May—05

Setting Workplace Recycling Goals

How to Make Achievable and Measurable Goals for your Organisation

Once you've got your waste and recycling system set up for success, one of the best ways to reduce your workplace waste impact further is to set, monitor, communicate, and report on recycling and waste goals.

Committing to zero waste is a fantastic thing, but it will feel overwhelming without small, achievable steps along the way. So, we always advise companies to start with specific recycling goals and work their way to zero waste over time.

Setting and communicating workplace goals can increase motivation and performance, signal to others their importance, and help you stay on top of increased pressure to become more sustainable.

Setting Workplace Recycling Goals Guidelines

As with all goals, recycling goals are best when they are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound.

Specific – Vague goals are easy to fall behind on. A goal like "recycle more" can be broad and won't always have a clear action point. But by using specific language, you'll be able to find solutions that fit that unique goal. Our favourite specific goals are listed below.

Measurable – Your workplace won't know how it progresses without a clear way to measure it, so choosing a realistic metric is essential. Weight is a great way to measure and standardise across the company and is generally how most diversion goals are measured.

Achievable – The goals you set should strike the right balance of achievable but still challenging. It's no fun if a goal is easily reached, but it's also bad for morale if a goal is impossible. Start with smaller goals and adjust as necessary to find the right balance.

Realistic – While making big changes is great, think realistically about what expectations you will be able to set with your employees. Saying you'll get to 90% waste diversion is probably not a realistic goal if you're just starting, so aim for what you think your company will actually be able to accomplish.

Time-bound – Goals with no end dates generally won't be very successful. By setting a time frame (a realistic one, as mentioned above), you and the team will be motivated to keep up the momentum and not let it fall to the bottom of the priority list.

Here are Four Popular Waste and Recycling Goals Your Workplace Can Adopt:

These are great starting points and some of the most common goals we see workplaces enact.

1. Diversion from Landfill

Diversion from landfills is the most widespread goal; it's a simple and easily defined measurement of waste success in the office. Traditionally, a zero waste office is defined by more than 90% of waste diverted from landfills or incinerators. However, when starting out, maybe aim for 40 or 50% diversion, and increase over time.

How to measure

Since waste data is a little harder to come by, in our office, we measure our waste on a set of reliable scales and record it for the week, but some customers have their cleaners do this. Others can collect data from their waste provider from sensors on the collection trucks, though this data can be unreliable. However you collect the data, make sure you measure it regularly.

Ideas to improve waste diversion:

2. Decrease Contamination

Decreasing the amount of contamination in your waste streams often goes hand-in-hand with landfill diversion, but it can also be a separate issue. That goal won't be as applicable if you are diverting a lot from the landfills through uncommon streams. However, you may notice that you consistently find materials in the wrong streams. This is where a goal to decrease contamination will help.

How to measure

Perform random samplings to understand what the most common contaminants are. This should be easy to take onto your regular waste audit.

Ideas to decrease contamination:

Waste Hierarchy journal2 The Waste Hierarchy

3. Improved Waste Avoidance

Recycling is excellent for materials you already have, but tackling waste head-on is by adopting a waste hierarchy approach. Waste hierarchy, as pictured above, is how we prioritise needs in our workplace. Before we purchase new items, we consider if we need them, whether we already have something else we could use instead, and then, if we have to buy something, we choose the most sustainable option available.

How to Measure

We measure this through overall waste production per person reducing over time. This signals that the volume of waste entering our office is decreasing, and we're avoiding unnecessary materials.

Ideas to work towards this:

  • Implement reusable alternatives across the workplace as appropriate, e.g. milk, printer cartridges, coffee delivery, pens, notebooks, etc.
  • Provide reusable alternatives for staff at lunchtime, e.g. lunch containers, coffee cups, shopping bags, cutlery, etc.
  • Research and implement product stewardship into your business model.

4. Lessen Consumption of Single-use Packaging

A specific way to achieve the waste reduction is by setting a goal to avoid single-use items such as takeaway coffee cups, plastic wrappers, and individual sauce and sugar packets. Setting specific goals like this are a great way to drive engagement and demonstrate impact. You can use the Keep Cup calculator to demonstrate what impact reducing single use coffee cups can have at your workplace.

How to Measure

If you want to make it competitive, have everyone on your team start with 100 points and for every takeaway cup or individual serving container they use, dock a point. At the end of the month, whoever has the most points wins a reward. You could also measure by searching through the bins to count the number of these items each day over a given period of time to see if it reduces at all.

Ideas to work towards this:

  • Gift everyone a reusable mug so they don’t have any excuses to get the takeaway ones
  • Have a staff selection of common consumables to keep on hand. For example, we have soy sauce (to avoid the plastic sushi fish), aioli, butter, salt, pepper, olive oil, and tomato sauce in our office. This stops random condiments from accumulating and ending up being thrown away.
  • Get ideas from team members on goals they would like to make into competitions to make recycling a team effort.

With the tools and resources listed above, your organisation will be equipped to set realistic and achievable recycling goals. Now that you’ve started setting goals, you can learn how to externally report on waste to share your successes with others. Eventually, you can strive to become a zero waste office.

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