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How green is your office? Maximize your office recycling

recycling in the officeWhether your office is old-school or cutting-edge with respect to its technology, there’s a good chance that there are more opportunities to recycle than you’re currently using. EPA estimates that up to 90 percent of office waste is recyclable, but it starts with your employees’ good recycling habits. The first step is to let your coworkers know exactly what is and is not recyclable. The second is to evaluate those items that you use regularly that are not recyclable and perhaps find environmentally-friendly alternatives.

What you recycle may depend on your city’s recycling program. Your municipality likely has a section of its website that sets forth what items are recyclable. If your municipality or landlord doesn’t provide recycling, you’ll need to contact your waste disposal company to arrange for pickup of your recycling. If you have to hire an outside service, consider partnering with other nearby businesses if your own office’s recyclable goods don’t meet its volume criteria for what it will haul.

Let’s take a look at some common office items. Again, whether you have single-stream recycling (which would allow you to place all recyclable materials in a single bin) or they have to be separated will depend on your waste removal company. These items can and should be recycled:

  1. Paper.

Most recyclers will accept all of the following (and then some):

-white paper (including printer and fax paper)

-colored paper

-envelopes with windows


-adding machine tape

-carbonless forms

-sticky notes (like Post-its)

-time cards

-Manila folders

-telephone books





  1. Plastic drink bottles.

It’s been estimated that some office workers consume up to three bottled beverages per day. Recycling just one of these bottles can conserve enough energy to light a 60-watt bulb for six hours; they are also made into clothes, carpeting, other (stronger) plastic bottles, and manufactured lumber. Just make sure that they are rinsed before they go into the recycling bin. Some of these bottles can be returned to a retailer in exchange for a few cents apiece. If the local recycler nearest you doesn’t automatically take them, set out a box in your office and designate someone to take them to the supermarket once a month and get the refund!


  1. Ink and toner cartridges.

Some retailers, like Staples (and others) will take your old ink and toner cartridges, and some will even offer small incentives like coupons or discounts for doing so. While these aren’t products that you can simply toss in the recycling bin, they can be recycled and doing so really cuts down on unnecessary landfill waste.


  1. Electronics.

Don’t just dump that old keyboard, hard drive or printer. There is not yet a federal legislative mandate for electronics recycling, but some states have them. Check the regulations in your state to see if there are rules that you need to be following. Even if your state doesn’t have e-waste recycling mandates, it’s a good idea. Why? It conserves natural resources because of the materials that can be recovered. Also, many electronics are made with hazardous materials that can be harmful to the environment if dumped into landfills; recycling them ensures that these toxins will be disposed of properly and keeps lead, mercury and other contaminants out of our soil, air and water. If you have electronics that still work, consider donating them to a school or nonprofit that can use them.


  1. Mobile phones.

If your office provides mobile phones to employees, the phones are able to be recycled at the end of their life. Chemicals from mobile phones leach from landfills into the groundwater, so in addition to adding to excess waste, they also cause environmental harm when they are thrown out. The EPA has a site where you can find out exactly where to recycle your mobile and other electronic devices.

In addition to recycling, there are other ways that your office can practice responsible energy use. Data centers and web hosting use lots of electricity, but there are hosts that will use energy-efficient technology and renewable energy. Switching to a green hosting provider can both cut down your energy costs and make your office more energy-efficient. It’s a win/win!

What can’t you recycle?

There are some things that can’t be recycled; sometimes there are alternatives, other times not. For example, any wrapper or box that has food on it (leftover grease, etc.) cannot be recycled. Pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers and the like that might have any food remains must be thrown in the trash.

Styrofoam cups, like those from take-out coffee shops, cannot be recycled. In an office setting, what can you do? Perhaps provide coffee in the office and invest in a set of porcelain mugs so that each employee has his or her own. It would be a one-time expense (plus the cost of coffee), but it would go a long way as far as keeping waste and toxins out of the landfills.

Another thing that gets tossed from offices every day is pens and highlighters. They used to be purely garbage, but now there are ways to recycle them, and people who use them for art and other purposes. If you search “where to recycle pens”, along with your location, you’re bound to find options for places to drop off or send your empty writing instruments.

There are lots of resources for making your office greener, and it often starts simply with raising your employees’ awareness. Make it fun; offer incentives for green habits and then everyone will participate. It’s good for your business and good for the environment!