Setting Up Recycling Programs at Work

Your organization's waste line can impact its bottom line. An effective office recycling program can reduce the amount of trash created and conserve valuable resources and can save money by changing staff consumption habits.

To make reducing, reusing and recycling successful at your workplace, consider these steps:

1. Get the green light on your green efforts

The first step is to get management's approval and support for your company's waste reduction efforts. Any successful program requires leadership from the top, so getting bosses and managers involved is important.

2. Recyclers, assemble

Consider putting together a group of people to oversee your agency's recycling needs. Team members should include representatives from as many departments as possible. Designate a staff person to serve as coordinator – someone with enthusiasm who will take the lead in waste reduction efforts. And the group doesn't have to just address recycling – it can be tasked with addressing all sorts of sustainability programs and policies. This "green team" or "sustainability squad" should work with building custodial services to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to managing recycling and waste diversion.

3. Conduct a waste audit

Don't worry: it's not that kind of audit. A waste audit is simply an inventory of the amount and types of materials being thrown away in your workplace. Among the questions you can ask during a waste audit:

  • How is waste being generated? What activities or practices produce the most waste? What parts of the office tend to have the most waste (copy rooms, conference rooms, warehouses, etc.)?
  • What sort of waste is created? What materials make up the largest parts of your workplace waste stream?
  • How is it collected (trash cans, recycling bins, etc.)? Where does it go?

By examining where your office waste comes from, you can build a better program that addresses reduction, reuse, recycling, composting and green purchasing practices.
While anyone can perform a waste audit, sometimes helps to work with others who have experience in this area. Two nearby resources:

4. Collection perfection

Now that you know what you and your colleagues are throwing away, you need to figure out how to haul the materials away. A couple of ways to go about doing this:

  • Contact your property manager. If your business is in a multi-tenant building, find out if there are any other office recycling programs in place. If not, ask the manager if they would be open to providing this as a service to building tenants. Highlight the benefits by telling them that recycling can reduce waste disposal costs and is an extra amenity they can provide to current and potential tenants.
  • Discuss collection with your waste hauler. Does your current provider collect recyclables? If so, ask them how you can make arrangements for your workplace. If your waste hauler does not handle recycling, search RecycleSpot for a number of local providers. A couple of questions to ask vendors when setting up collection agreements:
    • What specific items do you accept for recycling?
    • What size and how many dumpsters do you place on-site?
    • What's your pick-up schedule?
    • What types of contracts do you offer and what are the prices?
    • Do you offer rebates? How does that work?
    • We need reports on the amounts recycled, how often do you send those?
    • Do you offer any educational materials?
  • Take advantage of drop-off recycling centers. If pick-up services aren't available, another option is to take your recyclables to a local recycling center. Even if you do have a hauler that picks up your office recyclables, recycling centers often accept items not taken by pick-up services, such as glass. Search RecycleSpot for recycling centers in your area.
  • Determine how materials will be collected in your work space. Meet with the recycling service provider, custodial crew and office staff to figure out logistics of gathering recyclables. A few possible workplace setup considerations:
    • Get in with the bins. "Buddy up" your recycling bins with office garbage cans to make sure all employees have access to recycling. Provide durable recycling containers to each staff person or ask them to use copy paper boxes or something similar at their work stations. Put large recycling bins in central locations like copy rooms or break rooms. Place bins next to printers, fax machines and other equipment that generates paper.
    • Collection responsibility: Create a regular schedule and determine who will pick up recycling from the small and central bins. It may be staff, janitorial crew or a combination of the two.
    • Drop-off recycling: If your staff is using a drop-off collection center, set up a team and schedule for taking recyclables to the center. You may also need to determine a place to store recyclables in between delivery dates.

5. Communicate and educate

Ready to roll out your new recycling program? Share information and procedures with your entire staff to make sure everyone knows the proper place for the proper waste. Some key ways to spread the word:

  • Make sure bins are clearly labeled with details about what does and doesn't go in them.
  • Promote the program internally: post fliers in break rooms, highlight services in staff newsletters, email or on the company intranet, mention it in staff meetings, or hold a kick-off event. Provide an introductory overview of services in clear, easy-to-understand terms. Even better: get management to lead the charge by having them deliver the message about the company's commitment to recycling and waste reduction.
  • Request a speaker to come visit your organization and discuss waste reduction, reuse or recycling.
  • Need some examples of office recycling signs or other materials to help you get started? Visit our resources page for a variety of helpful items.

6. Keep tabs on your program

A healthy recycling program needs attention to make sure things are going according to plan. Checking in on things now and then is a good way to ensure that the system is working and that people are using it. Some follow-up tips:

  • Identify a point person to handle tasks such as answering staff questions, managing the green team and program oversight.
  • Have your green team meet regularly to evaluate your recycling program's progress. A successful program will continue to grow in amount of materials recycled. Another waste audit can help show how much waste diversion is taking place, and your waste hauler might be able to provide reports about how much material your office recycles or disposes of.
  • Stay in contact with staff. Update your co-workers regularly on the program's progress. Send out periodic waste reduction, reuse and recycling tips and reminders. Train new employees about the recycling program. Acknowledge people for changing their habits. Seek suggestions from staff about ways to improve the program.
  • Promote your successes. Be sure to tout the benefits of the new system — share information such as amount of materials recycled vs. thrown away, money saved on supplies or waste fees, etc.

7. The recycling bin and beyond

Now that you and your coworkers are recycling pros, keep an eye out for other opportunities to reduce waste at the source or promote sustainable habits.

  • Practice green purchasing. Buying recycled products is a key part of the recycling loop. Meet with your purchasing staff and identify products with recycled content and other earth-friendly products.
  • Celebrate America Recycles Day. Held every year on Nov. 15, this national campaign raises awareness about the benefits of recycling and buying products made with recycled materials. Use this opportunity to host an event or a special awareness campaign.