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Starting an Office Recycling Program: How I Did It & How You Can Too

Posted Sep 07 2008 10:14am
I recently took a full-time writing job and was surprised to learn there was no recycling program in place -- not only for my own office of 12 people, but for the dozens of offices in our building complex. When I brought it up during a weekly meeting, I was tasked with making it happen, which turned out to be no easy task at all.

Getting Started

My first step was contacting the City of Phoenix. As I learned, they do not provide recycling pick-up (or any waste services) to businesses. My contact there suggested my best bet was to go through whatever company currently picks up our trash. To find that out, I had to contact the management company of our office complex. That's when I really started to get a clear picture of just how challenging the implementation of an office recycling program could be.

There's only room for 4 bins in our office complex parking lot. So to install a recycling bin would mean getting rid of a regular trash bin. And since the management company operates at what she called a "zero operating budget" it may be something that would have to be put off until next year. It was a decision that would be up to the board of directors, and as luck would have it, a board meeting was coming up -- not just any board meeting, but one of four they have throughout the year when represenatives from each office are invited to come.

The Memo

Rather than rely solely on my oral persuasion skills at the meeting, I did what I do best -- wrote my thoughts down. In memo form, I submitted my "argument" to my contact with the management company and she promised to make copies and put it in each packet that would be distributed during the meeting -- to board members and everyone else.

Essentially, I said it was hard for us to come to terms with the fact that we take such care in recycling at home, and yet do not have the same opportunity to do so at work. Even if adding a recycling bin meant getting rid of a trash bin, it should all even out, as much of what is thrown away as "trash" in our office complex is actually recyclable materials, like cardboard boxes, paper and water bottles. Finally, I pointed out that whatever nominal fee for recycling would be passed on to us and other businesses in the complex would be well worth the priceless impact of helping to protect the environment.

The Board Meeting

I guess I was expecting a big room filled with "audience" members sitting in front of an intimidating panel of board members, sort of like what Kevin Bacon faces in Footloose when he's trying to convince the town its high school students are responsible enough to handle a senior prom. But as it turns out, this board of directors was almost equally suspicious of our ability to handle a recycling program.

Apparently, us "owners" (i.e., businesses in the complex) don't do a very good job of following directions when it comes to waste disposal. Many of the offices are doing inner construction and disposing of the materials in the trash bins, a big no-no. We're also apparently really bad about remembering to keep the gates to the trash bins closed. The board members worried we'd really screw things up if we had another set of directions to follow, questioning our ability or commitment to properly keeping recyclables and trash in their respective bins.

One of the meeting attendees (not sure if he is a board member or not) actually questioned the importance of recycling at all, pointing to the "fact" that recycling requires three times as much energy as simply sending it to a landfill. Fortunately, one of the board members runs an environmental services company. Considering the fact that these recyclables go toward producing new products, he explained, the carbon footprint does not even compare -- recycling is definitely the more eco-friendly option.

I wish I could say all of that were enough to convince the board to "get on board" with office recycling. But what it came down to is this -- instead of costing them more money to implement, a recycling program actually costs them about fifty bucks less per month. (As the environmental guy explained, that's because the waste company is reselling it.)

That said, it was decided to give the recycling program a try and review its progress in three months time.

Office Recycling in Action

That was a little over a week ago. In my office we've already purchased two recycling cans -- one for upstairs, another for downstairs, each with a sign above them detailing what is okay to put in them. There's only 12 of us, so two is plenty, though we are talking about getting individual smaller ones for each of our desks. As for the big recycling bin in the parking lot, it's expected to replace a trash bin any day now.

I never imagined I'd be responsible for instigating such eco-friendly change at work, but it just goes to show that it just takes one person's expression of interest to influence the behavior of many.

Click the following link for more info to start an office recycling program of your own.
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