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Valuable waste

Nathan Gray, Head of Sustainability at Reconomy believes leadership is key for facilities managers waste management strategies

When we speak to facility managers and employers running workplace recycling and sustainability schemes on their sites, we hear the same grumbles time and time again.

Recycling facilities have been put in place but are not being used properly. Employees don’t understand the importance of recycling, even at the basic level of putting the correct waste in the correct bin, and costs are racking up as a result.

Yet when we get under the skin of what is going on in these environments, we often find a mis-match between words and actions. Or rather a mis-direction of effort and investment.

FMs are spending significant time and expense putting in place processes and infrastructure which they think will drive greater sustainability but they are often looking to run before they can walk.

This means they are often implementing systems which aren’t joined up and can struggle to achieve employee buy-in – crucial to the success of any workplace scheme.


Our fundamental recommendation is to start at the very beginning with a waste audit because it’s crucial to understand the current waste being produced in your office. Once businesses can identify the types and quantities of waste being generated, they will be able to pinpoint areas of improvement more efficiently.

By analysing the waste stream and categorising it, your office can determine which materials can be recycled and this knowledge will form the foundation for your strategy. Alongside this, because you can only manage what you can measure, data and technology are pivotal to capturing the information needed to make these alterations.

The next step feeds into engaging employees to buy into a culture of sustainability and this requires a degree of social engineering and nudge theory. Offices must make it as easy as possible for employees to make the correct decisions and develop positive habits that will in turn become ingrained in longer-term behaviours.

For example, make recycling convenient and accessible for everyone in the office by setting up well-organised recycling stations. Place clearly labelled bins in easily accessible areas, such as canteens, scanning rooms, and near workstations.

Ensure that each bin clearly indicates the type of recyclable material it is meant for, such as paper cup recycling, plastic recycling, glass recycling, or food recycling. Clear signage and educational posters can also help educate employees about what can and cannot be recycled – which they can then take into their private lives.

It is not just about managing waste but reducing it wherever possible. One of the most significant areas of waste in an office environment is paper, so measures that encourage employees to adopt digital practices, such as using electronic documents instead of printing, sharing files online, and utilising cloud storage can bring tangible benefits.

Additional steps include establishing a system for recycling used paper and ensuring confidential waste is handled properly before recycling.


Once these systems are in place, education and leadership from the management team becomes key, as promoting office recycling requires active participation from all employees.

This means organising awareness campaigns and training sessions to educate staff about the importance of recycling, the benefits it brings, and the specific recycling guidelines in your office. Inspire employees to take ownership of their recycling habits by providing them with information on how their efforts contribute to a greener workplace.

Consider creating a recycling committee or designating recycling champions to drive engagement and maintain enthusiasm for sustainable practices. And, of course, leadership support is absolutely critical here.

There is no good putting in place awareness campaigns if employees see the CEO or office manager dropping their takeaway coffee cup into the wrong bin or regularly using non-recyclable, single-use items. They must lead by example.

Ultimately, though, leaders and managers cannot be expected to juggle their roles with devising and implementing high-impact waste management strategies.


That is why partnering with specialist companies can provide invaluable support in rapidly getting the right infrastructure in place along with the measures that will get buy-in from colleagues.

These partners can offer guidance on best practices, help set up recycling programs, and provide resources for recycling bins and collection services. Collaboration can also ensure that recyclables are appropriately sorted, collected and sent to recycling facilities.

This advice can be holistic and is not solely constrained to bins. Specialists can provide broader, more holistic guidance on integrating sustainability practices into a central role in the business’ operations, to ensure an end-to-end approach from procurement to recycling.

This might include, for example, introducing reusable strategies where possible in order to help combat single-use plastic waste. By switching to reusable food and drink containers, there are significant cost savings over a three-year period for businesses as well as environmental benefits given that in the UK alone, 10.7 billion single-use food and drink take-out packaging containers are discarded each year after being used just once.

Ultimately, when FMs and office managers are frustrated and confused as to why their well-meaning attempts to foster a culture of sustainability in the workplace aren’t working as hoped we can work with them to make improvements.

This doesn’t mean adding in a lot of cost or gimmicks – it revolves around simple, logical steps that can help make circularity easier for all concerned.

About Sarah OBeirne

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