A fun Blog to share fun and easy ways to be green!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Green police: Recycling in the workplace

Editors Note: Chances are, you're probably a recycling police yourself. I'm the one in my circle!

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

You see them every day at work. They might be in the cubicle next to you or lurking near the waste cans in the copy room or the cafeteria.

They pull soda cans out of the trash and cast a critical eye at colleagues as they pull papers off the copier. Often their e-mail signatures read, "Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail."

They are the green police, and they are watching you.

And Karl Mockros is one of them.

Bending over a recycling bin in the copy room of his downtown office last month, Mockros let out a long sigh. He pulled out a plastic spoon and held it up.

"These can't be recycled," he said, sounding only mildly perturbed. He dropped the spoon into the wet trash bin and walked on.

As vice-president of Waste Management's Recycle America division, it's Mockros' job to think green. But for Mockros, recycling isn't merely a job. It's a lifestyle.

A year ago, he prompted the company to "walk the talk" and beef up the recycling efforts at corporate headquarters. Mockros' plan made it easy for his co-workers to recycle with a single bin to toss their cans, bottles and paper. How tough could it be?

The program, while successful, still has a few kinks, he said with a smile. There are some in the building that need an extra push. And Mockros is more than happy to provide it.

When co-workers forget their recycling manners during lunch meetings in the conference room, he speaks up. "I say, what are you doing? What is wrong with you? There are two containers here. Pick one," said Mockros, laughing.

A few blocks away at the Hilton Americas-Houston, John Kolata could be known as the "Green Marine."

As the hotel's executive steward, the former Marine certainly looks the part, with his strawberry blond flattop and a no-nonsense gait. His job is to ensure that the hotel's expansive kitchen is spic and span. But since April, he's also been the hotel's recycling czar.

"You give me something to do, and I'm going to toe the line," Kolata said.

Accordingly, Kolata approaches the operation like a military directive — structured, simple and strict. Leftovers are scraped into the green composting bin; soiled "wet trash" into the gray bins; plastic, aluminum and clean paper into the black bins. It's not easy. The staff is extremely busy serving thousands of meals each day.

Only two people hold the key to the large gates that guard the hotel's gargantuan composting bin. Kolata is one of them.

Keeping the 34-yard container on lockdown is necessary, not because of the foul smell, but "to keep people honest," Kolata said. He can't risk contaminating the compost if something other than food or waxed cardboard is tossed into it.

"We believe that 90 percent of what comes through the hotel can be recycled," he said.

Six months into the Hilton Americas-Houston ecotransformation, the hotel's staff of about 1,000 is on board. But Kolata still acts as the big baby sitter.

"You have to keep pounding it home, pounding it home, pounding it home," he said.

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