Front Office > Recycling and Composting

Implementing a recycling and composting program at your organization’s offices can reduce waste and save money.

Recycling is the most widely practiced of all environmentally preferable activities, but care needs to be taken in order to design an effective and efficient program.  Implementing a composting program can offer additional opportunities to reduce waste, ranging from collection of grass clippings and other landscaping wastes, to collecting food waste and compostable serviceware in kitchens.

Office Recycling

Your waste hauler may be a valuable source of information about recycling options in your area. Talk to your waste hauler about the recyclable materials in your waste stream and how to separate these items for collection. Consider centralized waste bins in common areas, and replace individual desk waste bins with paper recycling bins since 90% of what is discarded at an office desk is typically paper. Make sure all bins are clearly labeled, and make sure to inform employees and cleaning staff about your office’s recycling policies.

Also consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help you conduct a waste audit, reduce waste, and implement a recycling program. In addition, it is helpful to engage building operators when implementing your office’s recycling program.

For listings of recycling service providers near your city, visit Earth 911’s Business Resources directory and the Environmental Yellow Pages.

Calculate the environmental benefits of recycling

For a comprehensive discussion on waste reduction, see EPA’s Resource Conservation section on reduction and reuse.

In addition, the following guides are excellent resources for those wishing to improve their existing recycling programs:

Waste Prevention and Recycling at the Office
Comprehensive Guide to Venue and Event Recycling
Recycling Advocates – A Guide to Reducing Waste at Any Event
WasteWise – How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program
Minnesota Guide to Source Reduction

Recycling in the Mail Room

Shipping materials such as polystyrene foam (Styrofoam), bubble wrap, and loose polystyrene fill (packing peanuts) can account for a lot of company waste, are difficult to recycle, and are usually made from nonrenewable fossil fuel-derived materials. Reusing these materials in future shipping can avoid the unnecessary production and purchase of these plastics and reduce your organization’s waste. If your organization is on the receiving end of these materials, ask your vendors to avoid using them in the future, and visit The Plastic Loose Fill Council for information on drop-off collection centers that will recover your loose polystyrene fill for reuse. Also, consider using reusable transport packaging to reduce your shipping waste and conserve resources. Visit Use Reusables for information on reusable packaging and its benefits for both your organization and the environment.

Office Composting

Composting reduces the environmental impacts associated with waste disposal, and if done properly, it can even save your organization money through reduced waste, hauling, disposal, and fertilizer costs.

Composting infrastructure varies widely by market. Consult with your waste hauler to learn more about the services it provides and the composting facilities available in your market. Also consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help your organization investigate composting.

For listings of compost service providers near your city, visit Earth 911’s Business Resources directory and the Environmental Yellow Pages.  Also visit the EPA’s Composting website for more information on composting programs in your area.

For a comprehensive discussion of waste and use reduction, see EPA’s Business Guide for Reducing Solid Waste and NRDC’s “Too Good to Throw Away”.

What is composting?

Composting is the controlled breakdown of organic waste (generally yard waste and certain types of food) into a useful product that can be used as a mulch and fertilizer. It is easy and cost-effective, and since it can reduce the volume of your organization’s waste stream and reduce your need to buy mulch and fertilizer, composting can even save money. You can consider whether it’s possible to set up a composting program on-site, or work with your waste hauler or other local haulers to collect organic waste for offsite composting.

Recycling and composting can save money

Recycling and composting can save money through avoided disposal and hauling costs, although market conditions vary by material and by region. Many recyclable items can also be sold on the market as a source of revenue. A waste audit can help your organization identify these potential savings and revenue opportunities. Many companies have found significant savings through their own efforts to increase recycling.

By introducing a comprehensive recycling and composting program aimed at zero waste, the Seattle Mariners  increased the diversion rate at Safeco Field from 12% in 2006 to over 80% in 2012. Working directly with vendors enabled the Mariners to achieve a higher recovery rate, as vendors were able to find compostable alternatives to food and beverage packaging. As a result of their aggressive recycling and composting, the Mariners saved $$95,000 in landfill costs in 2011, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10.4 million pounds CO2 equivalent from 2006 to 2011. Read more about the Mariners’ greening efforts.

In 2005, O.co Coliseum in Oakland (formerly McAfee Stadium and home to the Oakland Athletics and Oakland Raiders) became the first major sports league venue to implement a composting program and use compostable bioplastic cups. While bottles, cans and paper discards go into recycling bins, almost all other products are composted, including cups, food waste, grass clippings, landscape trimmings and other organic waste. The O.co Coliseum diverts about 400 tons of recyclables and composts 200 tons of organic waste annually. The stadium saves $10,000 to $20,000 per month through their recycling and composting efforts. Read more about O.co Coliseum’s greening efforts.

In three years the Cleveland Indians cut their annual waste in half by significantly expanding their recycling facilities to sort waste on-site. This reduced the number of trash compactor pickups–that cost the Indians an average of $500 each–by 64 percent from 254 pickups in 2007 to 92 in 2010, saving the Club $50,000 annually. Since purchasing balers in early 2008, the club has also earned over $20,000 in commodity rebates for its recycled materials. Read more about the Indians’ greening efforts.

Through an aggressive waste diversion program at the Rose Garden Arena, the Portland Trail Blazers divert over 80 percent of their waste from landfills. They accomplish this by maintaining extensive recycling stations for visitors and a food waste composting program that includes vendor participation. These projects together help divert about 1000 tons from landfills each year. The Trail Blazers achieve an annual savings of over $200,000 in operating expenses by keeping recyclables out of the landfill. Read more about the Trail Blazers’ greening efforts.

For more examples of how smart waste practices can save your organization money, see the following websites:

New York City Recycling Case Studies
StopWaste.org Partnership Success Stories
Institute for Local Self Reliance – Recycling Record Setters

Environmental Benefits

Recycling is one of the easiest and most widely accepted activities used to advance sustainability. Setting up a recycling program is relatively simple and a great way to involve staff at all levels in your organization’s environmental priorities. Recycling protects habitat, and saves energy, water, and resources such as forests, fossil fuels, and metals. By recycling paper, cardboard, metals, and plastics, you can help reduce the harmful impacts associated with the extraction and processing of these resources, including oil spills, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. Manufacturing products from recycled content is less polluting than producing the same products from newly harvested or extracted materials. Making paper from recycled fibers, for example, uses less energy, less water, and produces less air and water pollution than making paper from trees.

Generating compost and using it in facility landscaping can save money by reducing the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Food, landscaping debris and wood waste make up a third of our everyday trash. When organic compounds decompose in a landfill, they generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Composting reduces the amount of waste directed to landfills by transforming organic waste into useful fertilizer, and it reduces the emissions of harmful greenhouse gasses.

Additional Resources

EPA – Recycling
National Recycling Coalition
Recycling Environmental Benefits Calculator
EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) Calculator
Comprehensive Guide to Venue and Event Recycling
EPA – Stadium Recycling: How to Get Started
Recycling Advocates – A Guide to Reducing Waste at Any Event
WasteWise – How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program
Minnesota Guide to Source Reduction
Master Composter
EPA – Composting
HowToCompost.org
The Compost Guide
Garden Guides – How to Compost