Organizations typically see the recycling container as the symbol of their environmental efforts. In reality, recycling is only one–and arguably the least important–of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Manufacturing an item–a car, a can of soda, a sheet of paper–takes resources. Imagine the positive impact of not using those resources in the first place. The first step in any organization’s efforts to improve their environmental friendliness is to reduce.
• Stop Junk Mail – Businesses still bombard past, present and potential customers with snail mail. Contact these businesses and ask them to stop.
• Buy Quality – Businesses buy cheap thinking they are saving money, but cheap items break and need to be replaced. Buy durable items to save money in the long run and reduce your environmental impact.
• Rent Or Borrow – Infrequently used items such as furniture or tools can be leased or shared with another company rather than purchased outright.
• Buy In Bulk – When you buy a lot of small containers, you get lots of packaging material. Buy in larger packages to reduce the material and save money as well.
We all need to resist the “disposable culture” attitude that permeates our society. Reuse items instead of tossing them into a recycling container.
• Dishes – Use washable dishes and silverware at company functions instead of paper plates. Give each employee a water bottle emblazoned with the company logo to reduce the number of plastic bottles and to generate free advertising.
• Ban One-Sided Printing – Duplex printers can use both sides of a sheet. When documents are printed on one side, reuse them for jobs like printer test sheets or quick internal print jobs.
• Repair Rather Than Replace – Just because something breaks doesn’t mean you have to buy a new one. Fix broken items to get more life out of them.
• Donate – If you are replacing functional items like computers, donate them to local charities instead of trashing or recycling them.
Even with the best policies, waste happens and you want the recyclable waste to end up in the recycling container instead of the trash can. Deploy recycling bins in high-traffic areas such as snack rooms and lobbies. Educate employees on proper recycling habits and encourage them to be environmentally friendly.
The best recycling starts with pre-cycling: buying products with an eye to how recyclable they are. This can apply to something as simple as a company lunch. Instead of ordering pizza, which comes in grease-stained cardboard that can’t go into the recycling container, maybe get deli sandwiches that come in recyclable plastic containers.
The recycling container is still a valuable part of a comprehensive environmental program, but it is only a part. Reduce and reuse before recycling to make Mother Nature happy.