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Reducing Waste In the Workplace

When it comes to conserving resources, preventing pollution and saving money, reducing waste trumps recycling. In this game, businesses and organizations of all sizes can truly do well by doing the right thing.

Reduce your use of office paper

Copy paper, like the kind used in photocopiers, computer printers and plain-paper fax machines, is the most common type of office waste paper.

  • Lots of copy paperAccording to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.
  • The U.S. EPA estimates that paper and paperboard account for almost 40 percent of our garbage.
  • Office paper is highly recyclable, but a lot gets wasted. Waste reduction is more cost-effective than recycling because it reduces the amount of material that needs to be collected, transported and processed. Waste reduction can save money for businesses and institutions of any size.
  • Nearly 3.7 million tons of copy paper are used annually in the United States alone. That's over 700 billion sheets.

Benefits of using less

Storage and handling. Paper is bulky to store, in boxes or in file cabinets. By using fewer sheets, you can put storage space to more productive use. For example, Owens Corning recently made all of its offices worldwide "paperless." Having had 14,000 file cabinets around the world, the company has already saved around $30 million in lease costs.

Mailing costs. Fewer sheets mailed may mean reduced postage. A single-sided 10-page letter costs $0.63 to send by U.S. first class ; that same letter, copied onto both sides of the paper, uses only five sheets and requires only $0.39 in postage. The price of postage is rising, and those extra ounces can really add up.

Environmental benefits. By increasing double-sided copying (duplexing), U.S. offices could reduce annual paper use by 20 percent (Inform, Inc). By using and discarding less paper, you are conserving resources, reducing water and energy use, and preventing pollution.

Tips for reducing paper use

  • Try to use both sides of a sheet of paper for printing, copying, writing and drawing.
  • Reuse paper that's already printed on one side by manually feeding it into copiers and printers. Use it for internal documents like drafts and short-lived items such as meeting agendas or temporary signs.
  • Once-used paper can also be reused in plain paper fax machines — they only need one clean side.
  • Use less paperE-mail can be used to share documents and ideas. Be sure to only print the e-mails you need to have a hard copy of. This advice goes for Internet documents as well. Instead of printing a Web page, bookmark it or save the page on your hard drive and pull it up when needed.
  • Desktop fax, electronic references (CD-ROM databases), electronic data storage, electronic purchasing and direct deposit are all ways to use electronic media that reduce office paper waste.
  • Help minimize misprints by posting a diagram on how to load special paper like letterhead so it will be printed correctly.
  • Practice efficient copying — use the size reduction feature offered on many copiers. Two pages of a book or periodical can often be copied onto one standard sheet.
  • Use two-way or send-and-return envelopes. Your outgoing envelope gets reused for its return trip.
  • Use reusable inter- and intra-office envelopes.
  • Reuse old paper for notepads. It can be cut to custom sizes and simply bound with a staple.
  • Draft documents can be reviewed, edited and shared on-screen.


Discover Great Printing

Printers, designers, and print buyers can incorporate good environmental practices into their work to reduce the overall impact that printed materials have on the environment.

The Great Printer Environmental Initiative, a program of the Printing Industry of Minnesota (PIM), is a totally voluntary effort aimed at increasing environmental, health and safety compliance, and pollution prevention within the printing industry.

Participating printers have demonstrated that they minimize their company's impact on human health and the environment while producing quality printed products for their customers.30% postconsumerGreat Printers commit to operating in compliance with environmental, health, and safety requirements, pledge to minimize wastes, reuse and recycle wastes, and maximize energy efficiencies through continuous environmental, health and safety improvements.

Strategies for printing greener

  • Print on both sides of the paper, and reduce the width of margins and font sizes. These options reduce waste and save both resources and money.
  • Keep your mailing list updated. Evaluate your data, delete duplicates, remove those who have requested to be off, and target your mailings to specific audiences. This can help save money on printing and mailing costs, provide you with a more effective mailing, and reduce waste throughout the printing process.
  • Request paper with pulp that is brightened without the use of chlorine. Chlorine bleaching creates a toxic, bio-accumulative waste by-product called dioxin. By demanding alternatives to chlorine-bleached papers, you help create new markets and encourage paper mills to move away from polluting production practices.
  • Use paper labeled totally chlorine-free (TCF) or processed chlorine-free (PCF). Both terms mean that the mill did not use chlorine compounds to brighten the paper. Talk to your paper vendor or printer about the price and availability of TCF and PCF papers. Both significantly reduce the persistent, bio-accumulative compounds in the mill wastewater that are associated with the traditional chlorine bleaching process.
  • Request inks with non-petroleum bases, such as soybeans or linseed.
  • Request inks that emit low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Non-petroleum-based inks are usually lower in VOCs.
  • Use pre-press technologies that eliminate or reduce hazardous materials, such as direct-to-plate printing.
  • Buy paper that is produced by a company with a stated commitment to environmental stewardship, and to minimizing ecological impacts and ensuring long-term sustainable production.
  • Purchase and specify post-consumer recycled content papers. This helps expand the recycling market and assure recycling programs stay viable and effective. It also closes the loop by diverting waste from landfills and incinerators. As an added benefit, purchasing papers made from recycled stock means using fewer trees to make the paper.



Duplexing: An argument for both sides

Approximately two-thirds of all copy machines are "duplex-capable" (able to print on both sides of a sheet of paper). Yet the duplexing rate in the United States is only 15 percent. This leaves significant opportunities to reduce office paper waste simply by educating co-workers about using the full sheet — both sides.
  • For laser printers that are capable of printing 12 or more pages per minute, you can usually add a unit that allows for automatic duplexing.
  • If you put a duplexing unit on your printer, it will add $350 to $500 to the base price of your printer. An office with 10 to 20 workers could recoup that extra cost in one year or less.
  • If you lease your copier, specify a duplexing unit when the lease comes up for renewal.
Duplex -- Use both sides


Buying green for your office

The National Recycling Coalition recently published Purchasing Strategies to Prevent Waste and Save Money. This publication contains many useful ideas on how to purchase products that create less waste.

Remanufactured toner cartridge

Here are some purchasing ideas for offices to make the workplace more environmentally friendly.

  • Refurbish and buy refurbished office equipment.
  • Reuse and refill toner cartridges and ribbons.
  • Purchase non-toxic, biodegradable cleaners that contain low- or no-volatile organic compounds.
  • Buy concentrates.
  • Buy in bulk.
  • Buy products that are reusable, returnable or refillable.
  • Buy recycled office products that contain post-consumer recycled material.
  • Use flexible interior features, such as movable walls, to reduce waste associated with renovation.
  • Choose durable materials and furnishings to reduce the costs and waste associated with replacement.

  • EPP GuideThe online Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide (EPPG) provides purchasers with information on a wide range of products and considerations: environmental and health issues, cost, availability, performance, and specifications. Targeted at government purchasers, the guide should be of great interest to companies and organizations.
  • Green Seal is an independent, non-profit organization that works to identify and promote products and services that cause less toxic pollution and waste, conserve resources and habitats, and minimize global warming and ozone depletion. In their Choose Green Reports, they name environmentally preferable products and services and then explain their criteria.


Materials Exchange

Materials Exchange The Minnesota Materials Exchange Alliance is a business reuse network, connecting businesses who have reusable goods they no longer need with others who can use them. This free service helps businesses save money, become more competitive and conserve natural resources. Materials exchange can help:
  • Reduce disposal costs.
  • Provide low- or no-cost materials.
  • Locate markets for surplus materials.

Over the past five years, materials exchange has helped area businesses save $3 million and keep 8 million pounds of useable material from becoming waste.

Check out the Minnesota Materials Exchange Alliance's free online catalog: Search the database for materials you need or offer surplus materials to others.


Success story: Bucket Reuse Saves Greenhouse Money

Gene Stark of Greenfingers Farm (Prior Lake) needed to build a platform for some plants at his greenhouse. Rather than use new materials, Gene's design cleverly incorporated used items he found through the materials exchange.

The Minnesota Materials Exchange Alliance referred Gene to a company that needed to get rid of over 400 empty 5-gallon pails. By using these pails as a base, Gene was able to construct a platform system for his flats of bedding plants. He saved roughly $1600 on materials, while the other partner avoided disposal costs for the pails of about $160.

400 buckets!
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success stories at


Building management tips

How a building is managed can affect environmental quality and employee health. There are several steps that building managers can take to reduce waste and protect the health of tenants and employees within a building.

Building maintenance
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly one-third of all commercial buildings have significant indoor air quality problems.
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  • Use reusable dishware in your company's cafeteria and kitchen instead of disposables.
  • Use cloth towel roll dispensers in your bathrooms and cloth napkins and towels in your kitchens.
  • Where available, separate your building's organic wastes from non-compostable trash and send it to a composting facility. This includes food wastes, waste from groundskeeping or gardening, and even soiled or unrecyclable paper products like paper towels and napkins.
  • Use paint and install carpeting that contains low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs from paint, carpet, building materials and other office products can create unsafe indoor air quality in your work environment and cause Sick Building Syndrome.
  • Work with janitorial service or staff to find ways to use less toxic, non-toxic and/or non-VOC cleaning products.


Success story: Commercial composting

Commercial composting
Compostable wastes
  • All food wastes, including meat and dairy
  • Coffee grounds, filters and tea bags
  • Plant trimmings & flowers
  • Paper plates & napkins
  • Paper towels, facial tissues
  • Special compostable utensils made from cornstarch
Even if you are working to prevent waste and have a successful recycling program, your organization will still have a lot of trash to throw away.

At the offices of the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance and the Pollution Control Agency in St. Paul, a study of discards showed that nearly half of the building's trash was organic materials. The agencies began a 6-month pilot project, separating organic wastes for disposal by a commercial composting company.

Separate containers are set up around the facility to collect compostable material, including all food wastes, plant trimmings and nonrecyclable paper. These small containers are emptied daily, and the organics are picked up weekly and trucked to NRG's composting facility in Dakota County.

Since the project began in late 1999, the agencies have reduced their trash by 28 percent (by weight).

Food waste brochurePut food waste to a good use

"Unwanted food" may conjure up images or brussels sprouts or fruitcake, but we're talking about the organized collection of perishable and non-perishable food for feeding the hungry in our communities. Reusing or recycling unsaleable food materials significantly reduces the environmental impact of waste disposal for restaurants, food service vendors, supermarkets, and food suppliers. There are a lot better destinations than the landfill!

Food to people

  • Food shelves accept food donations in the form of canned or dry goods, and redistribute it to those who are not able to provide basic food requirements for themselves and/or their families.
  • Food rescue programs collect perishable foods mainly from businesses and redistribute them to food shelf programs or food kitchens. This is often an option for businesses that generate large quantities of unserved food.

Food to livestock

  • Food that's not fit for human consumption can be fed to animals, either directly or after it's been processed into animal feed. This option is frequently used by grocery stores and other large generators of food waste.

Composting and recycling

  • If food wastes are no longer edible, commercial composting can combine them with other organic materials to make a soil amendment. And specialized recycling services are available for materials like grease, cooking oil, and butcher scraps.

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