The average U.S. office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year, according to the EPA – that’s 4 million tons of copy paper annually.
But not all offices recycle, meaning that valuable recyclables like paper, cans and bottles end up in the landfill, instead of being made into new products.
If you’re an ardent recycler at home, there’s nothing worse than watching your co-workers toss paper and soda cans into the trash because your office doesn’t have a recycling program. But don’t get discouraged; following our step-by-step guide, you can set up an office recycling program that can both conserve the planet’s resources and save your organization money.
1. Get management buy-in
You can’t have a successful recycling program if the higher-ups aren’t on board.
To get the support of company management, explain the many benefits that recycling can offer your organization: It can save money by reducing garbage bills, give your company a marketing edge as a “green business” and boost employee morale (employees are happier when they feel they are working at a company that “does the right thing”).
2. Appoint a recycling coordinator
Your office’s new recycling program will need a leader – or recycling coordinator – to see the initiative through – from start to implementation.
As an employee who is enthusiastic about recycling, you can serve as the recycling coordinator, or you and a team of interested co-workers can work together to set up the program. Or it may make sense for the person already responsible for overseeing the custodial or garbage contracts to add the recycling program to their list of job duties.
3. Audit your waste
To determine what types of materials you’ll want to include in the recycling program, you’ll need to conduct a waste audit – but don’t worry; that doesn’t mean you’ll have to dig through your gross, stinky garbage.
You can perform a visual waste assessment: Walk through different areas of your office – copy rooms, break rooms, conference rooms and loading docks – and observe the different kinds of waste materials generated. You’ll probably see paper, cardboard, cans and bottles, but you may also see pallets, packaging peanuts or electronic waste.
4. Plan collection
Once you’ve figured out the types of waste materials your office produces, you’ll need to see what can and can’t be recycled through local waste management companies.
Ask the company that picks up your office’s garbage if it also provides recycling collection services. If your waste hauler does not handle recyclables, search Earth911’s recycling directory or a phone book for local recycling companies. You can also contact your city to see if it has a recycling coordinator on staff who can help you find outlets for your recyclables.
Once you’ve chosen one or more recycling companies, order outdoor recycling bins from the companies and plan your pick-up schedule.
5. Start small
Start your new recycling initiative with a pilot program, collecting only one or two recyclables. Focus first on materials that your office generates in large quantities and are easy to recycle locally like paper or cardboard.
Once your program is up and running smoothly, you can include more recyclables like cans and bottles; eventually, you can set up a collection system for special materials produced occasionally like electronic waste or batteries. Adding one recyclable at a time allows you to troubleshoot any challenges that arise with the new program – problems with custodians, recycling companies, employee education or otherwise.
6. Set up the infrastructure
Place recycling bins whenever recyclables are generated: at each work station and break room and next to printers and copiers. A good “rule of thumb” for setting out recycling bins is that every garbage can should have a recycling bin next to it. Check to see if your city or recycling company provides indoor recycling bins for free or at discounted rates.
Make sure to clearly label bins, identifying what kinds of materials can and can’t go in the containers: copy paper and newspaper are accepted, but not tissue paper or paper towels, for example. Consider adding pictures to your signage to make the instructions easier to understand and more eye-catching.
Next, you’ll need to decide who will collect the recyclables and empty them into the outdoor recycling containers for pick-up. If you’ll be assigning custodians with this task, make sure to train them on the new collection procedures – whether they are on-staff custodians or a contracted janitorial company.
7. Educate your co-workers
Now that the bins are in place and the collection schedule is finalized, it’s time to spread the word about the recycling program to your co-workers.
To show that your organization’s executive leadership supports the program, a high-level manager should send a company-wide email to announce the program’s launch. Managers should also introduce the new program during staff meetings (perhaps screening the hilarious office recycling video above).
When you distribute recycling bins for each employee’s work station, take a minute to explain the new recycling program to him or her.
In addition to the labels on the recycling bins themselves, post flyers promoting the recycling program on bulletin boards, in break rooms and over copiers and printers.
You can also include information about the recycling program in orientation programs for new employees, in company newsletters and on the company’s internal website.
8. Monitor the program
Congratulations – you have successfully set up a recycling program for your office! But you can’t just sit back and relax; you’ll want to monitor the program to make sure it’s running smoothly.
Every few months, conduct another visual assessment to see if staff is tossing recyclables into the garbage or vice-versa. Ask your garbage and recycling companies to provide you with tonnage or volume reports to show you how much material your office has been sending off for recycling and garbage.
You can also solicit input from co-workers about how to improve the program by conducting an online survey.
While it’s important to resolve any problems that arise, don’t forget to publicize your successes – touting money saved and pounds recycled on the company’s website, in newsletters and at staff meetings.
9. Go beyond recycling
Once your office has its recycling program down pat, think about ways your organization can actually prevent waste in the first place: printing on both sides of the paper, encouraging “paperless” electronic memos or reports, purchasing office supplies in bulk and buying recycled-content products.
For more tips, check out Earth911’s guide to creating a zero waste workspace.