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We’ve been building exceptional office recycling & waste management programs for over 35 years. Here’s 8 key secrets we’ve unearthed that’ll build the zero waste program you’ve always wanted for your zero waste office and save you money in the process.
Let’s start with the facts.
Corporate Offices produce a lot of waste, most of which is easily recycled (in some instances, as much as 90% of office waste can actually be recycled!) with the correct program in place. By running an office recycling program, you can help ensure that the amount of trash that ends up in landfills is reduced, and that recyclable items are turned into new products:
- Each year, the average office worker uses 500 coffee cups, all of which are sent to landfills.
- According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper each year. The U.S. EPA estimates that paper and paperboard account for almost 40 percent of our garbage.
- Office waste costs UK business £15bn (~$19mil USD)
- When you use recycled paper instead of “virgin” paper, you are contributing to saving 7,000 gallons of water per ton of paper produced. That water can be better used combating the effects of drought. You’re also offsetting the 900,000,000 trees per year chopped down to make paper.
In the era of the Green Economy, it’s essential for every business to have an effective recycling program in place. An effective program focuses on reducing waste, reusing useful materials and recycling them. Ineffective office collection programs tend to generate a lot of waste, require regular maintenance and expensive waste disposal. Launching an office recycling program may seem like a daunting task, but when you break it down, it really isn’t that difficult. With the help of a few co-workers, you can easily get your company recycling program up and running in just a few weeks. Bearing these things in mind, let’s take a look at 8 key ways to enhance the effectiveness of your workplace waste management program.
- Always begin with a preliminary waste audit to categorize and quantify your campus waste
Step one of building a successful waste management program for any industry begins with identifying and categorizing the types and quantity of waste produced by every department of your organization. Use a map of your office space and surrounding grounds to identify key areas (i.e parking lots, cubicles, lunch rooms, private offices, meeting rooms, etc.) and begin to identify what types of waste is being generated in each area.
Performing a preliminary waste audit will unearth the areas are where you’ll find a significant portion of the waste generation at your facility.
For some more quick direction, here’s an awesome infographic outlining the average worker’s waste generation produced by Roadrunner:
- Build a Green Team
How much time do your employees have to spare for sustainability initiatives?
If the answer is less than you would like, a green team can be the most valuable ally in your quest for building an effective recycling program.
A Green Team can be a small group of employees whose combined goal is to educate, empower and inspire fellow staff and fans to establish and promote environmentally sustainable practices within their organization. Every new initiative needs a full launch campaign and a group of influencers that will help build the momentum of your program. Without a green team, it will be very difficult to get your new waste management program off the ground.
To setup your green champions for long term success, make sure this group has formal oversight, tools for measurement and verification, and a clear mission.
- Communicating your program to your employees and your property management staff is essential
Make sure employees know about your new or existing recycling initiatives.
Will they need to rinse out food containers before recycling them? Is plastic wrap or film accepted? Questions like these are unique to every office recycling program due to their location and county recycling contracts. Consider also placing posters with what is and is not accepted near any larger recycling bins that are spread throughout the office.
Create easy-to-understand signs for your recycling & waste stations. Including pictures on signs of what items belong in each bin (or even attaching the actual items to signs) is a great way to clarify what’s recyclable, compostable, or destined for landfill in your facility. PSAs or other in-office announcements about recycling, posters, contests, and blurbs in company-wide emails can all help involve staff and make sure they’re disposing of materials correctly. Consider including employee education about your initiative on your website and in social media.
It’s also essential to communicate with custodial/janitorial/property management team and involve them in the process from the beginning. If your janitorial staff doesn’t understand the value of your program, or the new process, they can unintentionally derail your program in a number of different ways. Involving your custodial staff at the beginning of the design stage can also help you implement a more effective program as they have insight into user behavior that you might not be aware of. You also want to make sure you’re not creating additional work for your staff that will drive up operational costs.
- Modify your operational habits
The daily operation of your office provides you with an excellent testing ground for some of the waste management techniques.
Reducing the amount of waste begins with modifying little things. Here’s some examples to get your creative juices flowing:
- Set the office printer to print on both sides of the paper by default.
- Use electronic communication where possible to reduce printing and faxing.
- Don’t print out emails unless absolutely necessary. Add “Think before you print” to the bottom of email signatures as a prompt to others.
- Avoid over-production of marketing and publicity material by reviewing distribution lists and regularly updating databases.
- Collect all paper that has been printed on one side and reuse it for printing in draft, or for scrap message pads.
- Reuse envelopes wherever possible, especially for sending information internally.
- Ensure that vending machines allow the use of reusable mugs rather than plastic vending cups.
- Avoid purchasing disposable catering products such as milk cartons, sugar packets and paper plates.
- Use high-traffic areas to promote your recycling goals by adding large, attractive recycling stations with signage to promote your messaging
- Avoid paper products other than toilet paper in the bathrooms.
- Using LED bulbs instead of regular ones automatically means fewer replacements since LED bulbs last up to 10 times longer.
- Work with staff and vendors to keep disposable packages and other potential waste materials out of your venue to begin with Substitute reusables for disposables, at concessions or behind the scenes; encourage refilling of water bottles; switch to reusable transport packaging, and so on.
- Focus on organics!
Before implementing a workplace composting program, research what support might be available in your area. Ask some questions about your office environment and think through the life cycle of a single banana peel being tossed away–where does it go? Not only do you need to ensure your team has buy-in, but you also need to ensure that your organics has a destination once it’s discarded. Here’s some excellent questions to consider courtesy of Sustainable America:
Questions to Consider:
– Where do employees eat and throw out waste from their lunch?
– Are employees already accustomed to separating waste into trash and recyclables?
– Who empties the waste receptacles at the end of the day?
– Do you need to coordinate with the building management team or the landlord?
– Are there other businesses in the building you could team up with? (And compete against in workplace challenges to see who can divert the most food waste?)
– What are your options for organic waste collection?
– If there are no hauling services, what other options do you have for using the compost your office creates? (Are there any community gardens or school gardens nearby? Maybe you have some employees who would gladly use the compost in their own gardens, or it could be used for office plants or landscaping around your office.)
Adding an organics stream to your office recycling program adds a layer of complexity, but it will make the largest difference in terms of reducing disposal costs!
- Re-evaluate Disposal Habits with your Hauler
Not long ago, waste removal was mostly built around collecting co-mingled materials and sending the waste to landfills, where it was incinerated or compacted by waste disposal companies. These days, however, your green team and facility management/custodial staff can take an active role in managing part of the process.
Before you can begin a recycling program, you’ll need to find a hauler. Larger offices that produce more waste may need to find a hauler to come in and pick up their recycling. In many cases, your waste hauler may also offer recycling services, so reach out to them first. If your property management company is the one that manages your waste, you may need to talk with your property manager to see if they already have agreements in place with a hauler to do recycling.
Food waste (aside paper & cardboard waste) is one of the largest waste streams at an office and fortunately there’s a new crop of haulers that focus solely on organics/compost collection that will gladly collect your food waste, often at reduced costs. If your current waste provider doesn’t provide this service, they may be able to recommend a company that does. And if that’s not an option, you can always invest in food composters, or as previously mentioned, find a local community garden to reduce the binned waste generated by food leftovers every day.
- Choose the right recycling stations and place them appropriately
There’s a hodgepodge of factors you need to consider when purchasing containers to suit each space around your office—too many to cover in this blog! However, as a start, if you want your workplace recycling & waste program to be successful, it’s imperative that you choose containers that keep all of the collection streams together, regardless of their location across your business’ grounds.
For example, if there isn’t a recycling or compost stream directly next to the trash stream, fans just end up tossing all their waste in the most convenient bin—the closest one. This leads to enormous amounts of contamination, which can derail your sustainability goals due to your recycling and compost often ending up in the landfill rather than being properly sorted at your community’s Material Recovery Facilities (MRF).
Quickly, some other things to consider when choose the right recycling & waste station are:
- Restrictive Openings
- Signage & Label Customization Capabilities
Make sure you’ve located well-marked, easy to use recycling containers throughout your office – and make sure every time there’s a waste bin, there’s a recycling bin next to it, including at each employee’s desk. Some modern offices have taken this strategy even farther by creating zero waste stations with fewer waste receptacles, instead offering more containers for recycling (and compost) collection. Inconvenient recycling containers can deter people from recycling, but if there’s a bin everywhere an employee is likely to discard their refuse, it’s hard for them to find an excuse not to recycle.
- Run an office Recycling Competition!Are your employees’ recycling habits eliciting the kind of results your organization is aiming for? An office recycling competition can not only bring attention to the cause but it can also add a sense of community and enrich your company culture. Allowing your employees to see that issues like waste diversion are important to your organization can set a certain tone and can act as a team building exercise, bringing your employees together to work toward something non-work related. Check out this blog by a company called Vangel for more information on how to start a recycling competition!
Start your office recycling program off on the right foot by taking advantage of these 8 industry secrets! Once you’ve launched your office recycling program, you’ll start to see many more areas for improvement. These minor or major improvements will continue to increase your diversion rate and positive impact on the environment, reduce your costs and ultimately enhance brand loyalty with your staff. In today’s economy, having a strong recycling program can even be used as a talent acquisition tool!
Need help getting started? Contact us to chat with our Office Recycling Program Specialists for more direction on where to begin your journey to waste management greatness.