At Work

Waste Reduction Resources
For Employers and Employees
The Basics - Getting Started for Any Kind of Business

For Business Management:

RH Business Recycling Guide & Workbook

(NOTE: contact information out of date)

For Small Offices:

1. Check what’s in the office trash for a couple weeks.
– Likely it’s mostly paper and cardboard and maybe some water bottles and Starbucks cups.  Maybe also take out food and contaminated containers from nearby food shops.
2.  What can you reduce?
– replace single use water bottles with reusable bottles.  Your company can put its logo on them and use them for advertising and for employees.  If there are enough water drinkers, you can set up water jug delivery and use personal ceramic mugs.  
– make sure you are double-side printing any materials your office is producing
– see if people will bring their own lunches in reusable containers instead of having to throw out food service ware – at least some of the time. Have them bring a cloth napkin from home to reuse instead of paper napkins.
– encourage people to buy refillable Starbuck’s coffee mugs.
3.  What can you recycle?
– set up a bin or bag for HI-5 cans and bottles. You can redeem at Transfer Stations, Mr. K’s and Atlas Recycling.  Save up enough and you can splurge for an office treat or donate the containers to a charity the office supports.
– set up a “mixed recyclables” bin – paper, cardboard, magazines, postcards, metal food cans, non-HI5 bottles/jugs/jars that are marked #1 or #2.  Not acceptable – Starbuck’s cups, any kind of clamshell (even those saying they are “compostable”), any food-contaminated containers/napkins.  “If in doubt throw it out.”
– non-HI-5 glass is recyclable, but needs to be separated from mixed recyclables at the Transfer Station.
– get someone to volunteer or rotate duty to take recyclables to a Transfer Station when the bins are full or you have enough HI-5s to cash in.
– see if anyone in the office composts and would take food waste (reminder, most clamshells and utensils can only be composted in an industrial facility and we don’t have one yet).  You can even get a small bin to collect that waste for the office.
4.  For the one-offs, check out our website at  or the County’s site at  Remember to consider donating still usable goods – to your favorite charity or to the Reuse Centers at Transfer Station.  Buy only what you need. (eg, AA batteries bought in bulk at Costco to “save money” where you wind up throwing out 1/2 of the 72-pack because their so old they’re no good anymore!)  Take that dead office plant to the Transfer Station greenwaste chute or to someone who composts.
Feel good about it and let customers know you are working at being a Zero Waste office! It could be fun to keep track off how much waste you’ve diverted and how the amount of waste down the garbage chute is going down in volume on a poster in the office!


For Employees at Larger Companies:


Step 1: Speak with the department that oversees waste management, usually the business owner or property manager.
Here are some important questions to help you get started:
  • Are there any individuals or groups that are already working on waste reduction?
  • Is Recycling or Composting happening at work?
  • What are the current waste management policies regarding recycling?
  • What are the current waste management policies regarding composting?
  • Are there any purchasing policies that are relevant to waste management?
  • Does the current waste hauling service contract include recycling/composting?
  • Would there be any financial gains to recycling or composting?
If your work does not have the ideal waste management system in place yet, many of these questions will be answered with responses such as, “It didn’t work,” or “we’ve never been able to.” For responses like these it’s important to ask why. The past reasons may no longer be the case.
Step 2: Follow the breadcrumbs. Your interview with management will give you a good idea on who to speak with next.
Some of these, your workplace may not have, but these are the essential groups you will want to speak with if they do:
  • Custodians – They are the at the front line of keeping the workplace clean and safe from health hazards. Speak with as many as you can and listen carefully to what they have to say. They will be able to tell you about the work place’s waste behaviors better than any other group. When working to find solutions always keep them in mind. If your solutions are efficient and effective they will naturally keep the custodians work load the same or lessen it.
  • Kitchen/Food Manager – It will be beneficial to speak with the kitchen staff to learn about current practices and any policies they have to comply with.
  • Users – This includes management, co-workers and customers. Ask them how user friendly the current system is and/or what types of improvements they’d like to see. Pitch your ideas to them and get their feedback.
  • Organization or Committee – Is there a work group that already focuses on waste reduction? If so, you’ll want to join forces with them. If not, seriously consider starting one.  Consult with motivated management & co-workers. There is no faster way to bring an initiative to a screeching halt than for a solo activist to move on.  
Step 3: Do a waste audit. Yes, there maybe a particular item that stoked your curiosity in the first place, such as not being able to recycle a bottle at work, but after doing a waste audit you may find there is a larger underlying reason that needs to be tackled first. Here’s and example of a waste audit you can refine for your business:
Define the Challenge
Now that you have a better picture of the current managing practices and what the waste stream and user behaviors are, what needs to be improved the most? Seek out the main challenge in this order:
  • Reduce – Is your main challenge a need to reduce something? Speak with the purchasing department to find out if there are ways to reduce the amount of unsustainable products ordered. For example, speak with the purchasing department and work to only order materials that are recyclable, compostable and reusable.  Are some of your work processes inefficient or resulting in poor quality rejects?  Improve your operations through better process descriptions and training.
  • Reuse – Is your main challenge a need to better accommodate reusable items? Looking at your waste stream, are there any throw-away items that could be reduced or eliminated from the workplace by providing accommodations that would allow for reuse opportunities. For example, would introducing water bottle refill stations or a sink faucet filter in the lunchroom be feasible?
  • Recycle – After making sure your main issue isn’t a reduce or reuse one, is your main challenge a need to increase or improve recycling/composting methods? For example, food waste and/or shredded paper could be collected and diverted to a local farmer.
It’s important to define your main challenge first. This allows for all the other challenges to be eliminated or made easier to manage.
Pro Tip: In the process you may realize your “main challenge” wasn’t really the main challenge. You may want to pivot and tackle the new found challenge first or just come back to it later. If you choose the latter, be sure to come back to it.
Step 1: Within a group setting, work to come up with as many possible solutions to this main challenge. The more solutions the better. If you’re familiar with Design Thinking then you’ll have a better grasp on the wide array of solutions that are beneficial to this process. If not, consider no idea too crazy to share. It might not be a winning idea but it might spark the idea that eventually does generate the best solution. (Design Thinking, a creative and effective way for innovative problem solving.)
Pro Tip: One person speaks at a time and there is a note taker who places the solution ideas on a board for everyone to see.
Step 2: After the brainstorming session, have each person silently select their top ideas. Share them with the group when everyone is done. This will generate a short list of solutions to create a working prototype with.
Step 3: Take this prototype to the end user(s) and test it. Don’t forget end users also include management and custodians. Get feedback and adapt the prototype accordingly. Repeat this until the group feels confident with the prototype.
Step 4: Take the prototype and implement it. How widely it is implemented at first will vary depending on factors such as resources, policies and the type of solution in general.
Step 1:  Agree on a reasonable trial period for the prototype to take effect and operate.   
Step 2:  After the trial period is over, evaluate the results and effectiveness by getting feedback from essential personnel.  What is working and what needs tweeking?  Apply what you have observed and learned to sustain or improve your system.
Pro Tip: Be flexible and ready to adapt. In this quickly changing world, today’s solutions may no longer be effective for tomorrow’s challenges.
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