Ask the experts: How do I establish a successful food scraps and recycling program at the office?

Business In Vancouver – Ask the experts: How do I establish a successful food scraps and recycling program at the office?

Tue Oct 1, 2013 12:01am PST


Ask the experts: How do I establish a successful food scraps and recycling program at the office?

Engagement and reward are keys to successful workplace recycling and composting programs


Louise Schwarz: Co-founder, Recycling Alternative

Despite a 20-plus-year run on recycling, businesses are still recycling less than 50% of their waste. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

Consider these tips to tackle your trash at work.

What will you recycle?

  • Identify waste streams to target low-hanging fruit and highest volumes (e.g., paper, containers, cardboard).
  • Tailor a program prioritizing those materials and introduce new categories (e.g., food scraps, batteries, Styrofoam, electronics) in stages.

Where will you recycle?

  • Space restrictions are a real challenge at work. Find the high-traffic material-flow areas and ensure receptacles are accessible to capture the highest volume of materials close to where they’re generated. It should be easier to recycle than to toss something into the garbage.

How will you maximize your recycling efforts?

  • Staff engagement and education are key.
  • Involve your staff. Make sure they are on board and understand the program. Their participation will either make or break your success.
  • Your recycling company should be prepared to provide staff training, signage and ongoing feedback when challenges arise.

Go upstream

  • Eliminate waste before it comes through your door.Procurement choices can have a huge impact in helping reduce your waste and costs.
  • Talk to suppliers; wherever possible, opt for products that can be recycled or composted – any garbage coming in will become your problem on the way out.

Follow your trash

  • Where is it all going? Ask you service provider what’s happening to your recycling. With your efforts to recycle, you want to make sure these materials are not being mixed or downgraded into trash.


Lisa von Sturmer: Founder and CEO, Growing City

As you may have heard, Metro Vancouver is banning organics from landfill by 2015, which means composting is coming to your office.

Now, for some of you that might be very exciting news (especially for me, but I’m biased: I love composting), but for some others this might be horrible news.

Don’t worry, I’ve got some easy suggestions for you.

For those of you whose property management company will not be offering composting services, you’ll have a bit more organization to do, but you can easily set up an effective program. The key to running an effective self-service composting initiative is RORE: rotate and reward.

Putting the duties of taking the organics home all on one person or department is setting your program up for disaster. If people feel like they’re “stuck” maintaining a program, it can make them grow to resent it.

I recommend getting a few volunteers and having them rotate taking the organics home either bi-weekly or monthly. Rotating weekly takes too much organization, and rotating quarterly makes it too much of a chore.

It can help to set up contests to keep people engaged. If your office is large enough, have two compost champions per floor and have them compete over who can keep their bin the emptiest and cleanest.

Another simple measure to increase your program efficiency is to group all your waste and recycling bins together to create actual waste stations. Having various bins located in different parts of the office or kitchen will result in most of your recyclables and organics ending up in the closest bin.

You’ll also want to get reports from your composting service that let you know how much waste your team has diverted from the landfill. Having these reports is very important for both employee engagement as well as for your own company sustainability targets.


Jeff Bohnen: Office manager, MEC

At Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), it all begins with our employees, who demonstrate a commitment to waste diversion through informed decision-making. We provide signage, documentation on our intranet, and bins of varying shapes, sizes and colours, all of which help drive home the message that waste diversion isn’t optional; it’s integral to what we do.

But providing tools is only the first step. We’ve set clear expectations around waste diversion standards and reinforce those expectations regularly. This has helped foster a culture among our employees of “doing the right thing” by building on their sense of responsibility and environmental leadership.

MEC also knows that we have to set an example by doing more than just following the crowd. In addition to standard paper, cardboard and bottle/can recycling, we spend extra to have our composting waste, fabric scraps, light bulbs, batteries, Styrofoam and mixed containers removed and diverted from landfill. We pay for independent audits to gauge our progress, and review the results to see how we can do better. We recognize that doing the right thing sometimes means spending money, and MEC is not afraid to do that.

Given this additional spending, management buy-in is crucial. Our senior management has spearheaded these initiatives, understanding that they will reduce our environmental footprint and, ultimately, leave behind a healthier planet. This speaks loudly to the values that MEC was founded on 42 years ago.

While not every business is willing to spend money for beyond-standard office recycling programs, creating an environment where waste diversion is top-of-mind can be done cheaply and effectively. Fostering a culture of commitment and celebrating success costs almost nothing, but the results can be astounding.