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We often get asked how to encourage recycling at work… how can I get my staff to do the right thing, and increase recycling rates?

Depending on the people and pace in your office, recycling programs can be a uniting point, a burden, or a bit of both. Once reading this article, you will see how to make recycling an office routine, however it can be challenging for it to stay fresh. Employee involvement is everything, because it’s their split-second decision that determines the destination of waste, whether it is going to go into the correct recycling stream, or tossed into the general waste bin.

Generally speaking, when people come to work each day they want to do the right thing. They want to do a good job and contribute to the overall forward movement of the company. More and more people are concerned about protecting our planet and doing their bit to contribute to a greener world and protecting our environment. David Attenborough has done a fantastic job of creating awareness on this, and the need for protecting our planet, with his new documentary ‘A life on our planet’. So how can you encourage recycling at work in order to increase recycling rates, and send less to landfill? Read on for some fantastic tips from our experts…

Recycling and taking the time to correctly segregate your waste every day is one way of making a difference and a lot more people want to engage in this journey to a more sustainable future. Many people will now look at how sustainable a company is and what their sustainable development goals are before deciding to apply for a role at a company, or even to use them as a supplier.

Lets look at reasons why people don’t do the ‘right thing’ and recycle, before evaluating ways to make it easier for them to do the right thing:

  • It’s often the case that business owners or leaders don’t make it easy for staff to do the right thing, and this applies to recycling.
  • Often the signage on bins is unclear or non existent or there aren’t enough recycling bin stations in place or the recycling station is situated too far away. Sometimes there is still only one general waste bin under every desk so employees can’t segregate their waste. Often they are left frustrated and confused so they simply push all the waste in their hands into the nearest waste hole they find.
  • Also the signage can be too detailed which becomes confusing, and people don’t have the time to stop and read it before they throw their waste in the bin.
  • Sometimes employees think it’s a waste of time as they haven’t been bought along the journey and they don’t understand why it’s important. Often they don’t realise the knock-on affects it has when they don’t segregate correctly and how the recyclable waste can become contaminated which means that it is then treated as general waste.

Becoming aware and evaluating of the reasons employees don’t recycle, can help you to see how to encourage recycling at work and create a clear plan on ways it can be improved. In the main, it really comes down to signage and communication. Here is our useful guide with 6 ways you can successfully start a recycling program at work, or improve the existing program:

  1. Create awareness

First things first, ask yourself the following questions… Do your staff really know why recycling is important? Do they know how recycling can make a difference, and help protect the planet? Are they aware of your company’s sustainability goals? Do they realise recycling more can save your organisation money on waste collections?

Showing your staff that their efforts are affecting change in the bigger, wider picture, simply and quickly creates more engagement with your recycling bins.

Make sure your staff are aware of the answers to the above questions, and you will instantly increase your recycling rates. You could send weekly ‘remember to recycle right’ emails to your colleagues, or even display posters in the office to serve as a helpful reminder.

2. Clear signage.

It’s all about the signage, and getting a clear consistent message across. Most of the time it is true that people want to do the right thing, but to be fair, they don’t always understand how to do the right thing. It can be very confusing as to what should go where. That’s why a list on the backboard can be really helpful.
Colour coded signage on your recycling bin stations with icons, arrows or simple text have proved hugely successful in companies, helping them sky rocket their recycling rates. Some of our clients have got really creative with a bespoke recycling station, opting for examples of the waste streams in display boxes. Another client placed i
nteractive links and QR codes on the bins, for people to scan and learn more about what can and can’t be recycled in each stream, and explaining the journey of where the waste goes.
Strong visuals and colours can be very helpful. Think about what is going to get the message across. Do you need to use illustrations (Some clients such as universities that have students with different languages use this format) – or are words better? Or do you think that your staff would respond better to one single illustration and the WRAP colours?

Some people try signage around the office to create additional awareness, with messages like “Don’t Forget to Recycle” or “Did you know ____  can be recycled?”

These pictures show some excellent examples of recycling bin stations with clear communication:

how to encourage recycling at work with great recycling bins
Coffee Cup bin Station and 5 compartment recycling bin station

3. Share the results

Communicating the results regularly to your team will instantly help you to encourage recycling at work… By including everyone on the journey you will automatically get more buy in. Show them how recycling correctly does make a real difference to the environment (and your company’s sustainability goals). This could be done in a weekly bulletin email to your team, or in your regular group huddles or meetings. Continually monitor and report on the progress of your office recycling program. You could do this by carrying out regular waste audits to identify any opportunities to divert more waste from landfill, by recycling more. Displaying your results and goals near your recycling bins is a fantastic way to encourage people to do their best.
A bit of good-natured competition can also motivate employees to participate, especially when there’s something at stake. Some companies have created teams by department or building section, and whichever group wins the recycling challenge that month wins something. Prizes don’t need to be extravagant, and you could even skip the prize in favour of something meaningful to your workers, to inspire them to continue their great office recycling efforts. When targets are set, and results are measured a sense of competition is likely to kick in.
Recycling at work org has a great competition idea, called ‘get caught green handed’. When someone gets noticed recycling, you reward them. Consider taking photos for a “Recycling Heroes” bulletin
board, or entering each recycler to win a larger, eco-friendly prize (e.g. reusable mug or water bottle, gift card to a local farmer’s market, or recycled-content t-shirt).


4. Strategically placed recycling stations

Lets face it, under the desk waste bins just do not cut it – recycling is never going to be championed by any company who haven’t abolished the dreadful under desk waste bin. Having a proper recycling bin station, whether it is a 3 compartment recycling bin or more, leaves people with no excuse not to recycle correctly. There needs to be enough bins in the building, which depends on the size of your building and the amount of people you employ. Ideally, recycling stations should be situated within 10-15 steps from every employee for best results. Also think of placing a recycling station in other high-footfall areas other than the office, like the corridor, or the break out canteen area also. Make it as simple as possible for your staff to do the right thing, and make it difficult for them to do the wrong thing and send more waste to landfill!
office recycling bins and office waste bins how to encourage recycling at work

5. Go paperless… Ban disposables

You may have heard of the 3 R’s… Reduce, reuse and recycle – Reducing the amount of waste your facility produces can help. An example of this is banning disposables, and encouraging reusable coffee cups, lunchware etc, and going paperless in the office. This will not only stop overflowing general waste bins, but will advertise the fact your company cares about the planet, and is a great time to promote your recycling program to your team.

Consider promoting your new recycling program to your suppliers and work to bring in as much recyclable or compostable items as possible. If you can control what’s coming into your company, you have a much better chance at reducing waste you send to landfill, because the waste your facility is producing is already recyclable, reusable or compostable.

6. Appoint a green champion

Nominate a team member who is passionate about the environment to become a green champion. They can encourage colleagues, and lead by example, to help change the mindset in your company. This can cause a constant positive force for the campaign, and keep everyone on board to maintain a culture of recycling and waste reduction. Your green champion needs to have unwavering energy and enthusiasm for the campaign and need to closely monitor recycling levels, communicate to management and motivate the team. Read our full blog post here on how to boost office recycling rates with a green champion.

how to encourage recycling at work and get staff to think green

Whatever you choose, the key is consistency. Your staff should be able to travel to different sites, and always see the same message. It gives them confidence, and a feeling that it matters what they do with their waste. It shows that it matters to you as a company.

Finally, give them a reason to do the right thing. Make them aware of the goals you are working towards as a company. You can have this on your backboard, or elsewhere on the recycling station. One great idea is a recent recycling station we created for a large software company, they opted for QR codes on their bin stations, in front of each waste chute. When you scan the QR code, it takes you to a page showing the journey of the waste – where the waste goes / how it is recycled. You could include on this page a section on how recycling helps the environment add awareness wherever it is possible.

recycling bin station with QR codes on labels to show the journey of the waste

Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to encourage recycling at work… it may take some effort to get started, but can assure you these efforts will pay off, as we have seen in hundreds of our clients. To be inspired and see how we have helped other clients to recycle more, click here and see our inspiration page.

Click here to browse our range of office recycling bins. We look forward to helping you in your journey to better recycling rates!


Related blog posts you may be interested in:

Why is recycling important, and how does recycling help the environment?

What is a landfill? Why are landfills bad for the environment?

What is zero waste? 

How many bins should I have in the office?

Recycling laws in Wales have changed. Is your business compliant?