5 Minute Guide: Recycling The Right Way, When It Comes To Waste At Work

So, you’re trying to get recycling going at work? This is your 5-minute guide to making it happen.

The average Australian office recycles ~30% (by weight) of its waste. In fact, for a recycling rate of 32% Australia’s leading waste rating for commercial offices, NABERS, will award you 3 stars, 3 stars from 6! There’s no hiding from it, recycling in the workplace ain’t easy, but here’s a few strategies that are going to get you there.

Before we rush into anything, there’s one fundamental distinction to make: making signs is easy, making 'effective' signs is not. Good signage doesn’t come off the shelf and what works next door isn’t necessarily going to work for you. So unfortunately, you’ll have some homework to do. I’m going to have you to design your own and here’s how:

Take a look around – imagery used on signage needs to relate to what people are actually throwing away. The signs from the café next door aren’t going to be relevant to an office. So, go lift the lid on those bins and see what’s in there, we’re going to need a good idea of that when we get to the next steps.

Assume nothing – make sure you know what goes where before you start. Tracking down who is collecting your bins is the best bet (you might need to ask your building manager for the account contact and get in touch directly!). Ensure that they provide clear guidelines on what can and cannot be accepted in each recycling stream they provide.

Less is more – don’t make this more work than it needs to be. Individual under desk bins are a thing of the past. Don’t make it easier for people to be lazy, remove the under desk bins and opt for a centralised system (generally the kitchen is the right place) where all recycling streams are available along with the general waste.

Get it right – a bit like a tattoo with a typo, great signs aren't great if they say the wrong thing. From the steps above, make sure that the items you have on the signs match the common items people are throwing away with the right bin.

Nothing is forever - tastes changes, products change and what we can recycle changes. Over time what people are putting in your bins will too. Take the time to check in on how things are going every 6 months and keep things proactive, not reactive.

Making recycling a thing - behaviours are personal, and good signage will not solve your problems, but – it is going to set up the story. So, ensure people know all about the new signs you are making and design a reason to participate. This might take some thinking, but it’s easiest just to ask a few people, ‘why should we recycle’? Throw out your own ideas, even if they are half-baked, showing people that you’re taking and incorporating feedback builds ownership.

Once you’ve made recycling a thing, we’ve got three requests:

  1. Own this space - everyone needs a recycling champion(s). We recommend you get a cape (undies on the outside is a nice touch too).

  2. Don’t be shy – Make sure you can answer those curly ‘where does this go?’ questions, try your waste provider, Planet Ark is a great resource also.

  3. Sharing is caring - we ain't gonna do this alone and the world doesn’t have enough #binspo, so don’t keep your work in the shadows – sharing is caring.

Humans have an extraordinary ability to normalize to changes in our environment. Think of those things you once found hard/daunting/exciting until you had to do it every. Single. Day. Then it just becomes, well, habit. Once you’ve invested the effort to make this happen, think about how it can be ingrained in the culture of your workplace and allow others to take pride and ownership in the process.

So, you’ve done it... what’s next?

Recycling is really only the start of what we can do. Our hierarchy of actions looks like this; Avoid, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Dispose. Once you have the team recycling, take a look at what you could have substituted for reusables, or how you could have avoided the material use in the first place (are there alternatives with less packaging)?

Remember, if the recycling bin is the answer, then ask yourself why you’re holding it in the first place?

Edge has plenty of ideas on all this, and we’re here to make sure that doing good for the world is fun too, so reach out, we’re only a phone call away.

BIO - By Blake Lindley from Edge Environment, is a B-Corp working with Australia’s sustainability leaders, policy makers and innovators to catalyse a more sustainable future. Blake leads Edge’s work in the Circular Economy to preserve or material stocks, and drives alternative means of communicating sustainability to consumers.