What does your office supply list look like? Below is just a small sampling of the items which will inevitably decorate both home and corporate offices. Stashed throughout any such location, one can find seemingly endless reams of paper, piled high in cardboard boxes; shelving stuffed with leaky cleaning sanitizers and bottles; and dark, cavernous drawers which house plenty of sharp, tiny objects just waiting to attack. Furthermore, many of these items are delivered, banded heavily by bubble wrap, paper filling, plastic sheeting, or cardboard enclosures.
|SUPPLY TYPE||QUANTITY (BOXES)|
|Computer Printing Paper||30|
After being unwrapped and used for its expected life, what happens with all these now waste materials? Most likely, such goods are eventually thrown in a trashcan, later to be taken to a landfill. And while your office, if only for a moment, feels more spacious, the tossed material will linger on. (Plastics will stay in that landfill for hundreds of years!) Therefore, the next stage of life for bundled plastic wrap, papers, and boxing, is largely up to you.
A non-profit environmental organization called “Recycle Across America” shares on their website that, “a recent Yale University and EPA study found that the United States recycles less than 22% of its discarded materials;” and furthermore, “[d]espite only representing 5% of the world population, the U.S. generates more waste than any other country in the world.” An even more shocking fact states that “in less than 15 years, worldwide waste is expected to double.” In response to this alarming data, their call to action claims: “Without exception, recycling is the top action society can do to simultaneously improve: the environment, the economy, sustainable manufacturing and to prevent waste from going into oceans.” This organization (among numerous others) also list a series of impressive results of the recycling industry, if it were to be better utilized by the population, demonstrating the powerful impact both one and the many can have.
So next time, what are you going to do with that bundle of office trash? In an office setting specifically, multiple reports state that on average, 80 to 90% of the materials consumed can later be recycled. Anyone who chooses to recycle, from an individual working out of their home office, to a large corporation with skyscrapers sweeping across the country, can truly make a difference.
Recycling is actually the third step in a greater three-part system: reduce, reuse, recycle. To reduce is to “make smaller or less in amount, degree, or size,” and this definition absolutely fits for this three-step waste management model. Reduction urges us to use products that create less waste, has minimal packaging, and contains materials more easily recycled. To reuse is to use again, or more than once. By this suggestion, it is important to share materials rather than just throw them away. And to recycle is to convert waste into reusable material. Recycling a product may change its purpose, appearance, and even structure into essentially a new product.
This 3-R slogan, branded by three thick, curved, and clockwise flowing arrows, has debatable origins but is often traced to the first national Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, amidst the Vietnam War. This same year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed. Both events were in response to a growing need for awareness and action to enact better waste management. Especially after the industrial boom, which occurred during and continued after World War II, waste production has increased in sensational numbers. However, the supply and demand concepts behind this slogan extends hundreds of years back, traceable throughout multiple cultural, religious, and national identities..
So if we return to how a modern office can affect the 3-R model, the argument boils down to one of sustainability. We should ask ourselves: how can we continue to consume large amounts of goods at a rate faster than the original sources can grow? How can we continue to pour trash into a landfill quicker than it can decompose; and what about the common products that do not decompose at all? Reducing, reusing and recycling in an office not only becomes a responsible choice but a necessary one.
The switch to recycling products seems difficult because there are a series of standards and regulations about what and how trash can be recycled. While regulated by the EPA, each city and state often have access to different amounts of recycling programs, and also may enact different legal standards. However, the process can actually be made quite simple, whether for a one-person operation, to a team of thousands. First, it may be a best practice to implement a recycling team leader. This is somebody who understands recycling guidelines for their location, has leadership abilities, and is willing to take on a task managerial role. This person should be able to communicate with local recycling agencies, as well as be informed of city or state standards. They can then begin the process of helping an office to “go green.” And while not every waste management system will work for a certain company or location, below is a wide array of best practices to consider when converting an office to “green” standards.
The aforementioned team leader would do well to measure input versus output of office supplies. They can ensure there is not an abundance of waste through dedicated standards of supply ordering, supply closets, and management of whom supplies are ordered from. The idea is to avoid the creation of waste initially.
The team leader can also impact how goods and materials are distributed amongst an office or later, donation programs.
Lastly, the team leader can work with city guidelines and the provisional companies that supply office materials to ensure sustainable practices are being upheld.
Now, of course, these best practices are essentially meaningless if the office staff does not participate. To be honest, reports often state it becomes more difficult to engage your team in 3-R behaviors than their implementation. Here are some helpful ways to create a recycling community:
The recycling process is just that: a process. It does take effort and time to implement but is very possible. There are already many business models available that participate in the 3-R system, but with a 22% recycle rate, there are many more people who could help. How your own company needs to adhere to recycling standards will be based on industry and location, but even small steps would have an impact on the overuse and mishandled environment. This process can be challenging yet exciting, opening pathways to build a sense of community in the office place, establish a larger-community role for your company, and helping to support the environment we need to continue our current living expectations.