In 2016, our office waste management program was in-line with the new NYC waste laws for commercial buildings. The new laws required commercial buildings in New York City to recycling paper, cardboard, and plastic/metal/glass. While our office waste program recycled these waste streams, we were lacking a cohesive strategy to encourage and facilitate recycling. It was agreed by all that our waste program could use a face lift, so we formed a small group to spearhead this effort, the CodeGreen Wastebusters.
Our goal was to become a zero waste office (90% recycling rate). We developed three strategies to meet this goal:
- Eliminate waste contamination (i.e. a water bottle being put in the paper recycling bin).
- Implement a composting program
- Develop a cohesive source reduction strategy to reduce the amount of waste produced in the office
Implementing a Waste Strategy
As part of our first strategy to eliminate waste contamination, we performed a walkthrough of our office space and conducted a week-long waste audit. We were surprised to see that our overall recycling rate was only 46%. We joked about our “trashy” recycling rate and implemented our waste strategy.
We retrofitted the office with new waste bins and commissioned a local artist to draw customized waste signage that we hung next to our new bins. The signage incorporated our trickiest waste items, such as chopsticks, notebooks, plastic wrappers, plastic bags, and milk cartons. The goal was to make sure our signage helped people decide where to put the more confusing items. Our final step in reducing contamination was to conduct a company-wide waste training seminar so that everyone understood what materials belonged in each bin.
The waste audit revealed that 30% of our waste was comprised of compostable materials. To increase our diversion rate, we implemented a composting program in the office. We use a local company that collects our waste once a month and turns it into fertilizer for a nearby golf course.
- Source Reduction Strategy
Our final strategy involved understanding where waste in the office was being generated. We conducted an employee survey to understand why certain items were a part of our waste stream. For instance, we polled the company on why people bought coffee from coffee shops (and therefore threw out paper coffee cups on a daily basis) instead of using our pantry’s coffee machine. This survey helped us implement solutions that reduced the amount of waste our office produces. For instance, we began purchasing certain food items in bulk to limit individual wrappers, and switched to brands which offered recyclable wrappers and containers.
Impact and Lessons Learned
After implementing our waste strategy, we conducted a second waste audit. The audit showed an increased recycling rate from 46% to 91%! We hope our story inspires others to take a deeper look at where their office is currently performing, and set goals to become a zero waste office.