Sustainable Waste Management

Through our partnership with Green Office Academy, we’ve created a list of five quick and useful tips on how to reduce your waste. These tips are generally oriented around office life, perfect for integration with budding workplace sustainability initiatives! For more information on sustainable waste management by recycling in the office, you can also check out this article.

Tip #1 – It All Starts With What You Buy

What you purchase establishes your waste stream. Reducing waste is a lot easier to accomplish when you consider how you will dispose of an item and its packaging before you buy it. 

Check out the 9Rs on the Green Office Academy website, they provide a framework on how to approach sustainable purchasing and reduce waste.

Tip #2 – Figure out how much and what you are throwing out or recycling

Quantitative measurement: Periodically, once a year or quarter for instance, collect all the trash and recycling in clear bags – keeping trash, recycling, and organic waste separate. Weigh the bags. Record what’s in each bag, estimating the percent of contamination (what shouldn’t be in the bag)

Qualitative illustration: Photograph what is working well (what is getting recycled properly) and what isn’t, such as contaminants in the recycling. These pictures will bring the volume that is going to the landfill vs getting recycled or composted to life. Make sure staff sees these pictures. Images make the numbers real.

Baseline: You have now established a baseline of what is getting disposed of and where it’s going. Do this same process periodically and track your progress.

Tip #3 – Have central places for landfill waste, recycling, and composting

Make it hard to do the wrong thing. Try replacing the trash bin at each desk with a recycling bin. This means that when they have non-recyclable trash to throw away, they will have to get up and go to a central location where it is less convenient and easier to monitor. 

While the ultimate goal should be a paperless office, a recycling bin allows an easier transition to reduce waste while you get there.

Tip #4 – Have very clear signage and appropriate bins 

Confusion is your enemy. If people are confused about where to dispose of something, it will either end up in the landfill or even worse – contaminate other recyclables. Have a receptacle for each of your waste streams and signage that makes it very clear what goes where. I had a client that has gone as far as having shadow boxes above their bins that show the waste types for each bin.

Tip #5 – Work with your custodial services

Lack of communication and oversight of custodial services is the downfall of many waste reduction initiatives. You’re already making their life easier by having completed the four previous tips, but you must make sure to bring them up to speed on the How and Why of the waste reduction initiative. This education and communication should be ongoing as the initiative progresses to account for changes in staff and/or procedure. Establishing that working relationship can help you identify problem areas or even chronic waste offenders in the office. 

About the Author

Julia Craighill


Julia Craighill is the founder and president of Ensight. She is a driven, award-winning sustainability expert committed to helping organizations build value through green strategies. With more than three decades of experience in architecture, construction and sustainability, she collaborates with her clients to align green goals with business goals. A frequent speaker and prolific author on issues of sustainability and resiliency, Julia is known for her solid, pragmatic guidance that helps organizations make the leap from good intentions to long-term, profitable performance. Since starting Ensight Consulting seven years ago, Julia has helped dozens of companies, from large multi-national corporations to a two-person yoga studio, reduce their environmental impact and demonstrate corporate responsibility.

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