9 Things Your Office Forgot to Recycle

Photo: njgphoto

Recycling is about more than separating your waste into a few different bins and waiting for somebody to take it away. Although this is helpful to be sure, it is not where recycling begins and ends. Businesses are renowned for being among the biggest culprits in producing unnecessary waste, commonly disposing of items that are not only recyclable in the conventional sense, but also easily reusable.

By finding creative ways to recycle and reuse in the office, you can save waste, and in most cases save money while you're at it. Here are nine things your office may have forgotten to recycle, along with some guidelines for how to make these recycling programs easy to implement and follow.

1. Office Supplies

Office supplies can be reused over and over again. Create a stationery cabinet that allows employees to "drop and shop" used office supplies like binders, file folders, hanging folders, paper clips, rubber bands, interoffice mail folders, and even pens and pencils. Better yet, don't give employees access to new office supplies at all (keep them under lock and key, or under the supervision of one person such as the office manager); see how resourceful people can be in reusing what they have on hand.

2. Paper

Although it may seem primitive to suggest recycling paper in your office, it is still highly overlooked; only about 50% of all the paper in North America gets recycled, and businesses are among the biggest culprits for paper wastage. Make it easy for employees to recycle paper by providing lots of recycling bins in convenient areas throughout the workplace. Don't forget non-office spaces like the kitchen or warehouse; people often have paper (and paper products) in these areas, and the easier it is for them to chuck it in a recycle bin, the better the chance it will be recycled.

But before putting that piece of paper in the recycle bin, make sure it has been used to its full capacity by reusing it. Set up trays or bins for documents that have printing on one side and aren't needed any longer. The blank side can be used to print internal documents or drafts.

3. File Folders

Despite some slightly worn edges, many file folders that are discarded still have some life in them yet. Give them a new purpose by placing adhesive labels over old file names and labels.

4. Shipping Supplies

In addition to reusing boxes from incoming packages, reuse the Styrofoam pellets and packing paper. If you don't have any of that left over, shred old paper (printed on both sides, of course!) and use it as packing material. In order to make this easy for employees, create a central shipping and receiving area that houses these reclaimed items. The more accessible they are, the more likely they are to be reused by everybody.

5. Cardboard

Cardboard (for example from the back of notepads) can be used to stiffen envelopes with sensitive or delicate documents.

6. Cell Phones

There are increasing numbers of cell phone recycling programs available, some of which will actually pay you for your old phones. Most involve shipping the phone to their recycling center, and in many cases the cost of shipping is also covered by providing online shipping labels. Other cell phone recycling programs have central drop-off points, often in stores.

7. Ink and Toner Cartridges

Approximately half of ink and toner cartridges don't get recycled, and for no good reason. Recycled cartridges are refurbished and manufactured for resale, each one saving over two pounds of metal and plastic from landfills, in addition to saving about half a gallon of oil (which is consumed in the original manufacturing process). Check with your local office supplies store; they probably have an ink and toner cartridge recycling program, and they may even provide free recycling boxes for your office to make it easier for your employees to recycle them.

8. Computers and Computer Accessories

There are a few ways you can recycle your businesses' old computers and computer accessories. First of all, when you buy a new replacement computer (or peripheral), ask your vendor if they will take back (or even buy back) your old one. Companies like Dell and HP have asset recycling programs that do just this.

It also pays to check with your local office supplies store to see what they offer in terms of e-waste recycling programs. Find more information on Computer Recycling in the U.S.

You might even be able to snag a tax deduction by donating computers that are less than five years old and still in decent working condition to organizations that will refurbish them. TechSoup and recycles.org have more information on these services, and ComputerTakeBack will also show you where you can go.

9. Televisions and Appliances

Computers and associated electronics aren't the only things that can be recycled; many stores will take back your old television or other appliances. Although some may charge a small recycling or "disposal" fee, others yet may compensate you in the form of a coupon against your next purchase.

Guidelines for Recycling Electronics

When it comes to recycling computers and other electronics, it is important to find a recycler that does not export e-waste to developing countries. Find out more about e-stewards, and why it is important to recycle carefully.

Lastly, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Although your business may need to stay on top of the technology curve with regular upgrading of your equipment, it doesn't mean that your old items aren't useful to others. Wherever possible, recycle your used equipment (as long as it is still in decent working condition) by informally donating it to charities or local non-profits who will appreciate your generosity, or even a friend or neighbor who needs a helping hand.

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