Reducing waste in your small business is not just good for the environment, it’s also good for cutting down costs.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American produces around 4.9 pounds of trash every day. Now, imagine that person spends 6-8 hours per day working at your business. Their trash is now your trash. And even more importantly, your business is paying to haul it away – either to the landfill or to a more environmentally responsible location. In turn, you’re paying for more resources to replace the wasted ones – things such as printer paper, food service ware, plastic wrap, etc.
But employee waste is just the beginning. You’re also taking in the trash of all your customers, suppliers and vendors too.
Anyone you do business with, you’re likely to share waste with. So how can you manage waste across your small business in a more environmentally and fiscally responsible way? Here are 18 waste reduction tips to get you started.
1. Do a waste audit.
Once you have a good sense of what’s in your waste stream, you can start tackling the biggest offenders. Essentially, this can be as easy or as technical as you want it to be. Some waste providers will send a person on-site to assess your waste stream – or you can simply do it yourself by peering into your dumpster.
2. Default to double-sided printing.
If paper is your problem, set the default on your printers to double-sided printing. And while you’re at it, go ahead and set the ink default to Black/White and whatever eco-efficient option your printer has.
Ink is expensive, particularly color ink, and ink cartridges can be difficult to recycle curbside. All in all, the less paper you use the better, and the same rule applies to ink.
3. Print draft documents on the back of old printouts.
Why waste two pieces of paper when you can only waste one? If it’s not a final document, print it on the back of another draft print out. And of course, remember to put them all in the recycling bin when you’re done.
4. Don’t print emails.
This is the ultimate faux pas when it comes to business sustainability. Emails do not belong in a physical file cabinet, they belong in the cloud.
It’s time to let email printing go and you can take it one step further by adding a note to your email signature that says, “Please consider the environment before printing this email.”
A little inspiration for others to do the same.
5. Take notes on used paper.
Create a scrap pile for note taking and jotting down phone messages. Ripped, cut up and torn pieces of old printouts can help build a quirky, scrappy work culture, or at the very least give you an occasional good laugh when you see what’s on the other side.
6. Refill printer cartridges
…or if you can’t be sure to recycle them.
New ink cartridges are expensive, and getting rid of the old ones can be challenging if you don’t have a provider for hard to recycle materials. The easiest and cheapest option is usually to invest in bottles of printer ink and refill the existing cartridges yourself.
7. Remove single-use cups, plates, and cutlery.
Don’t pay for disposable coffee cups, paper plates, and plastic utensils only to pay to have them hauled away in your waste bins.
Instead, visit The Salvation Army, your local thrift store or even a nearby Walmart for an affordable set of office kitchenware. Establish a workplace policy of “You use it, you wash it,” to ensure dirty dishes don’t start stacking up. Or, consider investing in a dishwashing machine. These upfront costs will save you loads in the long run.
8. Get rid of plastic water bottles.
They take up unnecessary space in your waste and recycling bins, resulting in more frequent pick-ups. Most employees drink water at work and if every employee drinks more than one bottle of water a day, you’re looking at a lot of plastic waste. Consider putting a water filter on your sink faucet or getting a water cooler instead.
9. Set up single-stream recycling.
If you’re not already recycling, it’s time to start with single-stream recycling (SSR). This basic “recycling-for-dummies” solution enables employees, customers and suppliers/vendors to put all recyclables into one bin. Depending on the recycling facilities in your area, SSR often includes paper/cardboard, metal, plastic and/or glass. Your waste provider can tell you exactly which materials are accepted when you set up service, and then you can label your bins accordingly.
10. Label every bin.
Signage is a great way to ensure recyclables wind up in the recycling bin, organics wind up in the composting bin (if you have one), and trash winds up in the trash bin.
Recycle Across America offers simple, consistent signage that is easy for your customers, employees, and suppliers to understand. Post signs of accepted materials with picture examples whenever possible, on every waste bin you have at your business. This will ensure the services you have are actually serving a purpose.
As great as signage is, don’t expect things to change overnight because of a few signs – it takes proactive internal communication as well.
11. Have plenty of recycling bins.
The general rule of thumb is to have a recycling bin next to every trash can. That means in every break room, conference room, front of house, back of house, next to the cash register, by the loading dock, etc.
People are more than happy to recycle when it’s convenient. So, make it as convenient as possible, and watch your landfill waste decrease.
12. Go for the (black) gold – composting.
If your waste audit turns up plenty of food and organic waste, it’s probably a good idea to set up composting services.
Food waste is often the heaviest, messiest kind of waste to dispose of. This means you’re probably paying a ton to send it all to the landfill. Not to mention, decomposing organic waste produces harmful methane gas when not disposed of properly. Anaerobic digestion or composting can help reroute your waste to better use.
And remember, you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of bins around the workplace.
13. Train employees, often.
Signage teaches, but training internalizes.
Help your employees embrace and embody the sustainability goals you’ve set in place for your business. Provide new employee training about the waste and recycling protocols inside your business, the various bins and what to do with the most common types of waste that your business produces. Then, have regular updates on successes, failures or new protocols throughout the year, perhaps at every “All Hands” meeting.
Be sure to train them not only on the how but the why.
Why do we recycle? Why is it important to use the right bins? Why is it important to reduce waste?
Your employees are your biggest champions, so get them on board early and frequently.
14. Communicate waste goals to your customers.
If you’re committed to reducing waste, it’s likely your customers are too.
If you have a storefront or front office, be sure to include the appropriate waste and recycling bins to match the materials your business uses. For instance, if you implement compostable service ware, be sure you have the appropriate composting services set up and the bins labeled in the front of house. Also be sure to include instructions on recyclable or compostable packaging.
Want your customers to recycle paper, plastic or cans? Be sure to communicate this on your recycling bins and wherever those materials are consumed or used.
15. Donate unwanted or surplus items.
Cleaning out the warehouse or storage room once a year can wreak havoc on your dumpsters. Old rolling chairs, desks, storage racks, file cabinets, mismatch pens, coat hangers, you name it.
A better way to handle a situation like this would be to call local charities (i.e. Goodwill, The Salvation Army, etc.) to see if they’ll take your trash as their treasure. The Habitat for Humanity Restore is a great solution for larger furniture items and appliances.
Remember, putting items in the dumpster might be easier, but it’s certainly not cheaper.
16. Recognize the value in cardboard.
Cardboard boxes can take up a lot of space in your waste bin, even if you’re breaking them down.
If you have storage space to stash old packing and mailing boxes (as well as bubble wrap and packing peanuts), store and reuse them. If you’ve got too much cardboard to justify reuse, consider setting up cardboard (OCC) recycling with your waste provider. This will free up space in your waste bin and perhaps even qualify your business for OCC rebates.
17. Assess your packaging, and remove surplus.
Assess your packaging methods and determine if all the materials you’re currently using are truly necessary. If not, you could reduce both your packaging costs and waste. If all the packaging is necessary, perhaps some of the materials could be replaced with a more sustainable option?
Remember, if you accept returns, it’s likely that packaging could wind up back in your warehouse for disposal after all.
18. Have a packaging convo with your suppliers.
Once you’ve considered your own packaging impact, consider your suppliers’.
Are you winding up with too much plastic wrap, too many packaging peanuts or cardboard boxes? If you see a better way for your suppliers to deliver their products, let them know by expressing your desire for change. In the process, you might just uncover some critical cost savings for them, while reducing the amount of waste you’re left to manage. If they’re not willing to change their ways, consider requesting suppliers to pack-out their leftover packaging from each previous delivery or reduce their pricing to compensate for their waste.
If you’ve tackled all these waste reduction tips and gone above and beyond, you’re likely well on your way to being a low- or no- waste business. But there’s always room for improvement. Contact your waste provider to discuss unique waste solutions for your business to help increase your small business’ sustainability while decreasing your waste costs.