Things You Can Do Today to Encourage Recycling in Your Office

20 Dec 2022

“How can I get my staff to recycle at work?” You make it easy for them to do it. And maybe even fun, too.

As people already come to work each day to do the right thing. To do their best job, to contribute to the company’s development, and to a greener future...

So, the good intentions are already there. You just need to “water” them.

How? By making it easy, fun, and meaningful for them to recycle.

The 3 three key ingredients for implementing any new habit and turning it into a personal routine. Then into an active part of the office routine itself.

That’s what you really want, right? To help your staff build the habit of recycling in the office.

Here are 7 things you can do today to make it simple for your employees to start recycling at the workplace and… keep doing it.

Organizing Recycling in the Office

Before you delve into the most effective office recycling solutions, you need to put an effective recycling system in place.

To organize and simplify the whole process. Then simplify it some more.

Which does take time (take it as a long-term investment), thoughtful planning, and clear communication.

But we’re here to help.

So here’s a simple step-by-step guide you can follow when putting together your recycling program at the workplace:

  • Start with a waste audit: make an inventory of the types of items that end up in the trash and identify those that can get recycled*.

  • Plan and secure a budget for it: consider the amount of waste produced in your office, all your recycling pickup service options nearby, and the pickup frequency.

  • Communicate the new recycling guidelines to your staff: the medium is up to you — be it email or face-to-face meetings — but make sure you include a comprehensive list of all the materials that can be recycled in your office.

  • Place the different recycling bins: make them easily accessible for everyone in the office (you might need to place a bin station at the central hub or in every department) and remember to display lists of all the items acceptable for each bin
  • Contact collectors that can recycle hard-to-recycle items, too: such as pens, bags, cigarettes or coffee ponds, etc.

  • Run regular “recycling best practices” training sessions for your staff: where they can learn how they can get into the habit of recycling in the office (and outside of it) and office recycling solutions for turning it into a long-term routine

  • Measure your program’s success and ask for feedback from your staff: keep track of the recycled materials you will have redirected from landfills and send out surveys where your employees can give you feedback on the recycling program. Identify any issues that are causing confusion or situations where your recycling system isn’t that easy to follow and ends up affecting workers’ productivity. 

*When everyone knows exactly why, what, and how they can recycle at work, you minimize the risk of “wish-cycling” too. Those situations where well-intentioned members of your staff throw away in the recycling bins items they assume will get recycled.

But which cannot be recycled (e.g. bubble wraps or lightbulbs).

Give your employees the know-how and bring clarity to recycling in your office!

team meeting in a green office

Why Is Recycling in the Office Important?

Aside from being important for the obvious reason contributing to a greener future, to an environmentally stable planet recycling in the workplace brings 3 strong benefits to your business:

  1. You cut down costs: think of the money you’d spend lose on costly waste disposal solutions; in many cases, traditional trash disposal options are more costly than their greener alternative: recycling services. Moreover, reusing certain items helps you reduce costs on repurchases.

  2. You instill a sense of purpose and teamwork: with everyone in the office involved in the process of recycling at work, aiming to achieve both the main goal — building a greener future — and the company’s sustainability goals becomes a team building process. This gives them a sense of togetherness, of being part of a strong workplace community, that will reflect in a sense of belonging in the company and in their overall productivity.

  3. You build yourself a green brand image: this will portray a company that your clients will want to collaborate with and your customers can trust

How Much Waste Can Be Produced by an Office?

Before you start implementing any office recycling solutions you first need to understand the scale of the problem:

“Just how much waste does an office generate?”

Let’s take a look at some stats:

Food Scraps

Food makes 22% of the waste that ends up in landfills in the US. It’s the second largest source of waste after paper.

In this respect, people in the USA, in all settings, throw away approximately one pound of food each day.

And here are some more stats: 30-40% of all the food produced in the U.S. ends up in the garbage.

Plastics

For reference, approximately 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away in North America… per hour.

With 156 plastic bottles being bought, annually, by an average person (50% of them are  only used once).

E-Waste

Did you know that e-waste has become the fastest-growing waste source?

To back it up with data: in 2018 alone, Americans generated 2.7 million tons of consumer electronics goods.

Now going back to a standard office, think of all the computers, printers, company smartphones, and monitors which, once broken or simply outdated, can end up getting thrown away.

Not only are they harmful to the environment (and the recycling facilities themselves), but think of the valuable materials (aluminum, copper) in these electronic pieces of equipment that end up… wasted.

Mixed Paper Products

Paper rules supreme over the “kingdom of waste” that’s being produced in an office: 90% of all waste generated in an office is paper.

Think of all the bad photocopies, billing reports, old periodicals and reports, mistakes printed on the laser printer, handouts, and packages and you get about 2 pounds of paper and paperboard products produced, each day, in an office.

And an overall of 10,000 sheets of copy paper is produced by the average worker per year.

Note! Did you know that 50% of all the documents printed in an office during one day end up in the trash in 24 hours?

General Waste

Besides the 10,000 sheets of copy paper, the same average North American office worker throws into the trash bin 500 disposable coffee cups per year.

Many times these even end up in the same bin with items that are, indeed, recyclable.

woman recycling in the office

Recycling in the Office: 7 Things You Can Do Today

Since it’s that split-second decision of someone in your staff that can make or break all your recycling at work initiatives, you’ll need to consider making it easy for them to do the right thing.

Then make it even easier.

And here are 7 recycling ideas you can start implementing right away:

1. Make It Easy: Place Recycling Stations Strategically at Hand 

Let’s face it: educating your staff about the different ways to recycle is almost useless if they still have the general desk bins under their desks.

Or if there’s only one recycling bin station in the entire building.

Make it easier for them to do the right thing. And twice as hard to do the opposite.

Here are some common sense tips you can use:

  • Make sure there are enough recycling bin stations in the workplace, depending on the size of your office space and the no. of employees working there

  • Place the recycling bins in areas of high traffic: the corridor, the canteen, or the relaxation area

  • Place the bins stations about 10-15 steps from every employee: make them easy to reach, no matter where in the office space you might find yourself in the office building

2. Make the Signage Clear Enough

In other words, don’t sabotage your employees' good intentions with confusing signage placed on the recycling bins.

Instead, check that the signage clearly states what type of items go into each bin. And that it sends out a consistent message.

Here’s how you can bring even more clarity when it comes to the recycling signage on the bins and around the office:

  • Opt for color-coded signage on your recycling bins, with arrows, representative icons, or clear short text messages (e.g. “Return your coffee cups”)

  • Go for bespoke recycling bin stations, displaying samples of waste streams in display boxes: this way, your staff can see exactly what items go into which bin

  • Choose representative illustrations

  • Consider additional signage and messages to be displayed around the office, meant to raise awareness around the recycling issue. A “Did you know X item can be recycled?” message in the kitchen area for instance.

3. Communicate the Results to them… Regularly

One of the best ways to encourage your staff to recycle at work is to share the results of their efforts.

What gets measured gets done, right?

So help them keep track of the impact of their recycling efforts.

Share with them, regularly, the results of how closely they’ve got to reach the company’s (annual or monthly) sustainability goals. And the exact impact of their efforts on the environment.

Think of weekly bulletin emails including regular waste audits, identified opportunities to improve the recycling program in your office, and reports on the progress made up to that point.

Or display the company’s sustainability goals and the results achieved thus far near the recycling bin stations themselves. They’ll motivate your employees to do their best.

colleagues working in a sustainable office

4. Set a Designated Space for Recycled Office Supplies

One of the best ways to recycle and reuse at the workplace is to create a space for all the office supplies that could be reused.

As many times these get thrown away simply because there’s no space in the office where they could get stored for later use.

So, one of the most effective office recycling solutions you can adopt right away is to designate a space in your office where people can drop off their extra or old office supplies.

Whenever new supplies need to be bought, encourage your employees to check this designated space in the office first in case there’s anything there that can be (re)used instead.

5. Add a Bit of Competition (And Make Recycling Fun to Repeat)

How do you motivate your staff to start recycling at work and keep getting better and better at it?

You inject a little bit of good-natured, friendly competition into the process.

And here are a few ideas for recycling through competition that you can implement today:

  • Run weekly or monthly recycling challenges: the winners in each department could leave home earlier on a specific day or get a free lunch, for instance (or another fun and motivating-enough perk you can think of)

  • Run challenges between several recycling teams in your company: the funnier they are and the more they challenge the competitors’ creativity, the better

  • Set a different goal each month: change the focus from paper to plastic waste to… cans and make sure the goal is numerical (e.g. 15% less paper waste in February) and mentioned in all the internal communications. And that the reward is company-wide and motivating enough

  • Run “surprise appreciation” sessions: now and then reward anyone that gets caught recycling. You can go even further and take photos of the people “caught in action” and include them in a dedicated bulletin email

As for the rewards, consider something meaningful that’ll inspire them to keep recycling in the office. Like a fancy water bottle, a recycled-content t-shirt, a reusable mug, or a voucher to a local farmer’s market.

6. Ban Disposables & Go Paperless

You know what they say: one of the best ways to recycle at work is to… not have to recycle at all.

In other words, make it easier for your staff to reduce their waste in the first place.
Both recyclable and non-recycle waste.

How? Here are just 3 simple steps:

  • Ban the general bins under their desk
  • Encourage reusable lunchware, coffee cups, and water bottles
  • Encourage them to go paperless in the workplace

7. Give an Incentive

And you don’t even need to deal with the dilemma “is it ethical to reward the habit of recycling in the office with money?”.

You can communicate to them that the company will be using a part of the money saved from recycling to finance new equipment that’s been on their general wishlist or new training sessions. Or even teambuilding and team outings.

Ready to Start the Recycling Initiative at Work?

In the end, finding and implementing the best ways to encourage recycling in the office comes down to coming up with solutions to each one of those reasons why people aren’t recycling at work in the first place:

  • It’s too time and energy-consuming to do it (e.g. there are too few recycling bins in the building)
  • The signage is not clear enough or there’s no signage at all
  • The signage is discouragingly detailed and it confuses staff: they’re expected to take too much time to pause by the bin and read a long message
  • They… don't see the point in doing it

You’ll want to:

  • make it simple for them to do the right thing
  • make it fun, when possible
  • make it consistent: they should get the same message around the office as this will make them confident enough that their efforts do matter. That it matters to you, as an organization, how they handle their waste
  • make it meaningful: give them a clear reason to do the right thing, make them aware of your sustainability goals, as a company

Topics: Culture of Sustainability

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