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Recycling at work

"The most important element of an office recycling program is buy-in from management."


EDITOR'S NOTE: All of Ask Renee's columns are moving to NUVO! Here's one from September of 2015.

Find more Ask Renee columns here: nuvo.net/askrenee


Hi Renee,

I work for a company that has a single-stream recycling bin we share with another company in the building. The trash and the recycling bin look nearly identical — they are filled with pretty much the same amount of trash and recyclables equally. One of the most contentious items is food wrappers that have leftover food on them, i.e. an empty pizza box. Our service provider is Republic and I have downloaded information and flyers from their website, but nothing seems to get through to people! (And sometimes I am confused myself.) Do you have any suggestions for promoting recycling in the workplace? And how to respond to people who say, “Oh, they’ll just sort out the trash anyways.”



Hi Hannah,

The most important element of an office recycling program is buy-in from management. Whether they’re doing it for marketing, to save money, or just to do the right thing, management must support the program. And it sounds like, in your case, there are two managements (managementi?) that need to be on board.

If you have management buy-in, see if you can get a recycling champion assigned from both companies (I bet you’ll be a shoo-in). From there, work together to make recycling fun, obvious and engaging. Here are some ideas:

- Decorate the bins with signs indicating what belongs in each. Republic shared their All In One recycling flyer that you can use to indicate what can be recycled. (See the flyer below.)

- Use the worst offender materials (like the lid of a pizza box) to make your signs! Note: greasy and cheesy pizza boxes do not belong in the recycling bin, but if the mess is only on the bottom, the top can be torn off and recycled.

- If the trash and recycling bins are sitting next to each other, separate them. Make your co-workers think about what they’re putting where.

- Change the color of the bins so staff relates a certain color to a certain type of waste.

- Make things interesting — have a contest based around recycling. Challenge the other company.

- Make it fun by allowing employees to reward one another for being a recycling champion.

Here’s some inspiration. In 2013, Eli Lilly and Company removed more than 10,000 trashcans from offices, cubicles and workstations. In 2014, they reported an increase in recycling rates by 30 percent, decreased trash by 10 percent, saw huge waste disposal cost savings and a change in employees’ perception of office waste. Lilly expected a negative reaction from employees, so they made sure to have sponsorship at the highest levels of management to ensure success. They used the following methods of communication:

- Posts on their internal networking site

- Signage at the waste receptacles

- FAQ’s distributed to staff

- Email messages from management

- A display unit demonstrating the average amount of cans, bottles and paper generated by a Lilly employee

- A short video explaining the program

Good luck, Hannah!

Piece out,



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