Ten Ideas to Reduce Office Recycling Contamination

One of the most difficult parts about having a successful recycling program in a workplace is changing user behaviour, but it's essential to achieving your waste goals and creating a more sustainable workplace.

Even with the best intentions, employees may not always know what can and cannot be recycled, leading to contamination in the recycling bin. This can result in valuable recyclables being rejected by processing facilities and ending up as waste rather than being reused and recycled.

Reducing contamination can help conserve resources, reduce waste, and protect the environment. In addition, you can create awareness within your team about positive waste practices.

In this article, we'll explore ten ways to help reduce office recycling contamination and positively impact the environment.

Looking for more resources to set up your recycling for success? Check out our articles below:

8 Steps to a Successful Recycling System

What Is a Waste Audit and Why Do We Need One?

Our Zero Waste Office

1. Have clear signage above the bins

Clear signage above the recycling bins is critical to reducing contamination. The signage should include a list of items that are and aren't allowed in each bin, focusing on items that are often put in the wrong bin or that change depending on where you are - like coffee cups.

In addition, ensure your signage is designed for easy understanding using relevant icons or images, accessible font, and short but specific text. This will help employees understand your site's specifics, reducing the risk of contamination.

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2. Keep bins consistent across the site

Having consistent recycling bins across the site will help reduce confusion and ensure that everyone has the streams that they need available when they need to get rid of a piece of waste. Similarly, it's also important to avoid having lone bins, as this can encourage people to dump waste in them for convenience.

Ultimately, we want people to care, but we need to make sure that doing the right thing is convenient, simple and works with the site's layout.

3. Hold an education session

Educating employees about recycling is a critical step in reducing contamination. Consider holding an education session or workshop to provide employees with information on what can and cannot be recycled and why it's important to follow the guidelines.

Similarly, integrate recycling and sustainability education into the onboarding process so that people learn the do’s and don'ts as they enter the space - before they pick up any bad habits.

What should you cover in an education session? Here’s a quick outline:

  1. Introduction to recycling: Explain the basics of recycling, including why it's important, what happens to the materials that are recycled, and the benefits of reducing waste.
  2. Types of recyclable materials: Go through the different types of materials that can be recycled, including paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, and metal. On the other hand, discuss why common contaminants can’t be recycled.
  3. Contamination: Talk about the impact of contamination in the recycling bin and how it can reduce the quality and value of recyclables. Explain what constitutes contamination, such as food waste, dirty containers, and non-recyclable items.
  4. Reusable alternatives: Discuss the benefits of using reusable alternatives to reduce waste and conserve resources. Encourage employees to bring their own reusable coffee cups, water bottles, and food containers.
  5. Recycling at work and home: Explain the importance of recycling at work and home and encourage employees to continue their recycling efforts outside the office.
  6. Questions and feedback: Encourage questions and feedback from employees to ensure that everyone understands the recycling process and how they can contribute.

4. Communicate about recycling

Ongoing education and awareness about recycling is a good way to keep recycling front of mind for your team while upskilling them. It keeps your team engaged and makes it clear that waste is important to your business and leaders and, therefore, should be important to them.

We created Recycling 101 as an easy way for organisations to educate employees about recycling regularly. A monthly email from the Method team includes an article focused on user education, with a summary that you can easily share on your team Slack, newsletter or bulletin board.

5. Have an "I don't know" bin

Providing an "I don't know" bin for employees to use when they're unsure if something can be recycled will help reduce contamination.

This bin should be clearly marked and separated from the other recycling bins to ensure that it is only used for items they’re unclear about. You can then review what is ending up in the bin and use it as a specific educational opportunity - communicating about where it should be going to grow their awareness.

6. Encourage reusable alternatives

Encouraging employees to use reusable alternatives to common office waste, such as coffee cups and water bottles, can help reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the recycling bin. Here are some examples of how you can encourage behaviour change:

  • Provide reusable keep cups or water bottles to employees to help promote reuse
  • Integrate education on sustainable alternatives in the office into the onboarding process
  • Lead by example: Encourage senior management to lead by example and promote the use of reusable alternatives
  • Encourage local cafes and eateries to provide discounts for the use of reusable alternatives and subsequently promote visiting these providers
  • Ensure that catering entering the premises is utilising reusable containers
  • When taking a team member or group out for coffee, have everyone grab a cup or container from the kitchen before you leave

7. Report on waste progress

While most of us recycle at home, it often lags at work with conflicting priorities and a lack of connection to what happens to the waste. If you stopped recycling at home, you’d notice the extra bags you’re paying for.

Reporting on the progress of the office's recycling efforts can help motivate employees and keep them engaged in the process. It also helps to highlight the impact that the team is having to show the positive change they're creating.

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8. Gamify waste

Gamification is the use of game mechanics in non-game contexts. Game mechanics and features can include competitive elements, social interaction, leaderboards or badges. At its heart, gamification’s success rests on how these elements motivate and engage people to do things differently.

Gamifying the waste reduction process can be a fun and effective way to engage employees and reduce contamination. Consider creating a recycling challenge or competition to encourage participation and raise awareness about the importance of reducing waste.

Learn more about how Method InSight can support your organisation to gamify waste here.

9. Hold a recycling quiz

A recycling quiz is a fun and educational way to test employees' knowledge about recycling. Holding a quiz can encourage employees to learn more about recycling and reduce contamination.

If you’re not sure what to include in a quiz, here is a list of commonly mis-recycled items. However, the more specific the quiz is to your waste, the more impactful it will be.

10. Ask for feedback

Finally, it's important to ask for feedback from employees on how the waste reduction process is working for them. This will help identify areas for improvement and ensure that the process is working effectively for everyone.

Recycling is a simple and effective way to reduce waste and conserve resources. Following these ten ways to reduce office recycling contamination can improve your organisation's waste outputs and create a more sustainable workplace.

Remember, it's never too late to start making a change. Every small change you make can have a big impact over time.

Speak to our team about setting up your workplace recycling for success

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