Waste Prevention at the Office

Don’t throw your profits out with the trash. Become a “zero waste” business by practicing waste prevention, reusing products, making environmentally conscious purchases, and recycling solid waste and organics. This not only helps your business to meet local, state, and federal environmental mandates, but also to cut costs, increase profits, and help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For more information on how to do this, see Green Your Business.

Waste is a symptom of an inefficient process. Preventing waste increases efficiency. Increasing efficiency increases profits. Theoretically speaking, it is better to prevent the generation of waste than it is to recycle. You can only recycle waste that you have failed to prevent. So, place your emphasis on reducing waste if you can, then recycle the waste that you must generate.

However, there is an old saying, “In theory, practice and theory are the same, in practice, they are not.” You might need to start with the concepts and practices that staff are most familiar with, and are thus more likely to rapidly embrace. Go for the low hanging fruit first. Do what is easy just to get staff started. Even those easy things require commitment to making changes in people’s daily habits, and habits are hard to change. For many, recycling is the best place to start.


  • Set your photocopiers and printers to print on both sides by default.
  • Make computer files, not paper files when possible. If you have not explored computer alternatives to paper in a couple years, then you really have a lot of catching up to do. Numerous free or inexpensive software programs, such as Stickies or NoteWhen can reduce or eliminate the need for sticky notes and note pads. These programs, as well as most electronic calendars and task lists, can be set to remind you of some event or task with a special message at any time in the future.

    Recent advances in computer software make it easy to create documents that are encrypted, password protected, and safe from either unauthorized access or alteration. This can be done with very sophisticated free and low cost software. Electronic signatures are widely accepted and legally binding. Over the long run, electronic files save floor and file space. In most cases electronic documents are safer than paper. Backup copies can be easily transferred to high capacity low cost removable media, such as compact discs or removable hard drives, and stored off-site. Backups can also be transferred over secure internet connections for off-site storage. You never need to loose documents to fire or flood or theft.

    Computer magazines such as PC Magazine and Computer World have searchable websites that can get you started. You can also contact bzassist@calrecycle.ca.gov for ideas.

  • Fight junk mail–Take steps to reduce the amount of junk mail that your office receives. See Reducing Unsolicited Mail at Your Business.


  • Reuse envelopes and send them through the mail again whenever possible. We understand that business do not like to send some types of mail in used envelopes for reasons of corporate image. However, many businesses conduct a fair amount of mailing of types where corporate image in not a factor. For this type of mailing, use labels to cover the old address on used envelopes. Some companies sell reuse labels for envelopes, which have a discrete message at the bottom explaining that this envelope was reused to save trees.
  • Have each staff persons set aside paper that they use on only one side, so that it can be reused for printing drafts in your printer, or glued together to make scratch pads. As staff accumulate paper, they can transfer it to a centrally located storage box, possibly next to a printer or photocopiers.
  • Use padding compound, the glue that holds paper together in tablets, to make scratch pads form your paper that was used only on one side. Padding compound is available from many office supply stores. You can clamp the edge of the paper together with blocks of wood and C-clamps, or you can invest in a small paper padding press. Several types are sold for well under $150.
  • Buy “recycled” toner cartridges, and send your spent toner cartridges to be “recycled”. Commercially, this is referred to as recycling, but it is actually a form of reuse.
  • Encourage staff to use reusable coffee mugs when they pick up coffee in the morning on their way into the office. Hang a mug reuse poster in your break room.
  • Invest in rechargeable batteries and battery chargers for digital cameras, flashlights, and other small devices. If your staff can be trusted to not accidentally throw away or lose the rechargeable batteries, in the long run it would be cheaper and better for the environment. For more information on recycling and proper disposal of batteries, please visit CalRecycle’s Batteries home page.

Buy Recycled

  • You are not recycling if you send your waste to be recycled, but you do not buy products made from recycled content.
    • Recycled-Content Product Manufacturers (RCPM)–This directory showcases innovative recycled-content products made by California manufacturers who use recycled waste as a feedstock. RCPM puts you in touch directly with the manufacturers who make earth-friendly products. Whether you are a wholesale buyer, Procurement and Contracting Officer (PCO), or an individual consumer, use this listing to find recycled-content product manufacturers who make products, or intermediate products, designed with your needs in mind!
    • RecycleStore–This database lists only products of businesses that are located in one of California’s Recycling Market Development Zones (RMDZ). The RecycleStore is targeted at consumers.
  • Look for the type and the amount of recycled content in anything that you buy. Postconsumer content is better than postmanufacturer content. If the paper has postconsumer content it will most likely say so. Otherwise, assume the claimed recycled content is postmanufacturer.

Other Purchasing Considerations

  • Buy only what you know you will use. This may seem obvious, but keep in mind that there is an environmental cost to buying something and letting it sit on the shelf forever. If that something is a solvent, or a solvent-containing liquid such as paint or some cleaners, by the time that product spoils, the solvents will have evaporated and contributed needlessly to air pollution. Many items have a usable shelf life. Some paper manufacturers claim that even paper should be used within a couple years to prevent jams in copy machines and printers. The adhesive on envelopes goes bad in time. Bulk purchasing can be a excellent way to reduce costs, and the use of packaging and fossil fuels for transport, but find the balance.
  • Intersperse regular use of strong cleaners and solvents with less toxic and water based cleaners. Everything from process machinery to toilets need to be cleaned occasionally, but if you clean regularly, you don’t need to use the strongest chemicals known to humankind each and every time. A growing practice is to use the strong stuff about every fourth time, and use milder alternatives in between. U. S. EPA maintains a Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services. Greenseal is another good source of information on environmentally preferable products. You might also try the CalRecycle Environmentally Preferable Purchasing page for other source of information.

Reduce Packaging

  • Select products from suppliers and manufactures that use minimal packaging. If you buy paper by the case, by paper that is not packaged in individual reams. If you buy cleaning agents by the case, buy those that do not have cardboard dividers between the bottles. Look for similar waste reduction opportunities in all your purchasing. If you work for company large enough to make a difference, tell the manufactures that your selections are based on the amount of packaging that they use.
  • Reuse packing material whenever possible, and look for ways to reduce its use when you send products to customers.

Spread The Word

Publicize your waste prevention efforts. Online, in brochures and advertisements, discretely display a small paragraph somewhere that tactfully boasts of your office waste prevention practices. Many of your clients will be favorably impressed; probably none will find it distasteful. A good example is the best motivator, and you might help persuade other businesses to practice waste prevention.

Award and/or Recognition Programs

  • Award Programs–Award and recognition programs serve to facilitate business environmental stewardship and to recognize successful programs. Depending on the program, eligibility may also include agencies, local government, and the public.


  • Fact Sheets to Get You Going–CalRecycle can provide free fact sheets that might be of use to you and to others whom you might need to convince to participate in your waste prevention and recycling program. Contact bzassist@calrecycle.ca.gov for assistance, or view and download the material yourself. Go to the CalRecycle publications search page and do key word searches on terms such as, paper, office, waste prevention, waste reduction, landscape, compost, food, restaurant.
  • Posters and SignsCalRecycle has free signs and posters to help you direct recyclable and reusable items in your office, and to promote you waste reduction and recycling efforts.
  • Business Waste Reduction–A quick resource reference for businesses including office paper reduction ideas, fact sheets, and the waste reduction posters, links to grants and loans, and more.
  • Construction and Demolition–Find new lives for construction materials.
  • Electronic Product Management–What to do with your old computers, TVs, radios, cell phones, etc.
  • Environmentally Preferable Purchasing–Every product purchased has an impact on human health and the environment. What kind of impact are you making?
  • Keep America Beautiful has produced reports that include findings and recommendations for the most effective infrastructure to increase recycling (both quantity and quality) in office settings. KAB partnered with Action Research and PepsiCo Recycling to study the effects of different desk-side bin types and placements in over 35 offices in four cities.
  • Organics–Commercial agriculture, backyard gardening, composting, lawns, vermiculture, and much more.
  • Recycled-Content Product Manufacturers Directory and RecycleStore–If you don’t buy recycled, you are not really recycling.
  • Reuse–Because new is often not the best option, and because there are better places to get rid of your stuff than the trash can.

Business Waste Reduction Home

For more information contact: Office of Public Affairs, opa@calrecycle.ca.gov