ground and leave them there because they will decompose on their own.

  26. I have invented an aluminum can and plastic baleing machine that I belive will completely change the way home recycling is done. No longer will you have to put up with torn or ripped plastic bags of aluminum cans that collect critters like sugar does ant’s. It will even crush glass so it can be stored in a more economical way. As for aluminum cans they will be baled into neat stacks which can be stored very easly in a very small area. Now you can have weight instead of volume. Best of all you can treat them like stacks of money. You can now store when the price is down and sell when the price is right.
    Just go on the net and type in and you should go straight to the web page.

    Thanks Joe (the can man)

  27. I have recently moved to St. Croix Virgin Islands. I was stunned to find
    out we currently have very little recycling going on. I joined the local recycling commitee as soon I moved in. I am trying to convince everyone, to steer towards plastic. ( there is awful lot of here.) Ther is no goverment run programs, and funding is very limited. How do I go about finding a buyer for #1 plastic and where to get the equipment for recycling?
    Our island will soon be one giant dump.
    Thanks, Mary

  28. Kudos to Pat, and all the others out there who are doing their part, and good luck to those just starting!

    A few years ago at my previous satellite office of about 50 people, the confidential papers were placed in a few large wheeled plastic 65 gal. HIPAA-compliant locked containers with a handle and a narrow recessed paper slot in the lid which were emptied periodically by a company contracted to shred confidential documents. No other waste was recycled. I received permission to start on my own recycling paper, plastic, glass, and metal cans, and the company ordered a blue plastic 23 gal., 30 inch tall trash container marked with recycling symbol, which was placed in the break room next to the vending machines. I printed a list of recyclables and non-recyclables from our city recycling program, posted it on the wall above the container, spread the word by email, used the trash can liners from the cleaning crew, and took a full bag home with me every few days to place in our blue plastic wheeled 65 gal. city curbside recycling container. Also I kept an eye out at the office for the empty cardboard paper boxes and other cardboard boxes. This worked well for about six months when the company stepped up and contracted a recycling company to provide a lidded plastic 65 gal. container placed in the break room which they emptied weekly. I plan to ask permission at my new office to do the same.

    I agree with Paul Palmer above that we need to also look at other possibilities in addition to recycling; that’s probably why the phrase “REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE” was adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (see their website). In particular, did you ever notice how much of the packaging of the products we buy every day is NOT recyclable? We need to encourage manufacturers to use more recyclable materials or when possible, no packaging at all, and we need state and federal laws to enforce these practices. And I agree with Pat as above: “…anything that can be created by man MUST be made of renewable sources and must be able to be reused, reclaimed, recycled, repurposed or fully biodegradable or some form of all of the rest.”

  29. I’m from the Philippines and recently transferred here in Oklahoma. The plastic containers here has become the way of life. I started segregating plastics and turning the garage as storage area but I dont know where to send them. I dont know a lot of people except my husband’s family. I’ve asked my mother-in-law where she sends her plastic containers but all she did was stack them up in their backyard. I started checking the area for recycle centers and found a couple in the internet which I have to check with my husband for the location.

    As I was reading the different experiences and comments, I felt empowered to gather again the plastics at home and separate them from everyday trash. I need more guts and perseverance like Pat and the others to do what we can for a better earth.

    I’m very much willing to receive emails for more inputs about recycling projects at

  30. Hello Brandy,

    Great article on one man who is making a dramatic difference in helping to save the environment. His proactive approach is a great step in the right direction and a lesson for all.


  31. I am in process of initiating an education program in my community inorder to educate citizens about mercury in fluorescent tube lights and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Because fluorescent tube and CFL light bulbs contain mercury, they must be properly disposed of through Hazardous Household Waste facilities and NOT disposed of along with household garbage and/or household recyclables. In my community, the only place to properly dispose of fluorescent tubes and CFL light bulbs is at the county Environmental Collection Center which requires citizens to drive approximately 45 minutes each way in order to properly dispose of these mercury laden light bulbs and insure that they are not improperly disposed of, resulting in them poisoning our local landfills. Since their is neither a current education program nor a convenient bulb disposal system in my community, I fear that fluorescent tubes and CFL light bulbs are routinely disposed of improperly either along with regular household garbage or along with standard recyclables. Either way, improper disposal will result in ever increasing mercury poisioning at all area landfill sights. With this said, I am looking for any and all suggestions on how to accomplish my goal of proper fluorescent tube and CFL light bulb disposal in my community. Ideally, I would like my community to offer curbside collection, but would be happy with an organized and efficient system of community supported bulb disposal. I welcome any and all constructive suggestions, strategies used in other communities, and last but not least, real stories of success.

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