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Office Tips

Tips for Reducing Waste at the Office
Why Reduce Waste in Your Workplace?

On average, Americans spend one-third of their day at work. According to U.S. EPA, the average American office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. That’s four million tons of copy paper used annually! We should be making environmentally conscious decisions at the office just like we do at home. Athens Services recommends the following 10 tips to help reduce waste at your workplace while saving resources, money, and the environment.

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Form a Green Team
Assign Recycling Ambassadors
  • A “Green Team” is responsible for assisting in the development, implementation, and oversight of the company’s environmental programs. This includes goal setting, policies and procedures, company-wide education, campaigns, and compliance initiatives.
  • Identify and bring together employees that represent the company hierarchy from varying departments and office locations.

Recycling Ambassadors can support your recycling and waste reduction efforts in a variety of ways. Consider individuals who are passionate about the environment and have a good rapport with their coworkers. Recycling Ambassadors can help:

  • Develop a waste reduction and reuse strategy.
  • Identify ideal locations for internal waste collection sites.
  • Monitor waste collection sites for proper set up, usage, and contamination.
  • Train and retrain staff on best practices.
  • Don’t take event giveaways or hotel toiletries.
  • Provide resources to staff and ask for suggested improvements.
  • Brainstorm ideas on how to increase proper recycling and food scrap collection.
  • Provide feedback to management and the Green Team on program successes.

An audit of a business’ waste stream can inform management on the type of waste being generated and provide valuable insight on employee disposal habits. The following step-by-step guide will help you conduct your own onsite visual waste stream audit where percentage-based results are calculated per container content observations.

  1. Decide whether to audit a single department, building, or whole business.
  2. Use Athens’ handy waste stream audit form to capture and review findings. Familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t recyclable. Athens’ What Goes Where Guide and Recycling Cheat Sheet can be used as a reference guide.
  3. Work with the custodial staff to ensure that waste receptacles are not serviced prior to the audit.
  4. For best results, do not inform staff that an audit is being conducted.
  5. When conducting the audit, check all waste containers in designated areas.
  6. Log what items are found in each waste container type.
  7. Based on results, identify possible sources of contamination and opportunities to reduce, increase recycling, and replace landfill bound items with more sustainable options.
  • Establish a “Paperless Policy” that sets guidelines for printing and digital-based marketing, accounting, and fill-in forms.
  • Offer e-receipt and e-billing options. (Did you know? Most receipts are printed on thermal paper and are not recyclable.)
  • Print only when necessary and default to double-sided printing on all computers.
  • Use at least 30% recycled content paper.
  • Keep a “scrap box” near the printer to use for scratch paper.
  • Use digital platforms and apps to jot down notes.
  • Email handouts in advance of meetings and presentations.

Buy reusable and refillable items for the office kitchen to replace single-use, foodware disposables. Consider switching out these items or encourage staff to B.Y.O. (Bring Your Own):

  • Mugs & Cups
  • Utensils
  • Plates & Bowls
  • Servingware for catering and potlucks
  • Napkins

Add or replace kitchen appliances and accessories with ones that encourage reuse, such as:

  • Water filter system, instead of bottled water service
  • Coffee machine with bulk pot or refillable single-pod option
  • Energy efficient dishwasher
  • Dish drying rack, plant-based sponges, and bulk dish soap
  • Provide reusable mugs, utensils, and refillable coffee pods.
  • Skip the plastic lids, plugs, stir sticks, packets, pods, disposable cups, and sleeves.
  • If reusable spoons are not an option, choose compostable wood stir sticks or dry pasta.
  • Purchase coffee, tea, sweeteners, and cream in bulk.
  • Check out Athens’ Zero Waste Coffee Corner video for more tips.
  • Note: Single-use coffee pods are not accepted in Athens’ recycling or compost streams, no matter the material type or product instructions.
  • Provide staff with reusable kitchenware (mugs, plates, cups, utensils, etc.).
  • Save money and give items a second life; purchase gently used kitchenware from thrift stores.
  • Consider providing staff with a personalized mug or cup.
  • Purchase office supplies that are refillable, such as printer cartridges, pens, dry-erase markers, and tape dispensers.
  • Utilize rechargeable batteries and provide collection for dead batteries.
  • Keep track of supplies and avoid over-purchasing.
  • Designate a centralized spot for common supplies, such as staplers and hole punchers, versus buying the same item for each desk.
  • Search for local repair services for appliances, electronics, and furniture.
  • Create and maintain a contact list for repair services.
  • Consider renting office equipment and furniture instead of purchasing.
  • Give away reusable and repairable items instead of throwing them away. Nonprofit groups, schools, and art programs are often in need of items such as electronics, office supplies, office equipment, furniture, fabrics, and vehicles.
  • Check out Athens’ Reuse and Donation Tips for more ideas.
  • Check out Athens’ video on Sustainable Tips for Moving Out to learn how to best donate and dispose of unwanted, still usable items.
  • Contact us to arrange for a special collection of electronic waste, hazardous waste, and/or bulky items.
  • Per California state laws AB 827 and SB 1383, all businesses must provide customers front-of-house access to collection bins for recycling and organics (including food scraps) alongside trash. All three bins must be grouped together, easily accessible and visible, clearly marked with signage on what “can or cannot be placed into each bin,” and properly serviced for recycling or organics.
  • Check out Athens’ video Recycle Right at Your Office for effective set up tips for in-office internal containers.
  • Review your city page for more information and check out Athens’ Outreach Materials for signage, the Recycling Cheat Sheet, and other resources.
  • Ensure proper separation by staff, clients/customers, and custodial service by color coding all containers (blue for recycling, green for organics, black for trash, and gray for mixed trash/recycling).
  • Use clear or translucent liners/bags to help custodial service identify contamination and sort bags into the correct collection container.
  • Consider color coding liners/bags (translucent blue or clear for recycling, translucent green or clear for organics, and black for trash).
  • To ensure the highest recyclability, it is encouraged to place recyclables and food scraps loose (i.e. no liners/bags) into their larger collection containers.
  • Always group waste containers (including recycling, organics, and trash) to encourage quick and easy sorting at one location.
  • Opt for central resource recovery centers, instead of individual containers at each desk.
  • Place larger containers in high traffic areas, such as by the printer and in the kitchen.
  • Add organics collection containers in kitchen and break areas to collect food scraps and food soiled paper items.
  • Signage should be placed on containers and ideally, above the container (where possible).
  • Laminate the signage and use velcro tape for easy removal and cleaning.
  • Indicate where the containers should be returned if moved by marking the floor with a small strip of labeled/colored tape or by placing signage above the container.
  • To avoid confusion, consider using the signage and guidelines provided by Athens for your city. General signage and materials can be downloaded from Athens’ Outreach Materials. Some cities have specially designed materials. Review your city page for more information.
  • Schedule a free Recycling Training for your team. Athens provides bilingual onsite and virtual training and presentations. Contact us for more information.
  • Ensure ALL staff is trained, including management, full and part-time employees, tenants, maintenance/custodial, and night crews.
  • Confirm with custodial services that the recycling, organics, and trash are being disposed of in the correct external containers.
  • Conduct training annually, or as needed, especially when there are program or major personnel changes.
  • Include recycling training and resources as part of the new employee onboarding process. Collect feedback from staff, especially the custodial team. Ask:
    • “What’s working?
    • “What needs to be changed?
    • “Do you have any ideas to grow or improve the program?”

The USDA states that up to 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten, while CalRecycle reports that food accounts for 18% of waste in California’s landfills. The California Food Bank reports that 1 in 5 Californians struggle with food insecurity, the occasional or constant lack of access to the food one needs for a healthy, active life.

  • Consider donating excess edible food from events, meetings, and commissaries to local food donation organizations and programs.
  • Set up food recovery partnerships in advance to ensure a smooth donation process.
  • Companies that donate edible food to nonprofit organizations or food banks are protected by federal (HR 2428) and state (AB 1219) laws.
  • Check out Athens’ Food Donation guide to learn more about food donation, local recovery partners, and legislation.
  • Per California state law SB 1383, businesses must subscribe to and participate in an organics collection service for ALL of their green waste, food scraps, and food-soiled paper (100% fiber based).

Landfills are the third largest source of methane in California, with organics and food waste in landfills emitting 20% of the state’s methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

  • Athens’ offers businesses organics collection, including food scraps. Contact us to review organics service options.
  • Review Athens’ list of acceptable organics materials and check out the Recycling Cheat Sheet for a full breakdown of which items should be disposed of in either the recycling, organics, or trash container.
  • Provide an in-office container with proper signage to collect office food scraps.
  • Check out Athens’ Organics Recycling in Restaurants video to learn how to start separating food scraps.
  • Switch all foodware and utensils to reusable (best option) or compostable options. Athens accepts 100% fiber-based compostable-ware (no petroleum or plant based bio-plastic coating, liner, or filling) as part of the organics collection service.
  • Consider starting a vermicomposting worm bin to process food scraps on site. Check out Athens’ How to Worm Compost in Your Home or Office for more tips.
  • Green waste includes: grass clippings, leaves and branches, flower and hedge trimmings, weeds, and nonhazardous (i.e. not painted or treated) lumber, scrap wood and plywood.
  • California state law AB 1826 requires businesses/multifamily complexes that contract for green waste services to stipulate in their landscaping contract that the landscaper will recycle all the collected green waste. Beginning in 2020, if the landscaper takes the green waste to a landfill for use as Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) or delivers the material to any other facility or transfer station that would then take the material to a landfill, the business/multi-family dwelling is NOT in compliance with AB 1826.
  • Contact us to review organics service options.
  • Develop an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy (EPPP) that sets company expectations for purchases and practices and mandates the use of only goods and services that minimize the impact on human health and the environment.
  • Beware of greenwashing and faking certifications. Products often promote misleading terms such as: “green,” “eco-friendly,” “natural,” “compostable,” etc. or use unverified certifications.
  • Review the FTC’s Green Guides, which are designed to help consumers understand and avoid misleading environmental marketing claims.
  • Establish and emphasize reduction and reuse habits prior to utilizing recycling and composting practices.
  • Incentivize employees and departments to set and achieve sustainability goals. Consider ideas such as: an employee suggestion system, friendly departmental competitions, trash-free week events, etc.
  • Create a sustainability recognition program, which could include rewards* and acknowledgment in company publications.

*Awards should encourage reuse or be waste free (e.g. online gift certificates).

  • Consider whether promotional items are necessary or provide any additional value for the company’s needs. Opt to forego the promotional items if the goals of the promotional items can be achieved through other means.
  • Consider using one display item with a QR code instead of providing individual handouts.
  • Instead of single-use, plastic, or non-recyclable giveaway items, consider long-lasting items that minimize their environmental impact, such as reusable steel straws and reusable cotton tote bags.
  • Choose giveaways made with recycled content and/or align with natural products, such as: wildflower seeds, plant cuttings, seasonal, unpackaged food or plants, coasters made from recycled tires, etc.

Large events and venue facilities are required to plan for solid waste reduction and upon request, report information regarding the waste reduction efforts.

  • Consider hiring a Zero Waste consultant in advance to help develop an effective sustainability strategy and manage the needs and responsibilities on the day of the event.
  • Contact Athens ahead of time if you will need additional collection or waste containers.
  • Prior to the event, consider the types of wasted items the event will create. Look for opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle where possible.
  • Consider reusables first. If single-use disposables are necessary, opt for unbleached and 100% plant-fiber based compostable-ware products with NO coating, liner, or laminate made from bioplastic, petroleum plastic, or wax. If these are not available, choose white or clear plastic items made from #5 (PP) Polypropylene, #1 (PET or PETE) Polyethylene Terephthalate, or #1 rPET to ensure recyclability.
  • Create resource recovery stations where waste collection containers are grouped together with signage for recycling, organics, and trash collection.
  • Train the event team and volunteers and ensure that they understand how the waste will be managed.
  • Donate excess food. Prior to the event, check out Athens’ Food Donation guide for local resources and partners. It is vital to plan for food donation in advance.
  • Forego decorations and promotional items that can cause environmental issues like balloons*, all confetti and glitter**, or grab-bags of stuff that will eventually be thrown away.

* Balloons (including latex and mylar) are not recyclable or compostable. When released (accidently or on purpose) they can harm wildlife or get caught in power lines, which can cause outages and fires.

** Anything with glitter or foil goes in the garbage. These materials will contaminate recycling. Paper and “biodegradable” glitter and confetti will contaminate storm drains and waterways if not disposed of properly.

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