Sustainability 101

20 tips to reduce waste, improve recycling

Introducing the first Great Forest tip sheet on waste and recycling.  Following this list of 20 tips will set you on the path to reducing waste and increasing recycling in the most efficient and cost effective way. Have questions? Ask your Great Forest representative or contact your sustainability consultant.

1. Conduct a Waste Audit

This should be done at least once a year or when you are thinking of starting/refining your recycling program. Awaste audit will let you know how much recyclables are being thrown away, provide benchmarks for measuring, and more.

2. Appoint a green team leader or provide a point of contact

Green team leaders are crucial to keeping your programs on track. They help motivate and remind colleagues to recycle. They are the point person for others to turn to when questions arise. If you do not have a green team leader, make sure employees and tenants have somewhere (an email address, a website) or someone to turn to for information.

3. Conduct a sustainability review

… to see if there is room for improvement for all your green efforts, not just waste and recycling. But don’t forget your tenants. For a building to be at peak green performance, everyone must be involved.

4. Implement a recycling program if you don’t already have one

Employees and tenants cannot conserve and recycle unless a system is in place to collect and separate waste and recycling.

5. Make sure your employees/tenants know about the building’s/company’s recycling program.

  • Check that recycling awareness is included in the orientation for new employees/tenants.
  • Check that your recycling signs are visible and easy to understand, and instructions are easy to follow.
  • Send friendly reminder emails when necessary.
  • Conduct a survey to gauge employee/tenant opinions, understanding and awareness of your green programs.

6. Make a big green statement

At least once a year, perhaps on Earth Day, build an attention-getting recycling display, or hold an event with memorable recycling games and activities.

7. Compete to recycle and reduce

There’s nothing like a little friendly competition to get people motivated. Organize a recycling competition along the lines of challenges like Recyclemania held on college campuses. Departments or floors can compete against each other to see who can increase recycling and reduce waste by the biggest amounts.

8. Announce your success

If your program is doing well, spread the word. It will raise morale and encourage greater compliance. It will also help gather support for all your sustainability activities with management.

9. Set a good example

Recycling is contagious. The more your colleagues, tenants or employees see you or the management team recycle, the more they will realize that their building/company takes sustainability seriously, and will follow.

10. Make sure your cleaning and maintenance crews are trained to handle waste and recycling properly

If they end up mixing the waste and recycling streams, or if they mistakenly direct recycling to the waste pile, all your efforts will be wasted.

11. Make sure your recycling, trash and composting bins are placed in the most convenient locations

For example, paper recycling containers should be in the copy room and other high-traffic areas. There should be recycling bins for bottles and cans in the office pantry, and composting pails should be located next to coffee machines so that coffee grounds can be place there instead of in a waste bin. Read more.

12. Make sure your recycling, trash and composting bins are the correct size

Having large trash cans and small recycling bins will not help your recycling program. Getting the correct sized bins, based on the amount of waste and recycling generated, will encourage employees and tenants to do the right thing.

13. Consider composting  

If your building or business has a large cafeteria or several restaurants on site, you might be a good candidate for composting. Composting can reduce your waste cost by diverting food scraps from the trash, but there are many factors involved.  Do you have space for storage?  Is there a composting facility nearby? The best way to decide if composting will work for you is to conduct a small trial program. If your office is small enough, you can bring your compost to the local community garden.

14. Remember, it is not all about your diversion ratio

There are other factors to consider when figuring out how well your recycling program is really working. Read more.

15. Renegotiate your waste contract

Prices of recyclables go up and down depending on the market, affecting the cost of hauling waste. If the market for recyclables is strong, it is going to cost the hauler less money to deal with your waste, so you will be in a better position to secure a lower rate if you renegotiate.  If you don’t, waste haulers are unlikely to lower your rates even though their costs have dropped. Read all about the industry’s best-kept secret.

16. Donate unwanted items

See the Great Forest resource page for donation assistance information. Sometimes, nonprofit organizations, arts and other institutions may be able to make use of old furniture and other equipment. It will be better than sending them to the landfill.

17. Dispose of e-waste properly

The U.S. produces about six million tons of e-wasteannually. Many of these products contain toxic materials, which can contaminate if they are disposed of improperly. Because new devices replace old ones at an almost alarming pace, many of these “obsolete” electronics are actually still in good enough condition to be reused, refurbished, or recycled. Donate the items or take advantage of manufacturer take-back programs.

18. Don’t forget about your shredded documents 

If your company has a lot of sensitive documents that need to be shredded, make sure all this paper does not go into the trash. Remember to recycle shredded paper. See what happens to shredded paper at one facility.

19. Encourage the use of reusable plates, mugs, glasses and cutlery in the office pantry.

Make sure employees/tenants know that many hot beverage cups cannot be recycled.

20. Implement green office policies:

  • When possible, create and distribute documents, reports and other materials electronically.
  • Set fax machines to not print cover sheets.
  • Set printers and copiers to use both sides of the paper.
  • Set the reduction feature on copiers to fit more onto a page.
  • Using inter-office mail envelopes whenever possible.
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