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Recycling at work

A company workforce is made up of a diverse group of people with different natures, mindsets, and backgrounds.

Thanks to the UK’s somewhat cavalier attitude to recycling, responsible disposal of refuse is generally seen as a matter of personal choice and closely associated with the home environment. So, when implementing a recycling policy in the workplace, it should be presented as part of the job.

Recycling, like any other team activity, needs to be well organised and monitored for the best results.

Audit your waste

If you’re looking to improve a system and measure its efficacy, it’s necessary to establish your starting point. So, before making any changes, you need to know exactly what’s happening now:

  • What are you throwing away?
  • How much are you throwing away?
  • How much recyclable waste is being put into general-waste bins?
  • Are some bins being used more than others?
  • How many bins are there?
  • Where are the bins located?
  • Are the bins clearly labelled?
  • Who is responsible for emptying the bins?

Looking at the results of your audit:

Are labelled bins being used more correctly than unlabelled ones?

However good our intentions, few of us have the patience or the inclination to spend time working out what bin is for what kind of refuse. After all, for most people, work is the priority. Clear labelling goes a long way to a smooth recycling programme.

Are individual desk bins being used correctly?

Research shows that a centralised refuse system is very effective in the workplace. From a psychological perspective, shared bins, rather than individual desk bins, stimulate community conscience. The very act of getting up to go to a bin brings with it a sense of purpose. If you’re going to stop what you’re doing to dispose of rubbish, in public view, you might as well do it properly!

Are some bins not being used much – or at all?

If certain bins aren’t being used, they’re probably in the wrong place. However, if a small department is a long way from the rest of the office, dedicated bins are necessary.

Are some bins being overfilled?

When a bin starts to overflow, people will put their rubbish in another bin. To ensure that rubbish is being put in the right place, the bins should be regularly emptied.

How much recyclable waste (in kg) is being disposed of with general waste?

Separate the recyclable rubbish that’s been put in the general-waste bin and weigh it. This will be the baseline for measuring your organisation’s progress.

What can and can’t be recycled?

An estimated 60% of rubbish that ends up in UK landfill sites could be recycled. Why is this? Well, it could be that the rubbish was thrown away by people who:

  • didn’t care about recycling
  • couldn’t find a convenient recycling bin
  • didn’t know what could and couldn’t be recycled
Paper can be recycled

Most forms of paper can be recycled. Printer paper, shredded documents, magazines, paper-back books, receipts, fliers, cardboard, etc can be put into the recycling bin. Envelopes, too, can generally be included, as adhesive strips and plastic address windows are separated as part of the recycling process. Some local councils, however, don’t have the facilities to handle envelopes, so this needs to be checked.

Some paper can’t be recycled

Certain types of paper shouldn’t be put into the recycling bin. This includes kitchen roll, toilet tissue, wet wipes, wallpaper, and food- or paint-stained paper. Wrapping paper is often coated with a film of plastic, and this, too, is not recyclable. To determine if paper is plastic-coated, scrunch it up; if it unfurls, it’s coated, but if it stays scrunched, it’s just paper.

Glass can be recycled

Glass is one of the most easily recycled materials. Glass can be reformed time and time again without deteriorating in quality, and it takes a lot less energy to recycle glass than it does to manufacture new product. It’s a good thing too, because glass could take 1,000,000 years to decompose.

Ink cartridges can be recycled

Each year, an estimated 65,000,000 ink cartridges are sold in the UK, and approximately 45,000,000 (69%) of them are sent to landfill.

It takes 3.5 liters oil to manufacture one new cartridge, and up to 1,000 years for it to decompose.

Many supplier provide the means to return used cartridges, free of charge. Others offer cash for cartridges.

Plastic can be recycled

Plastic bottles, usually made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), take around 500 years to decompose. If they’re put in the recycling bin, they can be used to make new plastic materials.

The best way to reduce plastic waste, though, is not to use single-use plastic at all, but to refill a reusable drinking bottle.

Aluminium can be recycled

A few facts about aluminium:

  • It takes more energy to mine aluminium than any other metal. 
  • It takes about 200 years for an aluminium can to decompose. 
  • Making a can from recycled aluminium takes only about 5% of the energy it takes to make one from virgin material.
  • Around 180 billion aluminium cans are bought each year.

All aluminium cans should be disposed of in a recycling bin.

Employee engagement

Regular reports, in the form of meetings, email updates, and newsletters, will help keep the recycling programme alive. If staff are seeing the impact of their actions, they’ll be encouraged to continue the effort.

Inhouse competitions between departments can add a bit of fun and sport to improving an organisation’s sustainability performance.

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