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March 27, 2014

You recycle at home — why not at the office?

Canadians only recycle about 30% of the garbage we generate each year, experts say. Ramping up our efforts at work can help move up that number.

Like many Canadians, you may be doing your part to reduce, reuse and recycle at home. But also like many Canadians, you probably spend most of your time at work — where it can be easy to let your green habits fall by the wayside. And since you spend so much time at work, what you do there can really make a difference. So, here are some ideas to help you take your green thinking with you to the office.

Why recycle?

Recycled office waste is broken down into its original elements and used to produce new materials. This helps reduce harmful waste and conserve raw materials. By recycling office materials you’ll help combat climate change and leave a healthier environment for your children and grandchildren. As well, working with your colleagues on recycling initiatives helps improve morale and supports team building. Bottom line: You’ll feel good about going to work.

If your workplace doesn’t have a recycling program, perhaps it’s time to suggest one: It won’t just reduce your carbon footprint, it could also save your company money by reducing its waste disposal costs. Your boss will be pleased you’re thinking green — about money, and about the environment. (And, if you’re self-employed, your “boss” will be especially delighted!)

Canadians generate approximately 31 million tonnes of garbage a year and only recycle about 30% of that material, according to the Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC). So there’s plenty of room for improvement.

What to recycle

If your workplace has an established recycling process, get with the program! Start by understanding what and how to recycle — find out which items go where.

Common recyclable office items include:

  • waste paper, including printed paper, unwanted files and notes and used envelopes
  • newspapers and magazines
  • glass and plastic bottles
  • aluminum pop cans
  • cardboard boxes
  • old desktop and laptop computers
  • printer toner cartridges
  • cell phones

What do the recycling symbols mean?

Image explaining what the recycling symbols represent

If you’re new to recycling, start small and focus on one item. For instance, consider all the paper floating around in your office. Cutting down trees contributes to global warming, soil erosion, habitat destruction and a host of other environmental problems. By reducing your consumption and reusing paper, you’ll join the fight against all those issues.

According to the RCBC, some studies suggest that if we recycle one tonne of paper, we’ll be able to save 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, three cubic yards of landfill space, two barrels of oil, and 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. This, in turn, would be enough to power the average Canadian home for five months. And yet, only 55% of all paper products are being recycled.

Once you get started, you’ll find that it only takes a few minutes per day to recycle, and yet your individual efforts, however small, will add up. Demonstrating care for the environment can be  contagious — your colleagues will see your new-found enthusiasm for recycling, and many will join you in your green efforts. After a while, recycling will become a habit, and you’ll know that you’re making a significant contribution toward a brighter future for everyone.

Five tips to help you live green at the office:

  1. Use email instead of paper to send information or documents.
  2. If you must print, do so on both sides. (Make two-sided printing the default printer setting.)
  3. Subscribe to online editions of newspapers and magazines.
  4. Use porcelain or metal mugs instead of disposable ones for beverages.
  5. Reuse envelopes again and again.

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