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Recycling in the Workplace - Help Get the Earth Healthy!

Jan 10, 2008
With Americans focusing renewed attention on the health of the planet, recycling becomes more and more a part of everyday life. Most towns and cities now have curbside recycling - and office managers are beginning to follow their example by setting up office recycling programs.

Though it's not the only change we can or should make in our daily habits to save resources, recycling offers many benefits. It reduces waste and saves raw materials while cutting down on energy uses - for example, paper recycling saves 40% of the energy required to make a new product. With the average office worker using 10,000 sheets of paper every year - and with the huge volume of recyclable cardboard boxes that any business receives in the form of mail - recycling in office settings is a quick way to make a big difference.

Along with all of these benefits comes a reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions involved in making new paper from virgin materials. A successful office recycling program that reduces paper and cardboard waste is a victory for thrift and common sense. And setting one up doesn't need to be hard.

The first thing you'll need is to decide on a program coordinator. For most businesses, this will be a dedicated, enthusiastic volunteer from within the company who is well-organized and a good communicator. This person will oversee and evaluate the recycling program while inspiring and educating fellow employees to participate.

Next, you and your program coordinator will need to conduct a waste assessment - in other words, you'll need to evaluate how much trash your office generates, and how much of it is recyclable. If your office is like most, paper (including cardboard) will represent most of your office's refuse. You'll also need to decide on a collection method: commingled containers or source separation. With source separation, you use separate bins for materials that must be brought to the recycling plant separately: for example, white office paper goes in one receptacle, colored office paper in another, cardboard in a third, etc. Recycling plants prefer - and sometimes will pay more - for materials separated in this way, but you must purchase more containers (increasing your start-up costs), and some employees may resent having to remember which items go where.

Commingled containers - in which all recyclable materials are collected in a single container - will reduce employee resistance, but also the value of the recycled materials, because processors pay less for, say, mixed piles of white-and-colored office paper than they do for separated materials. Know your team and your community (including the guidelines followed by the recycling companies in your area), and decide what will work best for you.

Often small businesses don't generate enough recyclables for a commercial recycling company to pick up materials. You may need to find volunteers willing to perform "drop-off duty." Be sure to comparison-shop among local recycling companies for the best deal. If your business is fairly large, you may qualify for commercial recycling companies pick-up programs; you may also check with the waste-hauling company that your business already uses to pick up trash, as more and more haulers are starting to offer recycling pickup.

If your business is located in a rural area, talk to your suppliers about "back-hauling" - having the trucks that bring your supplies take your recyclables back to the city on the return trip.

Hold a meeting to inform employees of the new program and lobby your manager for support, as any program endorsed by managers will have a greater chance of success. Make sure the rules are clearly stated, and make sure everyone gets the memo.

Follow up with your fellow employees by email and in person. Also, remember that recyclables must be kept clean to be usable, which makes some cardboard food containers, such as pizza boxes, unrecyclable. Make sure you post the rules (e.g. "No pizza boxes!") in employee-accessible places.

Above all, make your program user-friendly. When purchasing recycling bins, keep in mind that bins should be at least as easy to find as trash cans. And make sure that materials are on hand to make recycling easier. For example, your office should be equipped with several pairs of reliable, safe box cutters. Without a package opener on hand, recycling boxes is unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming. (Shipping boxes and moving boxes are hard to flatten with your bare hands!) It goes without saying that any mail room or shipping and receiving department should have many kinds of safety knife on hand. Your office should have a package opener too.
About the Author
Safecutters
, Inc., provides an online store of utility knife box cutters for opening shipping boxes and shipping packages, as well as safety knives to open moving boxes and packages. For more information about Klever Kutter and other Safecutters products contact us!
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