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Rethink Recycling for Your Small Business

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Sure, sure, you know you should recycle — you even have nifty blue recycling bins all around the office. But what you may not know is that a more concerted effort to divert as much waste as possible from your local landfill benefits more than just the environment.

Reducing office waste can cut your disposal costs if you operate in a community that charges more for trash pickup than recycling, or issues fines for placing recyclables in trash containers. You might also benefit from rebates associated with take-back programs, which lower replacement costs. And that is just the beginning.

Recycling also positively impacts other aspects of your operation, according to Chip Bell, a business consultant and customer loyalty expert in Greenshore, GA. Activities like recycling and giving back to the community “communicate that the organization takes its responsibility as a corporate citizen seriously, and is generous in taking care of its customers’ overall welfare and the environment where they live and work,” he says.

Research bears this out: a 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research found that 82 percent of U.S. consumers consider corporate social responsibility activities, like recycling and other eco-conscious actions, when making shopping and buying decisions.

So how can you increase your business’s commitment to recycling? Try these small business recycling ideas.

eCycling

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 3,420,000 tons of electronic waste were generated in 2012, but only 1 million tons (29.2 percent) were recycled. That’s largely because people don’t know how or where to recycle, or they think it will simply be too time consuming to do so.

Many retailers take back technology and related items. In fact, in 2013 Staples alone accepted and responsibly recycled 22,000,000 pounds of electronic waste that was returned to its stores by customers.

Batteries & Cell Phones: “Some states and provinces have made it illegal to dispose of rechargeable batteries and cell phones in the regular trash,” warns Jennifer Childress, director of marketing for Call2Recycle. “Regardless of the law, it’s smart to recycle those things and keep them from entering the landfill and potentially harming the environment.” Yet, in an Earth911 poll for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the reason 30 percent of respondents gave for not recycling these items was they didn’t know where to recycle them. Another 20 percent said they just never got around to it. Companies like Staples and organizations like Call2Recycle make it easy to recycle these items. Staples accepts rechargeable batteries at any store location for no charge. From 2007 through October 2014, the retailer diverted almost 400,000 pounds of rechargeable batteries that consumers returned to stores.

Electronic Waste: “Customers can drop off up to six pieces of electronic waste daily at no charge in any Staples® store,” explains Mark Buckley, Staples vice president of environmental affairs. “Staples Advantage® also has a technology and data destruction service.” The retailer’s trade-in trade-up program enables all customers to trade in old technology that can be used to purchase new technology or other supplies. And there’s no need to worry about eco-conscious recycling or any data left on computers and mobile devices. “Staples’ recycling partner is both e-Stewards and R2 certified — the recycling certifications with the highest environmental rigor — and does not export units,” Buckley says. “The data is destroyed meeting Department of Defense security requirements.”

Ink & Toner Cartridges: A 2014 Staples survey found that 26 percent of small business owners believe in recycling but don’t know what to do with ink and toner cartridges. The answer is to make them someone else’s problem. For example, participants in the Staples Rewards® ink & toner recycle program can turn these items in at Staples and receive $2 in Staples Rewards for every cartridge (minimum $30 ink or toner purchase within 180 days prior to recycling required). Since 2005, the retailer has recycled 450 million ink and toner cartridges.

Recycling

“There are countless ways to streamline and seamlessly incorporate recycling into your processes,” says Lisa Hennessy, owner of Your Pet Chef in Chicago. Paper, glass, plastic and aluminum are the most popular recyclables, and most offices and workplaces encourage employees to separate their trash.

But entrepreneurs like Tavis Parker have integrated recycling deeper into their operations. Parker, who owns The Game Crafter in Madison, WI, made recycling part of the board-game manufacturer’s facility. “We’ve designed work stations to be efficient, and this includes recycling bins for waste,” he explains. “Many of the stations do not have trash cans, so the crafter automatically moves any waste materials into the recycle bins, where they are collected and emptied into our main recycling dumpster.”

Even small offices can up their recycling game. Look for opportunities to recycle more materials, and retool your purchasing to select products that are recycled or contain some recycled materials and that have minimal packaging.

Engaging Employees

Get employees involved by establishing a clear policy that supports environmental stewardship. “We maintain a very simple and straightforward policy towards recycling,” Parker says. "We recycle all of our paper waste. Anything paper, card stock, cardboard, etc., that can be recycled is recycled.”

And make compliance easy. “We have containers very near our work area so it’s simple to place the waste in the proper receptacle versus just tossing it in the trash,” Hennessy says. If you’re in a paper-centric business, place recycling bins at workstations and keep trash cans in the breakroom and other common areas.

Hennessy’s team helps her take out the trash and recycling. “They see how little trash we make and it’s now a point of pride,” she reports. “How little can we throw away this week? We make it a game.”

If you use a janitorial service, challenge staff to see who has the least amount of trash or most recyclables each day. Reward the winners with a gift card or other small token.

“It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking to get started,” Parker says. “It also doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to begin. Meet with some of your staff and talk to them about what trash or outputs your company is handling. Open the floor up, collect ideas of where and what you can recycle, and come up with a basic plan. You might find some cost savings along the way in the form of improved processes, changes to products/packaging, and other surprises. And there’s a good chance that this will be important to a significant number of your employees.”

Absolutely, Childress notes. “As a small business owner, you can set yourself apart from your competition by showing your commitment to ‘going green’ and having a strong sustainability focus,” she says. “By offering a recycling program that addresses the concerns of the consumer — data security, responsible recycling practices and general recycling awareness — small businesses are able to bring an added value to their customers. The cost to you is negligible, but the benefits to your reputation and, potentially, your bottom line are everlasting.”

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