Start a Work Recycling Program

The U.S. EPA estimates that 40 percent of all waste is generated in the workplace. Photo: Amanda Wills,

For many of us, home recycling is a pretty easy process. Our city provides us with a recycling bin, and we have Earth911 to tell us what to put in it.

Plus, more programs now allow us to throw everything in one place, so you don’t even need to sort. This convenience can also make recycling outside of the home a challenge.

However, it’s important to remember the same reasons you recycle at home still apply at places like your job.

In fact, the U.S. EPA estimates that 40 percent of all waste is generated in the workplace, so your business could be doing a lot by recycling.

But where do you start when there’s no bin at your curb? This handy guide will break down the process for you, and have you recycling at the office in no time.

1. Know what to throw (in the bin)

This is a two-part challenge because you need to know what waste is generated at your job, as well as what is accepted for recycling in your area.

For those who don’t feel like performing an office waste audit, just think about the products you purchase to know what needs to be disposed of.

If you’re in an office or a school, this probably includes paper and ink cartridges, while a factory might have more of a need for construction material and battery recycling and a retailer or restaurant could focus on packaging and organic waste. There are recycling solutions for all of these; you just need to know where to look.

The next step is to find a place for these materials. One easy option is to call the company that picks up your office garbage to see if it offers recycling service, which could also lower your hauling fees.

You can also look in the phone book under “Recycling” to find companies that specialize in what’s known as commercial recycling. If one company doesn’t accept what you want, ask if they know of a company that does.

Additionally, you can drop off the material at a recycling center, which will eliminate disposal costs and possibly make you money (hint: use Earth911 to find these centers).

When you partner with a hauling company, they will usually provide bins to put around the office. Otherwise, the state of California has put together a nice list of companies that specialize in manufacturing bins. You can also see if your recycling program expenses will qualify for a tax break for your business.

Designate a leader in the office to carry out the recycling program and keep things organized. Photo: Flickr/nick see

2. Follow the leader

A successful program will have one person leading the charge, ideally someone who cares about recycling.

If you don’t have an office recycling coordinator, you will soon be left with material in the wrong bins or an expired hauling contract. This isn’t a full-time position, and can typically be handled with only a few hours of work per month.

Once you appoint a coordinator, have that person distribute recycling bins in high-traffic areas. It could be a kitchen or break room, near the copier, right at the entrance or all of the above. Just make sure your bins don’t block the flow of your business.

The next step is to label, both the bins themselves and the area around the bins. Write down exactly what should be put in each bin (e.g. “white office paper”) and any special instructions (e.g. “remove staples”) so you don’t end up with contamination.

It’s a nice touch to write the material accepted on the wall next to the bin, and send a company-wide e-mail with any changes. This will also help identify recycling to your custodial staff, who might otherwise mix it in with garbage.

The recycling coordinator may also need to transport material, whether it’s to one central location in the office for easy collection or to the recycling center. For this reason, it’s probably best to choose a recycling coordinator that doesn’t mind a little manual labor.

3. Share the wealth

At this point, your program should be going pretty smoothly by recycling widely used materials. But what about materials that you don’t go through as often, such as electronics? Now it’s time to start planning events.

You can keep an extra bin in the storage room for the TBD recyclables, and then call a recycler that offers one-time pick-up.

But, since you’re likely going to get a whole truck coming to your office, why not fill the entire thing? Tell neighboring businesses ahead of time and ask them to bring in the same products, and let employees bring in things from home. The cost will be the same regardless, so you might as well get some good PR out of it.

Another way to share the wealth is to let others at work know the success of your program. People probably won’t think about the impact of throwing one aluminum can in the recycling bin, unless you ask your recycling company how much material was recycled by your organization and pass that along.

If nothing else, put one full bin on the scale and then send out an office memo saying, “Thanks to your participation, our company today diverted x pounds of waste from the landfill. Keep up the good work.” Little pieces of motivation can provide big dividends.

Read more
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Trey Granger


  1. Greetings,
    I am the waste reduction program coordinator at my company, Omega Optical, in Vermont. I started the program six years ago. It has grown into a robust campaign and is vigorously supported by our plant director and custodian. We recycle, reuse or compost everything from office and corrugated cardbpard to paper towels bottle caps and food. We have recently expanded our program to include a household service for our employees. They can bring in certain items and we process them out to our registry of users and haulers. We also have a holding facility (a shed) to store surplus until it is used. Our used commodities are posted on a Vermont materials exchange web site We use extensive signage, posted guidelines and reminders. We also publish news and notes on our activities in the company’s weekly newletter . Aside from hauling fees we spend very little money on the program. We use barter exchange with some of our users who are artists or farmers.

    With a dedicated and tenacioius manager companies can do this. Everyone is guilty of waste. And most people don’t want to be held accountable. Waste police are not popular out on the floor. But planet Earth thanks us every day with water, air , food and countless wonders !!

  2. There exists a great recycling solution for businesses–it’s called ecycler. creates a new way to recycle by connecting people discarding cans, bottles and newspapers with those wishing to collect them.

    Ecycler provides an alternative to the many U.S. households or businesses that are not offered curb-side recycling. It’s also an option for people who have to pay for curb-side recycling or who want to have their recyclables picked up when and where they desire.

    ecycler collectors will (for free) pickup the recyclables from your business. Have a look!

  3. Hello,
    My Name is Asia Dunlap, I am 14 Years of age…I have a wonderful recycling plan But need a little help with someone backing me up on it. I know you may deny my request because of age and “lack of knowledge.” Please, consider me?

  4. If you live in the West San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County,S. California and like to earn money as a self employed collection contractor ,of ink jet cartridges and laser jet toners cores ,contact me,this is an entreprenurial opportunity

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