P2 Impact

5 ways to reduce waste and costs on your company's campus

Office supplies
ShutterstockAfrica Studio
If people order their own supplies, your company ends up with more than anybody needs.

Do you want to lower costs at your facility as well as lower its environmental impact? Look no further than your waste stream. The most expedient way to limit costs and green your footprint is through waste reduction. You can implement some easy solutions without major expenditures; others cost a bit more but have justifiable returns on investment. Here we examine five strategies for reducing waste on your corporate or agency campus.

1. Establish centralized purchasing and a reuse store for office supplies

Reuse store
Anna Arkin

A reuse store helps unneeded supplies reach others who need them.

An easy and efficient strategy to reduce waste is to consolidate commonly used workplace supplies.

First, limit the purchase of supplies such as scissors, pens and pencils, sticky notes, facial tissue, tape, file folders and paper clips to a single person or unit, which reduces redundant purchases and thus purchasing costs.

Next, locate the items in a central location for easy access and encourage staff to place their unneeded supplies in the central supply area. Reuse reduces the need for new purchases and reduces disposal of expired, obsolete or otherwise unused items. Encourage or require that staff seek out supplies in the central supply area before submitting a purchase request for new items.

Fairview Health Services, a Minnesota-based healthcare system, established reuse stores in three hospitals and two office buildings and encouraged staff to take from the reuse stores before ordering new supplies. In the first phase of implementation (about two years), the company saved more than $1 million in office supply costs and $300,000 in furniture costs and reduced waste by 32,000 pounds.

2. Offer reusables in the break room or cafeteria

A common source of waste is single-use tableware. Instead of purchasing and providing disposable tableware, encourage employees to bring their own reusable mugs, cups, plates and flatware, or supply reusable tableware and wash on-site. To take it a step further, replace disposable takeout containers with returnable, reusable ones.

With a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, two middle schools in Minnetonka, Minn., replaced their disposable tableware with reusable bowls and utensils. They were able to prevent 6,700 pounds of trash and expect to save $23,000 over three years. What’s more, they lightened their environmental footprint: The use of stainless steel utensils reduces greenhouse gases by 77 percent and conserves tens of thousands of gallons of water over the lifecycle of the product.

If your campus cafeteria doesn’t have a dishwasher, it can be cost-effective to install one and make the switch to reusables. A Minnesota Technical Assistance Program assessment of a state agency cafeteria found that switching from disposable to reusable tableware would reduce an estimated 7,700 pounds of waste and save the agency $17,400 annually, even taking into account an initial investment in a dishwasher.

3. Improve your recycling program

Color-coded recycle bins

Color-coding your company's recycle bins increases the amount of recycling.

Improving your facility’s waste and recycling processes is another achievable win.

The first step is to create waste stations with bins for trash, recyclables and food or organics, if applicable. Stations should be placed in convenient locations, and trash and recycling containers always should be located together. Labeling bins with clear text and images of acceptable items is an integral component of this strategy.

Color-coding signage and, if possible, containers helps reinforce recycling behavior. Finally, communicating your commitment to waste reduction and information about how to recycle is a necessary step in any recycling improvement process.

A MnTAP assessment of the recycling systems within four Minnesota state agencies found that many recyclables still were ending up in the trash. Setting up centralized waste stations, color-coding bins, updating signage and educating staff would increase recycling rates by up to 12 percent. With a more effective system, the four agencies could recycle an additional 76,200 pounds and save $5,400 annually.

4. Manage your food waste

To achieve a high recycling rate and move toward “zero waste,” looking at food waste and other organic materials (also known as compostables) is a must.

Compostables are a large percent of the waste stream. For example, in Minnesota organics comprise 31 percent of solid waste. Investigate the potential for sending pre-consumer food to people or food scraps to animals. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after source reduction, feeding people and feeding animals are the preferred ways of managing food waste.

If composting is an option in your area, consider establishing an organics recycling program in your facility. A good place to start is in restrooms, if paper towels are used for hand drying. Bathroom waste bins tend to contain primarily organic waste (paper towels and tissues), making it unnecessary to sort waste and thus easy to capture this material for organics recycling.

Another area to find compostables is in the kitchen or your campus cafeteria. Install organics recycling containers and train kitchen staff to put food-prep waste (pre-consumer food waste) in these containers. You then can expand your program to capture post-consumer food waste in dining areas by educating your entire staff on where to put organic materials.  

MnTAP helped the Eagan Community Center (Eagan, Minn.) establish an organics recycling program, which included purchasing color-coded bins, training staff members, purchasing and offering compostable serviceware and engaging the public with signage. Based on the results of a waste sort, the facility reduced its daily trash generation by 55 percent, with the potential to divert 45,000 pounds of waste annually from the landfill. The facility now recycles three pounds of material for every pound of trash.

5. Conduct a waste assessment on your campus

To best understand the opportunities for waste reduction and cost savings on your campus, conduct a waste assessment. A waste assessment involves examining what wastes are generated and how they are managed throughout your facility. Start with the following questions:

What type of trash do we generate, and how are we disposing of it?

Are there items in the trash that could be source reduced, reused or recycled?

Are our trash bins the right size and collected at appropriate intervals?

Check out MnTAP’s waste sort tutorial, “How to conduct a waste assessment” (or the Spanish version, “Cómo hacer una evaluación de desperdicios”) on YouTube.