Want to Improve Office Recycling? Try Shrinking Your Trashcan

David Spence
May 5th, 2015

Improving Office Recycling with Smaller Trashbins

But some recycling bins get filled with only a portion of staff’s recyclable waste, or they’re filled with a mix of items that can be recycled and those that can’t. Noting these problems, the three companies conducted a study to see how different types of bins affected proper recycling.

Their findings? Providing each employee with recycling bins with smaller trash cans attached can increase proper recycling in the office. Here’s a summary of how they reached this conclusion.

Details of the Study

In the study, offices in Boston, Atlanta, Houston and San Diego, each with a size of about 50 employees, had four different bin setups:

  • Recycling and trash bins were equally sized and placed at workers’ desks
  • Small hanging trashcans were attached to recycling bins  andplaced at workers’ desks
  • Recycling bins only were placed at employees’ desks (trash cans could be accessed in common areas)
  • The office’s setup was left untouched, but employees were given information on proper recycling protocol

“Proper recycling protocol” entailed educating workers on what can and cannot be recycled. The study measured the volume of 10 items—five recyclable, and five non-recyclable—placed in the trash and recycling bins.

The recyclable items included office paper, plastic beverage bottles, aluminum beverage cans, frozen food boxes and soup cans.

The five non-recyclable items were food scraps, bubble wrap, plastic eating utensils, used paper plates and paper towels.

The Results

Using surveys of employees before and after the study and daily waste audits, researchers found that the “little trash” setup—the recycling bin, with a smaller trash can attached—was by far the most successful in terms of correctly recycled material. Properly recycled items increased, and more non-recyclable items were also correctly placed in the smaller trash bins.

Takeaways for Facilities Managers

Facilities managers who are interested in improving overall recycling rates may therefore want to consider undertaking a similar venture. Here are some of the researchers’ recommendations:

1. Find out what’s recyclable vs. non-recyclable

The researchers found that recyclable items often ended up in the trash, while non-recyclables ended up in recycling bins. However, while some items cannot be recycled, for others, it depends. While an item may technically be recyclable, whether it should be recycled depends on your particular waste hauler. Check with the company you contract with to see if certain items should definitely be placed in the trash bin.

2. Provide signage for employees

According to the study, signs listing what’s recyclable and what isn’t are (pardon the pun) indispensable. Once you’ve learned what can be recycled by your hauler, it’s create signage so that employees know what should go where. Without these guidelines, they may continue placing dirty paper plates in the recycling, thinking that they’re helping the environment when they’re actually doing the opposite.

3. Consider logistics

It’s important to note that the average size of each office in this study was only 50 employees. Replicating this kind of effort on a larger scale would certainly be an investment of time and effort. For those interested in introducing this kind of recycling model in their offices, however, the study lists several logistical points for you to consider.

Conference rooms may need matching recycling and trash bins (as opposed to those of different colors), for the sake of aesthetics. FMs should think about whether they would like to purchase liners for smaller trash bins, or go without them altogether. Finally, a successful implementation will depend on strong communication with both employees and custodial staff.

For more in-depth tips on starting any kind of recycling program, check out the blog I wrote on the topic. To read the full results of the study, click here.

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