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3 Steps to Recycling More at Work

3 Steps to Recycling More at Work

Part of our work at Sustainable America includes helping events move toward zero waste. Now that we have moved into our new headquarters, we are working to bring this effort home. Not surprisingly, workplace recycling requires care and planning much like at events. The process is ongoing, but we would like to share what we’ve experience so far and a few solutions that we’ve found helpful.

1. Go to the Source: People are generally eager and well-intentioned about recycling at the office, yet misinformation abounds. When we moved in, we heard many explanations about waste sorting and separation, including, “We only recycle white paper,” and that “There is no recycling other than paper in this building, but we take bottles and cans across the parking lot to another building in order to recycle them.”

Trying to figure this all out, I strolled out to the back of our building to investigate what receptacles we actually had. I discovered a compactor from City Carting, the hauler who has the contract for the building and with whom we have worked on many projects. I called them and learned that the receptacles for our building allow for single stream recycling, which means all recyclables can be comingled. City Carting has a MRF (acronym for Materials Recovery Facility, pronounced “murf”) where all recyclable materials are separated and baled for sale.

This made the process much easier, as we learned that we didn’t have to separate paper from cardboard and soda cans from juice containers. At our location, these can be comingled, and City Carting manages the rest.

Sustainable America's labeled recycling bin and "trash" can2. Choose bins wisely: At events, we work to limit trash cans, both in size and in quantity, so we used a similar strategy at the office. Not wanting to sully our beautiful new space with bright blue recycling bins, instead we found wire wastebaskets and matching pencil cups. The wastebaskets, which sit under our desks, are where we toss all single stream recycling, including paper, hard plastic and aluminum cans. The pencil cups are proudly showcased on our desktops. These are our “trash” cans. By using small receptacles—and keeping them in plain sight—we remind ourselves, as well as our visitors, that trash bound for the landfill or incineration ought to be minimal. We have only one other trash can in our office, and it is not much larger than the wastepaper baskets under our desks. We are working to set up a worm bin and begin in-office composting, which should reduce the trash to almost nothing.

3. Communicate to your crew: Our cleaning people are enthusiastic, but they work in multiple municipalities, with different haulers, none of whom have the same protocol. We understand the challenges associated with keeping track of different procedures for different clients, so we made illustrated labels for all the containers with instructions in English and Spanish. We laminated them and affixed to the receptacles with Velcro.

Minor kinks in our strategy were resolved quickly. The crew lined recycling containers with plastic bags at first, but that has been corrected. Not only are we happy, but the cleaning crew is enthusiastic about diverting more waste from our building. We’ve heard that they have passed along the information we gathered to another tenant in the building who wants to improve their recycling volume as well. This news should please our building’s owner, as increasing recycling, and reducing what goes to incineration, will reduce their hauling fees.

Whether beginning or refining an office recycling policy, it is instrumental to speak with everyone involved to ensure that everything is sorted according to local procedures and then gets to the proper containers outside. Clear labeling of all containers is also critical. So far, this strategy is translating well into our new home. Good luck with your own recycling program!

Heide Hart
Office Manager, Sustainable America

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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