Office workers across North America know that a lot of their daily waste is recyclable—those leaky pens that don’t write, reams of office printouts, plastic bottles from rushed lunches—but it’s been a hard sell to get near full sustainability.
Landlords have slowly come around to offer recycling bins and other methods, though at times only to appease green-minded CEOs. There’s also the sneaky suspicion that janitors just empty it all into the same bin at the end of the night. More frustrating, however, is that there are more rules for what can and can’t be put into the office recycling stream than most people are used to at their homes.
A few offices, however, have decided to just box up their recyclables and ship them away. No, not to the competitor down the street—recycling by mail programs are popping up online, through major waste haulers and now, even at retail stores.
It’s a simple process: An office manager orders a specified box for the particular material, and the empty box arrives with return delivery already paid. The standalone box is put in the corner and workers feed that material into the box until full. The manager then just tapes the box shut and carries it out with the rest of the outgoing mail.
The option has been offered for a few years now by start-up Web firms or industry stalwarts. Waste Management, for example, offers recycling by mail for items such as fluorescent lamps, dry cell batteries, computers and electronics, and even the usual items such as bottles, plastic bags and shrink wrap. Manufacturers also offer free recycling of their items. Dell, for example, partnered with Fed-Ex to take back all computers (not just their own) and printer cartridges by free shipping. LG will send a free package to return an old phone.
However, office managers have enough to do, and they prefer to keep their ordering off of one catalog. To help out, Trenton, N.J.-based TerraCycle recently started offering their “Zero Waste Boxes” to U.S. customers through supply giant Staples.com. At first, the retailer only offered the program in Canada, says Colleen Duncan, a spokeswoman for TerraCycle. “We started a couple of years ago, and noticed that we had a lot of positive feedback,” she says.
Duncan says TerraCycle, known for taking in products many material recovery facilities won’t touch, is able to repurpose the office waste. Plastics, for example, are turned into items such as benches, bicycle racks and watering cans. Her firm has recycled more than 2.5 billion pieces of waste from all walks of life, she says.
The Staples site already has Canadian reviews of the boxes. Trisha Henderson, environmental policy coordinator for the Town of Oakville, near Ontario, Canada, said the recycle-by-mail program is much needed. “(We’ve) implemented this into four facilities and eight different departments to further increase our waste diversion rates across the corporation,” she said in a review for the Terracycle coffee pod recycling box.
Duncan says the need is there because a lot of business recycling programs won’t take certain items, such as the coffee pods, spray bottle heads, plastic packaging and certain pens and markers. While it’s an eco-friendly solution, her firm’s boxes certainly aren’t cheap. Prices range from $79.99 for a small box from a small office party, to boxes for arts and crafts, binders, mailing and cleaning supplies, to $373.99 for a large box that can take just about anything not toxic or hazardous.
“It’s important to provide options to companies to have somewhere to put this waste, so they can reach their sustainability goals,” Duncan says. “Also, by bringing it through Staples, it allows them to offer another green product for their customers.”