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Revamp Your Office's Paper Recycling & Purchases

by Marisa Briscoe McNatt (bio)

Published 2/23/12


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At 71 million tons, paper and paper products accounted for the largest portion of the municipal solid waste stream in 2010, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is equal to the weight of more than 23 million Hummers.

Recycling paper and purchasing recycled paper isn’t always straightforward. For example, shredded paper and bright paper tossed in a bin with white office paper may prevent the whole load from being recycled downstream. And, it’s important to make sure you’re buying recycled paper made from post-consumer content.

Becoming familiar with paper recycling nuances, as well as reducing your paper use will help to moderate the tremendous load of paper and paper products sent to the landfill every year.

Here are the details on how to increase paper recycling and decrease paper use in the office:

1) Check your community’s recycling guidelines. Whether your city offers single, or dual stream recycling, there are likely items specific to your community that can’t go in the bin because they can interfere with the process downstream.

For example, in Boulder, Colo., even though the community offers single-stream recycling, flimsy plastics, such as Solo Cups, and plastic lids, cannot go into the single-stream bin, reports Eco-Cycle, the city’s recycling center. On the other hand, items like staples, tape, glue, adhesives, address labels are not a problem.2

To avoid corruption, clearly include the procedures above the recycling bins around the office (printed on recycled paper of course). Check your municipality’s recycling guidelines online, or call the local recycling facility.

2) Avoid bright paper. Most likely, your trash collectors won’t want you to toss brightly colored paper in the recycling bin, such as neon/fluorescent/Astrobrite/dark-colored paper. Bright paper has the same effect of washing red clothes with whites — it stains the whole load. If you need to use colored paper, avoid rich colors and opt for pastels.

Dark paper may still be recyclable, if the ink is printed on the paper, as opposed to beat into the paper fiber, says Eco-Cycle. For instance, a brochure printed in dark ink on light paper could still be recycled.

Yellow clasp envelopes, on the other hand, are not recyclable because the ink goes all the way through, says Leigh Cushing, the campaign coordinator for Eco-Cycle. Opt for white envelopes instead.

Recycling Office Paper
Office Paper Recycling Starts...

...with visible, conveniently located bins located throughout the office.

To test the recyclability of a bright sheet, Eco-Cycle suggests tearing off a corner of the paper. If the ink goes all the way through, then it can’t be recycled with office paper.

3) Unless you absolutely have to, don’t shred it! There are two main reasons not to run paper through the shredder: the tiny pieces can damage equipment at some sorting facilities and the value of recycled paper lies in the length of its fiber. Shredding paper, of course, dramatically reduces the paper’s fiber length.

Depending on the quality, a piece of paper can be recycled up to seven times, Cushing reports.

“What most people don’t know, is you can tear off the corner of the paper that contains the confidential information and recycle the rest,” she says.

If paper has to be shredded at your office, offer a separate recycling bin for shredded paper. Your municipality’s recycling center, or curbside pickup may collect shredded paper if it’s bagged separately. Check with your recycling hauler, suggests Eco-Cycle.

4) Strategically place the recycling bins. Make it easy for your fellow employees to recycle and put the bins where the paper and paper products are generated. Consider placing a bin at each of your coworkers’ desks, in the conference room and near the printer.

With a recycling bin that attaches to a regular wastebasket, supplied through EcoGreenOffice, it’s easy to separate the trash from the recycling at each desk. EcoGreenOffice also stocks a variety of larger recycling receptacle options, many made from recycled content.

5) Stop the office junk mail. Junk mail comes at a huge cost to our environment. It takes more than 100 million trees each year to produce all of the bulk mail that arrives in American mailboxes, reports the Center for the New American Dream. That’s the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.3

Although recycling junk mail is important, stopping it altogether is even better. Not to mention, a time-saver. You could spend up to eight months of your life dealing with junk mail, says the Center for the New American Dream.

Eco-cycle is making it easy for Boulder County residents and businesses to get off junk mail through a free signup program accessible online.

For businesses and residents elsewhere, the Center for the New American Dream, About.com and Eco-Cycle provide tips for stopping junk mail.

6) Purchase recycled paper made from post-consumer content. When buying recycled paper, look for products made from 100 percent post-consumer content, Cushing says. This means that paper is made from materials created by consumers and diverted from the landfill, as opposed to scraps of virgin paper.

Recycling office paper has many benefits including preventing deforestation
Devastating Deforestation for Paper

Purchasing recycled paper is a great way to do your part to reduce your office's environmental impact.

"Our customers use post-consumer paper because it makes a clear statement about their sustainability efforts. Not only does the use of post-consumer paper reduce deforestation, but the manufacturing uses less water, less energy and less natural waste," says Bryan Beckett, co-founder of EcoGreenOffice, an online environmentally friendly office supply company.

The ASPEN office paper supplied through EcoGreenOffice is not only made from 100 percent post-consumer content, but is also made without the use of chlorine or chlorine compounds.

"Post-consumer paper performs equal or better to virgin paper. Our clients use it for double sided printing and brands from post-consumer content, like Aspen, are guaranteed not to jam, double or curl in a printer," Beckett says, based on a report from Buyers Lab.4

The green office supply company offers 5,000 sheets of ASPEN paper for for $50.99, down from $214.88.

You can further increase your office’s sustainability efforts by purchasing other paper products from post-consumer content through EcoGreenOffice, such as paper towels, hand towels, facial tissue and bath tissue.

An increase in consumer demand for recycled paper results also means a larger market for recycled paper. In other words, trash facilities will have someone to sell the recycled paper to, which also helps to ensure paper actually gets recycled downstream. More paper recycling facilities also means more jobs.

7) Repurpose and cut back on paper use. Be really conscious of what your printing and don’t print what you don’t need, says Cushing. If you have to print something, print double-sided.

Also, identify ways to repurpose paper and paper products in the office, suggests EcoGreenOffice partner Arbutus Images Inc., a company based in Chicago Ill. that sells environmental greeting cards to support organizations that improve animal welfare, children’s lives and environmental protection.

For example, Arbutus Images donates greeting cards that can’t be used to the local Head Start program for art projects, as well as promotional credit card offers to the program’s money management class, says Donna Yost, the founder of Arbutus Images.

“We’re an art department in a sense. We repurpose everything,” she says.

Because of their commitment to repurposing paper products and the environment, the greeting card business only produces 1 to 2 pounds of waste per month, Yost says.

“No matter your office, you can usually find someone to repurpose paper that can’t be used or printed, whether it’s a homeless shelter, or learning center,” Yost says.

8) Let employees know about the benefits of recycling and post-consumer paper.

The U.S. EPA notes that recycling one ton of paper saves:

1.) Enough energy to power the average American home for six months
2.) 7,000 gallons of water
3.) 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space
4.) Reduces greenhouse has by one metric ton of carbon.

In addition to helping the environment, having an effective office-recycling program can promote team-building and is an excellent public relations opportunity.

So, get started already!

[1] http://www.epa.gov/
[2] http://www.ecocycle.org/
[3] http://www.newdream.org/
[4] http://www.buyerslab.com/
[5] http://www.sustainable.org/living/responsible-buying-a-consumption/473-how-to-plan-a-sustainable-event