By Liz Ainslie MsC AIEMA, Environmental Consultant, Hosking Associates Ltd
Ask any 6 year old where their home recycling bins are and they will happily show you. Councils provide ample receptacles for us to fill with different types of recyclable waste. We brag to the neighbours about what a teeny amount of general waste we had this week.
Then we go to work.
What happens to our behaviour when we reach our workplace? Why do we resist recycling at work when we know it can be easy? And how, as a boss, can you increase recycling rates at work?
Research from Waste Watch has shown that people don’t recycle in the workplace for a number of reasons. The top answers are that they are too busy; they aren’t sure what they can recycle; they don’t know where the bins are; the bins aren’t convenient; or there aren’t the facilities at work even if they want to.
With the price of landfill increasing, companies who don’t recycle are literally throwing their money away. More legislation has come into place in 2015 to increase separation of waste — usually carried out by your waste disposal company, but better if you can do it yourself. Plus, some recycling can pay for itself, either by waste companies paying you for certain materials or collecting items for free.
So, how can you get employees to change their behaviour and increase recycling at work? Here’s my 7 step plan:
Research: Look at the types of waste produced in the workplace. Generally this will include paper, food waste, and some plastic such as water bottles. However, look closely — do you have a drinks machine with cans being thrown away, or a coffee machine with disposable cups? Are there departments with one kind of waste others don’t have?
Ask people: Speak to the employees. Research by Repak has shown that up to 1/3 of employees don’t feel it’s their responsibility to recycle at work. Find out how to make it easy for those people. What are their objections to recycling at work? Where should the bins be located to make it quick and convenient to recycle? How much would they be willing to separate their waste? Would they be willing to get rid of their under-desk bins if the recycling point was close by?
Standardise: Once you know what you need to recycle and how people feel about it, make it EASY for them. Have as few bins as possible, but in as many locations as possible. Clearly mark the bins with different colours and pictures so anyone can figure out what goes in them. Don’t mix and match bin sizes and colours — be consistent and make all the paper bins the same colour in your workplace, all the plastic bins another colour.
Communicate! The most important item. Communicate to all staff — repeatedly — about recycling. Having recycling champions in each department to answer questions or encourage staff is a great tool, too. If you notice one person not playing by the rules, take them aside and find out why.
Review: Similar to communicate, but this is to tweak the system to make it better. See how the recycling is progressing. Can you use smaller general waste bins to encourage more recycling (or because your employees are recycling more)? Check with your waste contractor — can you recycle more, such as food waste from the staff kitchen? Can you put paper bins by your printers to make it easier for staff?
Reduce: Don’t forget to reduce the amount of waste you produce in the first place. Set all computer print settings to do double sided automatically. Have reusable coffee cups and water glasses — they’re much nicer to drink from anyway! Even better, give all employees a branded water bottle for their desk to reuse and do away with cups.
Compete: To help reinforce the message, why not create healthy competition between departments, teams, or divisions? Those who recycle the most in a certain time win a prize for their team, reinforcing their ‘good’ recycling behaviour and reducing the ‘bad’ behaviours of those who don’t. Recognise the team who won for the month/quarter/year at all-staff meetings or on the intranet.
In summary, recycling more at work is all about feedback. It’s a two-way street. Let staff know how much you are recycling, compare figures year-on-year, show them the cost savings. Then listen to their ideas and suggestions — after all, they’re the ones on the ground and can tell you what works and what doesn’t.