Six of the Most Common Office Recycling Mistakes

You have a recycling program in place. You’ve trained your cleaning crew.  You’ve sent out emails to tenants and staff. So why is your recycling program still not working?

Well, it all boils down to a few common mistakes or misconceptions that we see over and over again.  By dealing with these, you can effect change more quickly.

Mistake #1: Only white paper can be recycled

What type of paper can be recycled? When in doubt, many people seem to assume that only white paper can be recycled. But in reality, many types of paper can be recycled, including paper bags and paper plates (which we often see thrown in the trash!). The only exception is paper with some kind of coating. The rule of thumb is that if you can tear it, you can recycle it.

Solution:  Watch and share this video.

Mistake #2: Not flattening cardboard boxes 

Unflattened boxes take up a lot of room and before long, the recycling bin is filled.  This can cause an unsightly overflow from all the bins as unflattened boxes are then thrown in the trash as well.  More waste and less recycling could mean increased costs.

SolutionWatch and share this video.

Mistake #3:  Not bothering to use the right bins because all trash and recyclables are sorted again anyway

Many office workers think the cleaning crew that comes at night will do more sorting to correct any mistakes. But this is not a part of their job. Bags of recyclables are transparent so if too much trash is spotted in the recycling bag, it gets diverted to the landfill.  “Sometimes people leave a can of soda or some food trash on top of the paper recycling bin thinking that the cleaners will remove the trash from the recycling. But this does not happen often and whole bags of recycling are then needlessly diverted to landfills,”  says Great Forest recycling consultant Sandra Robishaw.

Solution: Make sure recycling bins are placed next to trash bins (see below); conduct some recycling education.

Mistake #4: Not placing recycling and trash bins together 

Recycling and trash bins placed side by side encourage people to make good, informed decisions.  With just one bin, the temptation is to just throw both trash and recyclables in that bin. The worse offense is wet waste (eg: food) being discarded in paper recycling bins. If possible, place trash and recycling bins together, especially in common areas.

Solution: Do a walk though to make sure bins are properly positioned, or talk to your sustainability officer or consultant about this.

Mistake #5: Lining recycling bins with black garbage bags

Many everyday decisions are made in the blink of an eye using visual cues.  So recycling bins lined with black bags can and do easily get mistaken for garbage bins. If your recycling bin is being filled with trash, there is less room for recyclables.

Solution:  Make sure your cleaning crew is using the right bags for the right bins, or talk to your sustainability officer or consultant about this.

Mistake #6: Improper Labeling

Labels must be visible and clear. For example, bins that are just labeled “recycling” are confusing.  Are they for paper, or bottles/cans/plastic? Confusion leads to mistakes.

Solution: Do a walk through to see if all labels and signs are visible and with proper instructions, or talk to your sustainability officer or consultant about this.

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