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Checklist for a Greener Office:

Setting Up a Recycling Program

Office workers produce a lot of trash.

In Massachusetts alone, over three million tons of solid waste — about half of the total rubbish collected in the state — is produced each year by offices, institutions, and industrial companies.¹ The same is true in California, as well — more than half of the 45 million tons of garbage that is generated annually in that state comes from industries and businesses.²

Although much of this office rubbish ends up in landfills, this doesn't have to be the case. In fact, about 77 percent of the solid waste generated in a commercial building can be recycled.³ Not only is recycling a good idea because it saves precious landfill space and reduces our reliance on natural resources, but it also may be a profit center for your company.

Use the following checklist as a guide for setting up your office's recycling program.

Get support from top management

The first step in your planning process should be to get your company's management to endorse a recycling program before any work begins. Support from the executive ranks is crucial since, according to the California Waste Integration Management Board, "The potential for successful employee participation is greater when there is enthusiastic support by management."

Appoint a recycling coordinator

Once you have management's backing, your office will need a recycling coordinator to lead the effort. For this critical role, choose someone who is interested in recycling or who is talented at motivating others. The recycling coordinator's responsibilities will range from selecting the recycling hauler to educating staff members. The amount of time that the coordinator will need to commit will vary depending on the size of your office and the amount of waste produced. According to the Colorado Association of Recycling, the coordinator will spend from a few days to a few weeks getting the program started. Once your program is established, only a few hours a month are needed to keep the program running.

Assemble a recycling team

Consider appointing a recycling team to support the coordinator's efforts by monitoring collection areas and reinforcing the recycling message among the staff. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that the recycling team include "employees from many parts of the organization, thereby establishing recycling advocates in all areas of the company." One monitor per floor, group, or department is optimal, although encouraging as many people as possible to participate in the recycling initiative can help the effort tremendously.

Each office or workstation should have a clearly marked bin for white paper, as should the conference rooms, copy rooms and breakrooms.

Perform a waste audit

The recycling coordinator and his or her team should do a visual survey of the garbage cans in the office to figure out what the workforce is currently throwing away. This audit is crucial to determining what the office's recycling load will be. Make sure that the team assesses different areas of the company — check in the break room, the conference rooms, by the copier and randomly inspect wastebaskets in various cubicles and offices. The City and County of Honolulu's Refuse Division recommends that the waste audit take place "just prior to janitorial collection. That way, you will get the full picture of your company's waste stream. Repeat the walk–through every day for a period of one or two weeks."

The recycling team should keep detailed notes about the types of refuse found during the review by approximately recording the amount of plastic, paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, and aluminum that's found, as well as the other items, such as toner cartridges, styrofoam, food waste, and junk mail. These detailed notes will create an accurate picture of what your office is throwing away over the course of a week or two. This information will be needed when you arrange for a recycling company to pick up your materials.

Take the opportunity to reduce and reuse

In addition to revealing how much you can recycle, your waste audit will provide a clear view of your office's purchasing and consumption habits. The trash inspection may reveal that you can reduce your co–workers' reliance on certain items by adjusting behaviors. For example, your employees may be discarding a large number of plastic drinking cups each day. While these cups may be recyclable, consider investing in ceramic mugs and encouraging employees to use them instead of their disposable counterparts. Paper is an easy item to cut back on as well — check out this article for tips on reducing your paper use.

Select a recycling company

Once you have determined how much and what types of materials you'll be recycling, your recycling coordinator should begin looking for a company that will take the recyclables away. In some cases, the coordinator won't have to look very far — your company's current trash hauler may accept recyclable materials once they are separated from non–recyclable waste. Ask other businesses in your office park for referrals, or search in the yellow pages under "waste removal" or "recycling" for possible haulers. Your local Chamber of Commerce or recycling organization may also be able to provide leads to companies in your area.

The recycling coordinator should also find out if your recycling company will pay for the items that they pick up from your office. Markets exist for paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass, and depending on volume, you may find that you can generate revenue from your waste materials. However, even if your recycling company won't pay for your materials, the process will save you money by reducing your trash collection costs.

If your waste audit determines that you don't have the volume required to qualify for a recycling hauler, don't give up. Consider combining your efforts with other small businesses in the same office park or area, or drop recyclable materials off at the local recycling center, if one exists in your area.

Prepare the office

One of the key components to an office recycling effort is the placement of recycling bins in convenient locations throughout your building. Each office or workstation should have a clearly marked bin for white paper, as should the conference rooms, copy rooms, and break rooms. Bins for mixed paper should also be located all over your office — perhaps a few per floor. Containers for plastics, glass, and aluminum should be placed close to where employees eat lunch or take coffee breaks, such as in the kitchen or cafeteria. Be sure to clearly mark the bins — if empty soda cans or food wrappers end up in your white office paper bins, the load could be rejected.

Prepare the staff

The recycling team should also make sure that staff members are prepared to recycle. An email from your company's president announcing the new recycling program is an excellent way to begin. Training will be also be key. "A 20–minute training session for small groups can be very effective in explaining the details of the program. New employees can be trained during orientation sessions," advises the EPA. Realize that the recycling program may not go smoothly in the beginning, since old habits are sometimes difficult to break. Some of your co–workers who are used to throwing everything into one trash bin may need to be reminded of the new program, either verbally, via signage, or with email updates.

Begin recycling!

With the backing of your company's management, leadership from an enthusiastic coordinator, a recycling hauler lined up, an office equipped with collection bins, and an educated and eager team of recyclers on staff, you're ready to begin! Review your recycling program monthly and perform a waste audit quarterly. Ask for employee feedback once the program has been operating for a while — tips and suggestions from staff members should always be welcome. Providing facts about what your office is not sending to a landfill is a powerful way of encouraging continued participation in the recycling program. See if your hauler can provide you with the statistics of what they pick up from your office each month. Post good news ("We recycled 300 reams of copy paper last month, saving 10 trees!"4) and updates ("Recycling reduced our trash collection costs by $150 in December") on a bulletin board or the corporate intranet. Above all, remember that your company's recycling needs may change, so be creative and flexible in finding a way to keep recycling your office waste.


1Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Environmental Protection, "Commercial/Office Recycling Fact Sheet," 1999.
2California Waste Integration Management Board, "Waste—It's a Business Affair," http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/CalMAX/Inserts/1999/Summer.pdf.
3Colorado Association for Recycling, Office Recycling Information, http://www.cafr.org/office/office_guide.htm.
4The Wilderness Society estimates that one tree yields 30 reams of paper.

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