5 Common Mistakes that Hinder the Recycling Process

If you’re not actively minimizing your organization’s impact on the environment, now is the time to start an office recycling program. You’ll want to make sure your recycling process is thorough, efficient and economical. Here are five common mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1: Going it Alone

The actions you take to create a green office can earn you a pat on the back. An office recycling program supports your environmental sustainability initiatives, promotes employee engagement and demonstrates good corporate citizenship. But it must be planned and managed efficiently.

Make sure you know what you’re going to do with the recyclables BEFORE you start collecting them. Too often, we’ve had calls from exasperated office managers to “come get this stuff” because an enthusiastic recycler started collecting BEFORE they had a service provider lined up. Choose an office recycling partner in advance.

Mistake 2: Not Being Familiar With the “Do’s & Don’ts” of Your Program

Every county has different recycling rules. For example, Howard County, MD accepts non-foil giftwrap for recycling, while its next-door neighbor, Baltimore County, does not. That’s why knowing the do’s and don’ts of your program is a must.

Remember, your office recycling program may differ from your residential curbside recycling program. With curbside recycling, frequently, the cost to recycle is part of your property tax bill or your home owner’s or condo association’s fee. Because it’s not a designated line item on your bill, it’s not always apparent how much you’re paying or what you’re paying for. Governments have tried to be responsive to their constituents’ calls to “recycle more” and to make it more convenient. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that the recyclables collected in single-stream programs are often too difficult or expensive to separate into useable commodities.

On the other hand, property managers of office buildings strive to keep always keep the cost per square foot of their facilities as low as possible. Property managers that have switched to single-stream office recycling programs are finding that their costs are escalating, and their recycling rates have remained static. This mirrors the country’s recycling rate as reported this week by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mistake 3: Collecting Tissues, Napkins & Paper Towels

Aside from the “yuck” factor, the fibers in tissues, napkins, paper towels, are so short that they don’t mesh together, allowing them to pass through processing screens with the waste water produced during the recycling process. Ditto for paper plates and cups, which cannot be recycled anyway because of food contamination. Although there are pilot programs for recycling soiled paper coffee cups, these pilot programs are not widely available. Because of these limitations, it’s important to keep the aforementioned items out of your recycling containers.

Mistake 4: Not Breaking Down Cardboard Boxes

It doesn’t take long for a recycling container to get filled with un-flattened boxes, and no one wants an office cluttered with cardboard. When employees see a full recycling container, they’re more likely to toss a recyclable item in the trash. Prevent this from happening by breaking down and flattening cardboard boxes for recycling, freeing up a large volume of space for continued cardboard collection.

Mistake 5: “Wish-Cycling” a.k.a. “Aspirational Recycling”

In the early days of office recycling programs, when only white paper could be collected and staples had to be removed from documents before they could be recycled, the slogan was “When in Doubt, Leave it Out.” Today, with so many “Do’s & Don’ts,” it’s no wonder the typical recycler says, “When in Doubt, Let Someone Else Figure It Out!” while dropping everything into the recycling collection bin.

Single-stream proponents even go so far as to boast “let the professionals do the sorting.” Well, the recycling public has challenged the professionals on that! Many items are technically recyclable, but that does not mean there is an end-user for the recycled materials. “Collection” and “Diversion” are not recycling. Recycling only happens when manufacturers can use collected recyclables to make new products that someone wants to buy.

Follow these guidelines to help ensure that all your recycling efforts are not wasted and that your recyclables get recycled and not just “diverted.”


For more tips on how to jump start your office recycling process, please contact us by phone or complete the form on this page.

Vangel Secure Data Destruction and Recycling offers paper shredding services for companies in the Greater Baltimore area and throughout Maryland.