Business plan for waste management - picture of recycling bins.

How to Reduce Business Waste

What’s on this page?

  1. How much waste per capita UK?
  2. Business waste recycling
  3. Top tips on how to reduce business waste
  4. Overlooked opportunities for how to reduce business waste
  5. How to reduce business waste with the experts

Making your office eco-friendlier by recycling your business waste doesn’t just polish your ‘green’ business credentials – it saves you money! This article provides helpful tips on how to reduce business waste.

How much waste per capita UK?

At 760kgs per person per year, the UK produces one of the world’s highest waste volumes per capita than any other country.

On average, each person in the UK throws away their own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks, equivalent to 412kg per person per annum.

A typical office of 100 people produces on average 20 bags of waste a week, which is equivalent to filling 50 1.100-litre (0.242 gallon) waste bins in a year.  Reducing the volume of business waste that ends up in a landfill is, therefore, a critical environmental priority.

Business waste recycling

When most organisations think about going green, the first thing that comes to mind is recycling, because waste is highly visible and relatively easy to deal with.

Yet most companies do a shoddy job with their office recycling initiatives, rendering it a wasted opportunity.  In fact, office waste is often more than 80% recyclable but without proper systems in place, it’s easy for many recyclable items to end up in landfill.

Done correctly, a comprehensive office recycling strategy can help a business send zero to landfill.  So, Here are a few tips on how to reduce business waste to help you implement an effective recycling system that will put you on the zero-to-landfill path.

Top tips on how to reduce business waste

Manage your printing and paper consumption

Paper and card recycling is the obvious starting point of office recycling, as it’s usually the most visible and highest volume waste product in the office.

Highlighting the scale of the issue, the Paperless Project reports that the average office worker uses a staggering 10 000 sheets of paper every year.

Despite that, some 45% of used office paper still ends up in the trash rather than being fed into recycling programmes, resulting in more than a trillion sheets of paper being needlessly sent to landfill sites every year across the globe.

Yet dealing with it is as simple as installing paper recycling bins in each office and arranging for it to be collected and recycled regularly.

Recycling a ton of office paper saves:

  • 54 million BTU’s (British thermal unit) of energy
  • 7 000 gallons (26 498 litres) of water
  • 4 100 kWh of energy
  • Nine barrels of oil

Actions to reduce paper consumption include:

  • For businesses that employ more than 50 staff, the concept known as ‘pull’ or ‘FollowMe’ printing, which relies on a user activating a print job at the printer, can reduce printing volumes by at least 30%—that’s the average figure of print jobs that end up as waste because they’re never collected.
  • Unless colour is really necessary, print documents in black and white and ensure that all office printers and photocopiers are set to the double-sided (duplex) print option. This simple default halves paper consumption instantly, already putting you ahead of the game.
  • Expand recycling system to reduce or reuse
  • Once you’ve exhausted your options for reduction and reuse, it’s time to explore other recycling options.  The best recycling systems start small and build on sound foundations over time.

Over time, expand your recycling system to include other items in your waste stream—stationery, toners, cardboard, glass, plastics, fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, CDs, food waste, furniture, and IT equipment, among others.

Invest in colour-coded bins and colourful labels

As you introduce new recycling initiatives to the office ensure that the recycling facility is highly visible.  A great way to make your employees aware of recycling is to install new bins with punchy labels.

Tips here include:

  • Use colour-coded bins to separate waste bins for each recycling option to ensure that waste streams do not become contaminated and can be recycled with ease.
  • Place recycling bins in each office cubicle and position paper recycling boxes next to employee’s desks—if it’s easy for employees to dispose of waste for recycling, they probably will.
  • Remove personal bins
  • Once you have a strong recycling system in place, it’s imperative that you remove as many general waste units—in particular, personal bins under each staff member’s desk.

The key is to have a small number of centrally located general waste bins and a much higher ratio of recycling bins available around the office.

Engage staff early in recycling initiatives

If you find that adoption rates of the new recycling system are low, it’s important that employees are engaged early.

Consider implementing the following:

  • Introduce a food organics recycling programme into your office.  Setting up a caddy to collect scraps in the office kitchen will avoid compostable items ending up in landfill.
  • Organise a staff ‘swap day’ for books, DVDs, and games that may be sitting at home unused.
  • Give staff reusable bottles and cups that can be refilled to cut down on plastic.
  • Run a recycling awareness day.
    Move to a zero-to-landfill system.
  • Even with a comprehensive recycling system, you’ll still have residual general waste that gets sent to landfill every week.  To eliminate this waste, explore the option of sending it to be incinerated. While it involves a financial commitment, a zero-to-landfill office provides a compelling environmental best practice that can be used to build customer relationships and set an example for staff.

Overlooked opportunities for how to reduce business waste

If you’re already recycling all your office paper, boxes, plastic bottles, and shrink wrap, you’re now ready to make the next step in reducing your solid waste stream, but some will require creative solutions to divert ALL materials from landfills and incinerators.

Everything you see—from that box of paper clips to outdated laptops—can be reused or recycled in some way.  Take note of these 11 common items often overlooked as office recycling opportunities.

Anything with a cord plug

If it’s got a cord, and it’s outdated, unused, or broken, recycle it.

Electronic waste involves more than just computers: it includes printers, scanners, fax machines, telephones, external hard drives, monitors, and electronic POS systems; steamers, laminators, duplicators, small appliances, power tools, televisions, stereos, and gaming consoles; and any sort of connectivity cable like USB, firewire, and 3.5mm audio.

Printer cartridges

Ink cartridges take 400 to 1 000 years to degrade when not recycled, wasting an important non-renewable resource.  Yet empty printer cartridges are easy and cost-effective to recycle. There are three major ways to keep them out the landfill:

  • Hang on to the cartridges and refill them yourself.  Alternatively, obtain ink refill kits from office supply stores, or use the refill service offered by 1-hour photo developing stores.
  • Return empty cartridges directly to the manufacturer—most have collection and recycling programmes in place with drop-off depots at major locations.
  • Donate empty cartridges to local schools that collect them as part of their fund-raising programmes.
  • Cell phones

Cell phones, even outdated and damaged ones, hold value in the recycling market—they contain copper, silver, gold, and palladium—metals that can be recovered and reused.

CDs and DVDs

Now that cloud computing has gone mainstream, you’ll have more CDs and DVDs to eventually dispose of, which can be a tricky task. Don’t put them in the trash bin for landfill; they’ll last forever. Or incinerate them either, because the materials will release harmful gasses as they burn.

CDs and DVDs contain polycarbonate plastic, a material that can be challenging to process, so don’t put them in your single stream recycling bin.

Send them instead to an e-waste recycler, where the disks will be dismantled and the plastic reused in automotive and building products.

Fluorescent light bulbs/tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)

Before throwing out those burned-out fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, verify first with your recycler, as they contain mercury, which can be hazardous if released into the environment.


Batteries contain chemicals like cadmium and arsenic that can leach out into landfills and harm the environment, but they also contain plastic and metal that can be reused.

Expired credit and hotel key cards

Most credit, debit, gift cards, and hotel key cards are made from PVC plastic, so choose a recycler who collects and recycles PVC cards.  Before you toss them in your single-stream bin however, be sure to cut out holograms or chips that’ll contaminate the recycling process.

Plastic name badge-holders

Common leftovers from trade shows and conventions, vinyl name badges are highly recyclable, but where possible, rather use biodegradable badges made from corn resin that can go straight into the compost bin.

Bottle caps

This is an often-missed recycling opportunity; toss them in your single-stream recycle bin along with your empty containers.


Door, office, and file cabinet keys—if they’re made of metal, they can be recycled.  Add them to your existing single stream recycling container or the mixed metals bin.

Toilet paper rolls

Add a single-stream recycle bin in the office toilets to collect empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, which are made of cardboard and highly recyclable.

How to reduce business waste with the experts

Need help managing your business waste? Smarter Business are here to help – contact us to find out more.