Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I recently relocated to Florida from New York and I am finding it so hard to recycle without having to go completely out of my way. There are no recycling bins at my place of work or my apartment complex! I am completely amazed by this and also horrified at all of the recyclables that are ending up in landfills. I have looked into bringing it up at my apartment, but I also want to know if there is a good way to approach this with the bosses.

Tampa, Fla.

A. Dearest Sam,

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

As someone who has been known to embarrass her friends by fishing Coke bottles out of the garbage in public, I feel you — it’s downright painful to see perfectly recyclable items going to waste. But don’t forget that in challenge lies opportunity, and you’re in a great position to make a difference here. Is that an Employee of the Month trophy I see glinting in your future?

I’ll bet you already know why recycling is such a smart move, Sam: From reducing carbon emissions and energy use to conserving natural resources and creating jobs, resurrecting our trash is a cornerstone of environmentalism for good reason. Perhaps your boss would be receptive to this earth-centric argument, but I suspect you might need to dig a bit deeper to crack this nut. Depending on the culture at your office, leading with a “Save the trees!” approach might get you dismissed as a dirty hippie — but appealing to the green in the company’s wallet is harder to ignore.

Start by doing a little research: Call your company’s waste management operator and find out how much you’re paying for trash vs. what you would pay for recycling services (you can get started in Tampa right here). In many places, recycling is cheaper, so slashing your trash load just makes economic sense. Your office may even stand to earn some cash by selling off old computer equipment or phones to a third-party recycler or collecting printer cartridges for rebates (Staples runs a program).

Then you might hit your boss with the PR angle: Green business practices look good to customers, who increasingly want to patronize environmentally conscious companies. They also position your biz as a leader that cares about the sustainability of the community and the planet. And green habits like recycling appeal to many employees (you probably have some cubicle allies who are too shy to speak up), which helps create a happier, more loyal, and more productive workforce.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Once you’ve made your case, I would make the actual creation of the recycling program as painless as possible for the head honchos. While you’re chatting with your friendly neighborhood waste hauler or property manager for rates, find out where the recyclables will go, whether that’s a city service or private company. Ask how your company could get started. If you have corporate neighbors, there might even be an existing recycling program your office could jump in on. Doing the legwork ahead of time means your boss doesn’t have to, and also demonstrates what a go-getter you are.

When you get the OK from on high — and I believe in your powers of persuasion — there are tons of resources available to help make your program a success. One of the biggest requirements: appointing an enthusiastic recycling coordinator to get the party started (are your ears burning, Sam?). A few more tips to get you going:

  • Start small. Paper recycling is usually a good bet for offices at the outset. You can add other bins later, after your coworkers get used to this whole recycling thing.
  • Make it easy. Place bins next to every garbage can, in the copy room, and at every employee’s desk (a labeled cardboard box works just as well as a purpose-built bin). Make the difference between the garbage and the recycling bin obvious, and post lists of what can and can’t be recycled prominently.
  • Get the custodial staff on your side. All the recycle-boosting in the world won’t make a difference if your janitors are just dumping the bins into the trash at the end of the day.
  • Make it fun. Put up posters showing how much crap your office has diverted from the landfill, or set up contests to see which department can reduce their waste the most.

Best of luck with the boss, and may your office soon be free from the pain of watching yet another soda can get tossed into the garbage.


Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.