Last fall, we shared some tips for how you can shrink your carbon footprint through waste reduction efforts. Now that you’ve had some practice whittling your own waste, we encourage you to share what you know with others at your office. Based on our own waste reduction efforts here at Green Mountain, we’ve put together a few pointers for starting your own office zero waste program:
Start small to build big. Changing office culture and practice doesn’t happen overnight, but small incremental steps add up over time.
We started by recycling paper. Then, we started thinking about where our paper came from (Are the trees being sustainably harvested? Are we using paper with recycled content?) and whether we needed to use so much of it (Can we get our customers to sign up for e-bills and our employees to sign up for direct deposit?)
All that thinking about paper got us wondering if we could reduce and repurpose other types of waste.
- We began to recycle cans, bottles, and eventually went to single stream (all-in-one) recycling.
- We adopted purchasing standards requiring a minimum percentage of recycled content.
- We set our printers to default to double-sided printing.
- We introduced composting.
Make it easy. Short, simple signs with images and clear direction on what goes where are critical to increasing participation and minimizing contamination.
- For example, “food-soiled pizza boxes, paper napkins, and plates should be composted not recycled.”
- Co-locating bins together makes it obvious that options other than trash are available, and labeling the trash can “landfill” can provide a visual association for people that their trash doesn’t just magically disappear.
- Using the same color bins and placing them in the same order can help make sorting second nature: blue bin on the left = recycling, green bin in the middle = compost, black bin on the right = landfill
Team up with your property manager. A supportive property manager can make or break your zero waste efforts.
- You may need to educate your manager on the benefits of recycling and composting such as helping to earn LEED points, attracting and retaining environmentally conscious tenants, and reducing waste disposal costs.
- Your property manager can also be your ally in communicating with cleaning staff to make sure waste remains properly sorted after it leaves your office.
Fill in the gaps. While an increasing number of property managers offer on-site recycling, some types of less traditional recyclables can slip through the cracks.
- We used Earth911.com to identify stores and other centralized collection sites that could help fill in our gaps.
- We recruited some volunteer employees to collect these additional types of recyclables, including plastic bags, CFLs (the spiral light bulbs), cell phones, ink cartridges, and batteries.
Celebrate the successes. Tackling the waste problem can be daunting, so it’s important to encourage and empower people through frequent recognition. We make sure our employees know that our composting efforts influenced our property manager to offer composting services building-wide. And while we aren’t able to measure 100% of our waste stream, we make sure to communicate what we can about the amount of waste that our employees have kept out of area landfills.
We’d love to hear (and see) what you’re doing to shrink your waste – drop us a note below!