How to Start an Office Recycling Program

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Launching an office recycling program may seem like a monumental 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.

Take Charge

In order for any office recycling program to be successful, one person, or a small team of people, needs to be responsible. This team will manage every aspect of the program, and will ultimately determine if it succeeds or not.

If you’re in an office that isn’t focused on being green but you’d like to get a program started, there are a few things you can do:

  • First, talk with your boss or HR about why you think a recycling program would be good for the office, and include the fact that it could potentially save the company money.
  • Second, you could talk with your other co-workers about starting a recycling program. The more people you have on board, the better. Let whoever is in charge of your office know that others feel the same as you.
  • Lastly, make the plan. Whenever I’ve tried to implement new ideas at work, I’ve found it far more effective when I have the plan laid out completely. So, go through some of the steps below to come up with an actionable plan you can take with you when you present your idea.

Perform a Waste Audit

Once you have your team and approval to move forward with your recycling plan, it’s important to do an audit. In this audit, you’re going to get an idea of how much waste you’re currently sending to the trash that could be going to the recycling. You’ll want to do this audit before your new recycling plan is in place.

Having personally performed quite a few waste audits, I get that it can sound a bit gross. Going through office trash isn’t exactly how most people want to spend an afternoon, but I can assure you, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Unfortunately, doing an office waste audit isn’t quite as simple as doing a home one.

Knowing what’s in everyone’s trash bins is a great place to start. Photo: Adobe Stock

To do an audit, you’ll want gloves, a scale, and paper and a pen to record weights. You’ll need to collect as much of the office trash as you can, preferably separated by department. If you have a custodian for your office, you can just have him or her set aside one day’s trash rather than tossing it in the bin.

Pick up each bag of trash and weigh it, then record this weight on your sheet. Then look inside the bag and estimate what percentage of that weight is recyclable. Record this percentage. No need to break it down by material; just give your best estimate of the weight of the recyclable material. At the end of your audit, you should have the total weight of your office waste and the percentage of that weight that is recyclable. This is your baseline. A few months after your recycling program is implemented, you’ll do another audit just like this one.

For some organizations, performing an audit just isn’t feasible. If that’s the case, don’t worry that you can’t have a recycling program. While I definitely believe waste audits can help your company, it’s better to have a recycling program that doesn’t include waste audits than to not have a recycling program at all.

Find a Hauler

Before you can begin a recycling program, you’ll need to find a hauler. If you’re in a small office, this may be as simple as collecting all the recycling material in one bin and driving it to your local recycling facility once a week.

Larger offices that produce more waste may need to find a hauler to come in and pick up their recycling. In many cases, your trash service provider 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.

If your current waste provider doesn’t provide this service, they may be able to recommend a company that does. If not, you’ll have to spend some time searching for a local company that provides this service. Generally, your hauler will let you know what materials they accept for recycling.

Publicize Your New Program

When you give people the option to recycle, they’re usually happy to comply. Photo: Adobe Stock

Once you have your contract with a hauler, you can publicize your recycling program and let people know exactly what they should and should not recycle. You’ll want to make the program as easy as possible, so ensure there are enough recycling bins for everyone to easily get to one.

At Earth911, every desk has a small trash bin and recycling bin. Every printer also has recycling bins nearby, and the kitchen also has a few of them. The easier it is for people to recycle, the more likely they are to actually do it.

Let everyone in your office know the rules regarding your recycling program. Will they need to rinse out food containers before recycling them? Is plastic wrap or film accepted? Consider also placing posters with what is and is not accepted near any larger recycling bins that are spread throughout the office.

Perform Regular Audits

Once your office recycling program has been running for a couple of months, you’ll want to perform another audit. The process is exactly the same as before, but this time you’ll also collect all of your recycling bags as well. Weigh the trash and record what percentage is recyclable and should have been in the recycling bins. Also weigh the recycling bags and check them for contamination. Make note of any contaminants. Once you have all of your numbers, you can compare what your previous weights and percentages were; with any lucky, you’ll see an improvement.

After performing your audit, let everyone in the office know how they are doing. Lead with the positive and then let them know if there are any areas where they could improve. If necessary, remind everyone what items are recyclable and what items are not.

You may want to perform a waste audit on a somewhat regular basis. Consider scheduling one every quarter or on a semiannual basis so you can spot any problems and continue to help your company improve its recycling rate.

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Brian Brassaw

Brian Brassaw

Brian formerly managed the Earth911 Recycling Search and shared green living tips and tricks on Earth911’s Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts. Brian also shares DIY projects on Little Pilots Lounge.
Brian Brassaw

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