Make a Big Difference to the Environment by Making Small Changes to Your Company’s Recycling Culture
In the quest for a greener planet, waste separation and paper recycling are the easiest ways for companies to lessen their waste footprint.
Although many companies might argue that they are paperless, paper products are still part of everyday life: cardboard boxes that protect new computer equipment, grocery and take-away paper bags; food and beverage packaging, and even the inconspicuous toilet roll core.
By making small changes to their recycling practices, businesses can make a big difference to the circular economy by reducing the reusable paper fibre going to landfill and sustaining jobs.
While many businesses may have waste management and recycling practices in place, there is often a lot of contamination that takes place between the time the paper goes into the bin and it being separated for recycling – if it even gets that far.
Six things that any business can do to keep paper in the recycling loop and out of landfill
1. Make recycling easy and efficient
Nobody likes to walk too far to throw something away. Numerous social experiments have shown that placing recycling bins near where people work and move increases recycling rates. An Australian study showed that paper recycling rose from 28% with one bin per office, to 94% when paper trays were located on desks[i].
- Each desk needs a paper-only bin or box, but make sure that employees know it is only for clean and dry paper and paper packaging.
- Install well-marked, paper-only bins in key locations: printing/copying stations, meeting and break rooms, kitchen areas and reception.
2. Separate and educate
Paper needs to stay clean and dry to be viable for recycling, and separation-at-source is the first step in the greater recycling process. Wet waste – food, coffee grounds, tea bags, cigarette butts and soiled take-away containers – contaminates the paper and can set off the natural degradation process.
- For every paper-only bin, there should be a bin for other recyclables and a wet waste bin alongside it.
- Educate employees around what is recyclable and what is not, and why there are separate bins.
- Empower cleaning teams with the correct recycling knowledge so that recyclables are not mixed with wet waste at the end of the working day.
- Visitors, suppliers, and customers should know that your business recycles so they can support – and not derail – your efforts.
- Download Fibre Circle’s handy printable posters to display in key areas.
3. Know your recyclables
These paper products are recyclable:
- Brown cardboard boxes and packaging
- Molded fibre protective packaging
- Copy and printing paper
- Notebooks (minus wire binding and non-recyclable covers)
- Paper packaging from cereal, tea, sugar, and other dry goods
- Paper coffee and soft drink cups and bowls
- Molded fibre take-away cup holders
- Magazines and newspapers
- Milk and juice cartons
- Paper grocery bags and take-away food bags
- Pizza boxes and burger clam shells – no food residue!
- Tubing from kitchen towel rolls and toilet rolls
While the list of recyclable paper products is vast, there are also several paper-based items that should not be recycled as they can cause problems in a paper recycling mill:
- Tissues and toilet paper
- Paper towel and paper napkins
- Dirty paper plates
- Cigarette butts
- Laminated paper
- Carbon copy paper
4. Appoint a recycling champion
Your recycling champion needs to drive and monitor the programme, and make changes when things are not working.
If you don’t have a waste management company, partner with a recycling collection agent – a big company, a smaller business, or an informal collector. You could also support a local school or charity’s recycling fundraising initiative.
It is important that your recyclables get to where they need to be – back into the recycling loop.
5. Recycle more than paper
Where there are people, there will always be waste but there is always a better way of managing it.
- Plastic, cans and glasses as well as ink cartridges and e-waste should also be separated for recycling.
- Consider a composting solution for food waste such as a worm farm, bokashi bins or even industrial composting units.
- Plastic bottle tops can be collected for initiatives that fund wheelchairs for underprivileged individuals.
6. Beware of the greenwash
The paperless movement is often a little misguided in that it is believed that electronic communication is greener than paper-based communication. While online environments and cloud-based systems are quintessential in today’s modern business, they still consume energy and have a carbon footprint.
Email signatures asking recipients to consider the environment by not printing is another form of greenwash.
Paper is a renewable product, made from sustainably farmed trees or recycled paper. Only a small percentage of trees are harvested each year, and new trees are planted to replace them. This means there are always trees at different stages of their growth cycle, and a sustainable supply for years to come.
Trees also store carbon, which stays locked up in paper and wood products. Recycling ensure that the carbon remains intact in the paper product for longer; in cardboard this can be as much as 25 times according to a study[ii] conducted by Graz University of Technology in Austria.
[i] Brother, K.J., Krantz, P.J. & McClannahan, L.E. Office Paper Recycling: A function of Container Proximity. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis 27, 153-160 (1994)
[ii] Procarton. 2021. Recyclability of Cartonboard and Cartons – Cartons can be recycled more than 25 times. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.procarton.com/recyclability-of-cartonboard-and-cartons-25-loops-study/. [Accessed 10 November 2022].