Overcoming Hurdles Towards a Recycling-Inclusive Workplace

By Kate Sheppard

Scientists are predicting that if nothing is done about our plastic consumption habits, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2025. Businesses and their employees play a vital role in sustainability and keeping waste out of landfills and the environment.

In this article, we discuss the common hurdles to effective office recycling efforts and the best ways you can overcome them.

Employee Disinterest/Engagement

If you want to get the most out of your workplace recycling scheme, you’re not alone. However, many office recycling efforts are being hindered by employee disinterest and lack of engagement.

One of the best ways to tackle employee disinterest or lack of engagement is to offer an incentive as encouragement. Offering an incentive is a game-changer that could spike employee interest and encourage them in their office recycling efforts. 

Whatever the incentive, make sure it’s something your employees want, such as a free lunch, an office outing, or perhaps even a few hours off work. You’ll be amazed how quickly your employees get motivated when they have something to work for.

Overcoming Hurdles Towards a Recycling-Inclusive Workplace

Electronic Waste

America throws out between 300-400 million electronic items every year and less than 20% of that waste is recycled properly. Offices are a huge contributor to electronic waste, otherwise referred to as ‘e-waste’, throwing away electronics such as computers, TV’s, mobile phones, fax machines, and printers. 

According to Priority WEEE, “Currently, we live in a disposable society, so most people choose to throw things away – particularly electrical items – and buy new, rather than seeing if they can be fixed or refurbished and sold on.” It’s clear to all, that it’s time to make a change.

Adopting greener office recycling practices for e-waste is vital to tackle the growing problem of e-waste. A few great ways to recycle e-waste include: limiting electronic purchases, hiring a professional e-waste company to reuse/recycle old electronics, passing old electronics on (if still in working condition!), and considering the lifespan of electronics before making a purchase. All these things will make a difference and help reduce your office e-waste.

Lack of Awareness

Many people aren’t aware of how important recycling really is, let alone the ways to recycle. While you may feel passionately about recycling and its many benefits, your employees may not feel the same way (yet).

According to the Paper and Packaging Board, “Plagued with guilt when they don’t recycle, millions of Americans know their actions will have an adverse effect on the environment and the people around them. While 95% of Americans say they recycle (and only 25% of them recycle ‘some of the time’), fewer than half know the basics of recycling.”

Raising awareness about the importance of recycling through emails, posters, presentations, training days, and guest speakers is great for increasing employee engagement, boosting interest, and highlighting the importance of what you’re doing. 

If people don’t know much about a subject, they’re unlikely to feel passionate about it. So, the more you can do to raise awareness of recycling and its importance, the more likely you are to create a positive change in the workplace.

Poor Communication

If you want your employees to put more effort into office recycling, you need to communicate with them. Communication enhances connection. According to Business News Daily, “Effective workplace communication can foster meaningful, authentic employee engagement and solid working relationships that will strengthen your organization’s core […] Your communication process underpins your organization’s operations at every level.” 

Great ways to communicate with your employees include:

  • Newsletters outlining important information
  • Coordinating fun events
  • Displaying signs and posters around the office 
  • Hosting roundtable meetings where employees can share their ideas
  • Creating an open door policy allowing employees to voice their concerns

Prioritizing clear and honest communication is vital for involving your employees in office recycling efforts. It shows you’re involved and invested in your employees and goes a long way towards supporting office recycling efforts.

Employee Enthusiasm

Now, this is a problem that sits at the other end of the employee enthusiasm spectrum because rather than being disinterested, employees are really enthusiastic about office recycling. So enthusiastic in fact that they recycle too much.

Is there such a thing, we hear you ask? Well, yes. People who recycle all the time tend to recycle everything. This is referred to as ‘wish-cycling’ and is the habit of recycling all items in the hope they can be recycled.

If wish-cycling is a problem in your workplace, education is the solution. It’s great your employees are excited about recycling and, do you know what? Most things should be recyclable! However, it’s important to ensure your employees’ recycling efforts are making a difference. That’s why it’s best to educate your employees on the types of recyclable items and the ways to recycle them.

You can write lists, create posters, and send email reminders, highlighting the materials that can be recycled and how they should be disposed of. Hang these signs all over your office but especially above rubbish bins and in the office kitchen/canteen area. This will ensure your employees have no excuse for recycling items incorrectly.

Recycling Container Location

Another common hurdle in an office’s recycling efforts is that recycling containers aren’t conveniently located or easily accessible. This means they’re less likely to be used.

Considering how far your employees have to go to recycle their waste is important. The more hassle it is, the less likely they are to do it. To overcome this problem, invest in more recycling containers and place these near every trash bin so that when your employees go to throw items, they can do so with ease.

You should also monitor these bins throughout the day. After lunch, bins are typically full to overflowing and this can make it difficult for more trash to be recycled. Ensure all bins are emptied and cleaned regularly so that everyone can dispose of their recycling in the correct place.

Basically, you want to make recycling so easy that employees have no excuse not to do it!

Non-Recyclable Supplies

It’s only possible for your employees to partake in your office recycling efforts if the supplies in your office can actually be recycled. Too often businesses encourage recycling efforts only to stock their offices with plastic cups, plates, and cutlery. This not only makes it difficult for your employees to recycle, it also causes them to view you as hypocritical. In other words, you can’t encourage recycling at work if you won’t put in the effort yourself. 

According to LinkedIn, “sustainable office supplies are made from recycled materials, or they are produced in a way that minimizes their environmental impact. They can help businesses to reduce their carbon footprint, conserve resources, and improve their environmental image.”

The office supplies you invest in play a vital role in creating a recycling-inclusive workplace. Try to focus your efforts on purchasing recyclable and sustainable products. You can always start small by replacing one item at a time – for example, switching out the plastic cups at the water cooler with paper ones and seeing the difference this makes.

To Summarise

Overcoming the hurdles towards a recycling-inclusive workplace is essential if you want your office recycling efforts to make a difference. Creating a recycling-inclusive workplace is a collective effort and one that we hope is helped by the tips we’ve shared in this article.


About the Author

Kate Sheppard is a sustainability, travel and parenting journalist from Eastbourne. You can follow Kate on Twitter @KateSheppard90

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