Only discard into waste trash what is not recyclable.
In 1999, U.S. residents, businesses, and institutions produced more than 230 million tons of municipal solid waste, which is approximately 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day, up from 2.7 pounds per person per day in 1960. Luckily, some leadership institutions, cities, and corporations have begun to make zero waste commitments in an effort to lessen the waste load.
Even after paper recycling, much more of the trash stream can be reduced or even prevented (what some wits term "pre-cycling"). Five examples:
- Recycle CD discs and floppy diskettes
- Recycle batteries
- Buy and regularly use a coffee or tea mug with a top that can be taken with you to buy fill-ups or refills (some coffee shops give discounts to people who bring in their own coffee mugs)
- When ordering or sending packages, avoid selecting overnight mail delivery if not absolutely imperative, which not only enables using a recyclable packaging envelope but saves money for your company
- Keep a pitcher of filtered faucet water at your desk, and displace those container drinks
Before recycling or discarding junk mail, especially mail order catalogs, call the 800-toll-free phone number on the catalog or email the brochure’s address and request your name be removed from all their mailing lists.
Most offices receive a significant amount of unwanted mail that is immediately discarded (hopefully recycled). Some of this mail is addressed to former employees, some is unsolicited mail order catalogs, some are duplicate copies of magazines and journals, and some consist of a steady stream of unwanted solicitations.
Employees, no doubt, have parallel junk mail experiences at home, given the fact that U.S. catalog circulation topped 17 billion in 1998, or about 64 catalogs per person. The environmental impacts of making, using, and disposing of this 4 million tons of annual catalog paper are substantial – 40% of which never gets opened – including, according to one source:
- Filling 3% of American Landfills
- Stealing 320 million of your tax dollars for disposal fees
- Destroying 62 million trees annually
- Using 28 billion gallons of water for paper processing annually
A very new source of unwanted mail order catalogs are those being sent by online shopping sites. If you have an account with such a website click to your account settings, and update your communication preferences by deleting any checked boxes that say you would like to receive mailings.
If an office recycling program exists, recycle aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles. Also wash plastic plates, spoons, forks and knives used in luncheons and receptions, and store for future reuse.
Clearly most people desire a variety of liquid refreshments, even if they do decide to drink more filtered faucet water. Hence, when beverages in recyclable containers are purchased you should routinely recycle this "urban mine" of resources.
In 1999, Americans spent over $58 billion to buy 14 billion gallons of carbonated soft drinks (27% of total drinks). 65 billion soft drinks were packaged in cans, 24 billion were packaged in PET plastic bottles, and 850 million were packaged in glass bottles.
Producing a ton of aluminum from scratch requires 16,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, while using recycled cans requires only 750 kWh. Producing one ton of aluminum from virgin materials requires: 4 tons of bauxite, half ton of petroleum coke, half ton of soda ash, 1/7th ton of pitch, 1/10th ton of lime, and 200 million BTUs of energy (equivalent to 33 barrels of oil). Pollutants generated include: 1.5 tons of red mud, 80 pounds of air pollutants, and 80 pounds of solid wastes. The good news is that the national recycling rate in 1998 for aluminum beverage cans was 55 percent, or 56 billion cans (plus another 7.9 billion cans imported from foreign countries). Recycling aluminum saves 95+% of the energy, air and water pollution created by virgin aluminum production.
There are many grades of plastic, coded by number and imprinted on the bottom of the container. Number 1, PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and No. 2, HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene), from which most beverage bottles are made, are the most recycled in the United States (although they represent less than a 25% of total plastic waste).
Some good news about plastic is that the amount of post-consumer PET bottles collected in the U.S. increased to 771 million pounds in 1999, or one-quarter of PET bottles, and more bottles are being produced per pound of raw material. Since 1978, manufacturers have reduced the weight of a two-liter PET bottle by 27%, and two 1-gallon milk jugs are now made from the same amount of HDPE that only produced one jug in 1960.
32 billion steel cans were used in 2000, or about 130 per person per year. Luckily U.S. steel can recycling rates have increased from 15 percent in 1988 to 58 percent in 2000, resulting in a diversion of 1.5 million tons of steel from landfills. The industry remelted more than 18 billion steel cans into new products, and more than 28 percent of a new steel can is now made from recycled steel.
The bad news is that 1.4 million tons still get dumped in landfills because some 14 billion cans still go unrecycled. Given each ton of recycled steel saves one ton of ore, half a ton of coal, and 40 lbs. of limestone, complete recycling could annually reduce the need for mining 1.4 million tons of ore and 26,000 tons of lime, and burning 700,000 tons of coal.
The recovery rate for glass containers in the U.S. has shown minimal growth over the past half decade, hovering around 30 percent. By comparison, seven European countries recycle twice this level, with Switzerland recycling an incredible 89% of their glass. A ton of glass produced from raw materials creates ~0.4 tons of mining waste. Using 50% recycled glass cuts this waste by three-fourths.
Many offices regularly have food catered for working lunches, receptions, and other events. As a result, over the course of a year a considerable amount of plastic ware – serving platters, plates, forks, spoons and knives – is thrown out as trash after just one use at these events. When these plastics are coded No. 1 or 2 they can be recycled along with plastic bottles. However, most of this plastic ware is higher codes, which are not currently recycled. So, please take a moment to gather the re-usable plastic ware so it can be washed, dried, and stored for re-use by staff for routine lunches and meals.
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