Waste Reduction
» Office Recycling
Buying Recycled Products
Office Recycling

The economic advantages of commercial recycling are clear. Commercial recycling programs can reduce waste volumes and disposal costs, provide revenue from he sale of recyclable material and reduce operating costs. Recycling provides raw material to make new products and creates jobs in collection, processing and manufacturing. Over time, recycling saves energy and natural resources and can enhance a company's public image.

Paper is by far the single most recyclable office product. According to studies prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayor's National Office Paper Recycling Project, wastepaper in a typical office represents 70 percent of the waste stream. While waste composition will vary from office to office, most offices focus on collecting wastepaper for recycling.

Computer Printout 29%
Mixed Papers 23%
Old Corrugated Containers (OCC) 8%
Total Paper 70%
Other Wastes - glass, metals, plastics, food, etc. 30%
Total Office Wastes 100%
National Office Paper Recycling Project "Supply of and Recycling Demand for Office Wastepaper, 1990 to 1995"

Starting a wastepaper recycling program involves a systematic process. It requires a long-term organizational commitment to reducing waste. An eight-step approach to office recycling will help you start a successful program.

A Step-by-Step Approach to Office Paper Recycling

Step 1 - Obtain the Support of Executive Management

Management support for your recycling program is necessary for planning and implementation because staff time and expenses will be involved.

Step 2 - Appoint a Coordinator and Program Monitors to Plan and Implement the Program

The coordinator determines program and start-up costs and works with local recyclers and employees to ensure smooth program implementation. Program monitors assist the coordinator with employee education. They help keep participation rates up and contamination rates down.

Step 3 - Determine Number of People Who Will Participate and types and Amounts of Paper Generated

A good rule of thumb is that each office employee generates approximately one-half pound of paper each day. The selection of paper to be recycled will depend on local market conditions and the types of paper being used in your office. A reputable and experienced recycler can assist you in determining the types of paper that can be recycled.

Establishing a recycling program can be more challenging for small businesses that generate relatively small volumes of recyclable materials. Recycling collectors generally require minimum quantities of materials to ensure that they can cover their transportation and handling costs. Depending on material volumes and quality, vendor may charge collection fees or may pay for the recyclable materials. Recycling service fees and/ or payments tend to vary according to fluctuating commodities markets.

Options for Small Businesses:
If the amount of recyclables produced by your business is not enough for recycling collection service, you may consider the following options. Contact your local recycling office for guidance on a more localized basis:
  • Speak to your current waste hauler to see if they offer recycling service. Ask if diverting recyclables from your current waste stream will reduce your trash collection costs, freeing up funds to pay for recycling service.
  • Check with recycling vendors to see if they will accept material that you deliver to their facility.
  • Check with your local government recycling office to see if commercial recyclables are accepted at public recycling drop-off centers.
  • Store materials for less frequent collection - in a safe location inside your building or outside in a dumpster container or storage shed.
  • Contact other businesses in your area to set up a cooperative recycling program. Contact property managers of multi-tenant buildings or business parks; talk to local chambers of commerce and network with your own business contacts.
  • Contact local scout troops, schools and other groups who may be interested in picking up certain materials as a fund raiser or service project.

Questions to Ask a Recycler:
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Can references be provided?
  • Will they be able to accept the amount of recyclables that we produce?
  • How should materials be prepared (separated or mixed)?
  • Who pays for the cost of the program?
  • If there are any costs/charges associated with the program, under what conditions are they?
  • Will there be a rebate for any of the recyclables, if so under what conditions?
  • How will the pricing structure work (fixed price or price tied to market index)?
  • Will assistance be provided for collection containers, promotional materials or training?
  • Will recyclables be collected on a scheduled or on-call basis?
  • If confidentiality is a concern, are document destruction or confidentiality assurances available?
  • How must materials be prepared (consolidation in a central location or for pick-up from a loading dock)?
Non-Paper Recyclable Office Products

While this guide focuses on office wastepaper, the same principles can apply to recycling all types of office waste.
  • wood shipping pallets
  • uniforms and rags
  • aluminum and steel containers
  • other ferrous and non-ferrous metals
  • glass and plastic containers
  • yard waste from landscaping (leaves, grass and shrubs)
  • cleaning solvents
  • used oil from vehicles
  • batteries

Step 4 - Discuss the Program with Local Recyclers

This includes determining what materials are acceptable and unacceptable and who will provide collection containers and promotional materials. Look in the phone book under "recycling" or "wastepaper" or contact the recycling resources listed on the MDE database.

To ensure long-term program success, it is important to establish a contract or agreement with a reputable recycler. Prices for recyclables fluctuate with market conditions. These fluctuations must be considered in developing the contract or agreement and determining costs.

Step 5 - Develop an Efficient Collection System

Separating recyclables reduces contamination, which lowers the value of the paper and other recyclables. Consider these points when developing a collection system:
  • Identify where recyclables are generated and determine appropriate container sizes.
  • Work with your recycler to design a program tailored to your needs and the needs of your building.
  • The recycling program will not result in more waste or more work, but will require different handling methods for additional streams of recyclables.
  • Become familiar with local fire codes when planning to store combustible recyclables.
  • The most common separation methods for office paper are desktop containers, a second trash can and central collection areas. Each collection receptacle should be clearly labeled for specific recyclable material. Acceptable and unacceptable material should be posted. Ask your local recycler if they will provide employee or central containers and if they will provide promotional material.

Employee Participation and Incentives

To achieve a successful recycling and waste reduction program, all employees must be willing to participate. Some employees may not be interested or may consider it an inconvenience. Incentive programs will help overcome this potential problem. Some of the employee incentive programs listed below may be appropriate for your business. You can also ask your recycler about successful incentive programs that they have conducted in the past.

Retail/Industrial/Restaurant Facilities
  • The employee who collects the most used clothing for one month receives a gift certificate for a nominal amount or some form of special recognition.
  • Group awards for the most recyclables collected can be doughnuts or bagels paid for by the company or an unannounced break with snacks.
  • Post the names of winning employees or groups of employees in visible areas, such as the lunchroom, with a thank-you poster.

  • The department that collects the most recycled paper by weight receives lunch, paid for by the company. Other employees will definitely notice!
  • The department with the largest reduction in paper usage due to writing on the back of paper and double-sided copying receives a helium balloon to attach to their office space (more recognition).
  • The employee who makes the most contributions to the program, that is offers suggestions or assists in the program concept, is recognized at a staff meeting or through an interoffice memo.
  • The employee who collects the most cans and bottles in their office space during a specific time frame, one month for example, receives a check for $10.
  • For an on-the-spot inspection, the employee with the most material in their recycling bin receives a $10 bill right then.
  • For the whole company, the money saved in the total program is placed in the company benefits fund or donated to a charity on behalf of each employee.

Sample Kick-off Memo

TO: All Employees
FROM: [Chief Executive]
SUBJECT: Office Recycling Program

On (DATE), (COMPANY) will begin an office recycling program. The objective of this program is to recycle (LIST PRODUCTS) that we generate in the (OFFICE/FACILITY).

The recycling program is simple and will require few changes in our daily habits. Each of you will receive a special recycling box in which you should place uncrumpled acceptable types of paper instead of throwing it in the trashcan. A list of the types of paper we are trying to recover is attached to this memo and is printed on the recycling boxes.

At your convenience, please take the accumulated paper to one of the nearby central collection containers. These (CARTS BOXES, etc.) are located (LIST-PRINTERS, COPIERS, OTHER LOCATIONS).

The material that we currently shred will continue to be shredded as usual and will be recycled. If you feel more comfortable tearing a document before placing it in the recycling container, please feel free to do so. The size of the paper does not matter.

There are also white boxes with lids and two holes for your used beverage containers. They are located in (LOCATIONS). Please make sure that the cans are completely empty. Wet cans are rejected, not recycled. We are only recycling used beverage cans, so do not place food containers in the boxes. Please do not use the recycling containers for garbage!

On (DATE), there will be a brief 15-20 minute training program for all employees. Training sessions will be scheduled every half-hour during the day, so that all employees can attend without disrupting business. We will distribute a schedule so that you can attend this important meeting.

The success of this program depends on you. (COMPANY) is doing its part to reduce the burden on Maryland's waste disposal facilities and protect the environment. Please join us and recycle!

Most office paper recycling systems use central containers where employees place separated paper from their desktop containers. These central containers are then emptied by janitorial or other personnel and the paper is placed in a larger container for shipment to a paper dealer. The containers should be clearly identified as recycling containers to avoid contamination.

Excellent locations for central containers are by copy machines, computer printing areas and other places where large volumes of recyclable paper accumulate. One large central container for every 15-25 employees is recommended. A list of container vendors is included in the Resource Directory.

Step 6 - Educate all Employees

The program will succeed only if every employee (including the chief executive) understands the importance of recycling and is motivated to participate. A well-publicized kick-off meeting, with a 15-20 minute training session (including program needs, goals, collection methods and acceptable and unacceptable items) is critical. Training must continue after the program begins, with frequent reminders to employees. New employees should be trained as part of regular orientation programs. A "kick-off" memo to all employees is an effective way to begin internal communication about the program.

Step 7 - Coordinate Your Collection Program with Your Purchases

Whenever possible, buy only products that can be recycled in your program. This may include replacing yellow legal pads, glossy papers, window envelopes, sticky labels and other products with those that are recyclable in your program.

Step 8 - Publicize the Success of the Program

This will encourage increased participation and enthusiasm and provide reliable information to convince other organizations to establish similar efforts.

Businesses and non-profits in Maryland also are beginning to use recycled products, but much more remains to be done. Buying recycled products, a major step in the waste reduction and recycling process, requires the following tasks:

back to top