Reducing Office Waste

People have talked about paperless offices for years. Although advances in technology—including email, databases, and file-sharing sites—have reduced the amount of paper companies use, they're still far from paperless. A typical office generates about one-and-a-half pounds of waste paper per employee each day. According to the Clean Air Council, the amount of paper thrown out by U.S. businesses in a year could build a 12-foot-high wall stretching from Los Angeles to New York City. Cutting paper use by a measly 10% would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 1.6 million tons—equivalent to taking 280,000 cars off the road.

Changing those statistics happens one sheet at a time. If you start today, making even one small change, you can reduce waste, conserve energy and resources—and save your company money while you're at it. Here are some tips to get you started:

• Save energy at your desk. Set your computer and monitor to power down when you're not using them. When you head home at night, turn off your computer, monitor, printer, and so on instead of leaving them on overnight. One easy way to do this is to plug everything into one power strip with an on/off switch—just turn off the strip at the end of the day. Or get a smart power strip (page 62).

• Turn off the lights. Last one out of the office? Don't forget to flip the lights off on your way out the door. And if you use a desk lamp, use a CFL (page 69) instead of an incandescent bulb.

• Unplug. After you charge your cellphone, laptop, or other mobile device, unplug the charger so it won't waste energy while it's not doing anything. Also, look for chargers and adapters with the Energy Star label; they use about a third less energy than other models.

• Go paperless. Even if your company isn't ready to go completely paperless, you can still save paper at work. Before you print out an email or make a copy of a memo, think about whether you really need a paper version. Instead of printing, read onscreen, save files on your computer (don't forget to back them up!), and email documents or store them on file-sharing sites like SharePoint or Google Docs. Put employee manuals and info on the company's website. And when you truly need paper copies, print double sided.

^^ The average American office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper each year. Look around your office. If each person cut their paper use by half, think about how much paper would that save.

• Recycle. How often do people unthinkingly throw paper away instead of dropping it in a recycling bin? If your company has a recycling program, use it for paper, plastics, aluminum cans and foil, glass bottles, printer cartridges, cellphones, and more. If your company doesn't have such a program, look into starting one. has a helpful guide for doing that: Go to, click Green Guides, and then click "Start a Recycling Program at Work".

^ Make sure recycling bins are easy to find and use. Put bins near the copier, printer, and at each desk. In the break room, place bins labeled for plastic, metal, and glass where people will see them, along with clear instructions for what can and can't go into each one. (You'd be surprised how many people still have no clue about recycling.)

• Buy green office supplies. Look for recycled paper that's made using an earth-friendly process (page 205). And refilled printer cartridges are cheaper than brand-new ones. You can also buy recycled pens and pencils, folders, binders, furniture, and more. Think outside the cubicle, too—cloth or recycled paper towels for the kitchen and restrooms, reusable coffee filters for the break room, biodegradable cups and utensils.

^^ Check out the EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guide ( to see its recommendations for recycled office supplies.

• Reuse. Using stuff more than once (page 94) is just as important at work as it is at home. Every time you reuse something instead of throwing it away, you make your office a little more earth-friendly. So instead of grabbing a fresh notepad from the supply closet, reuse paper that has something printed on one side. And use the blank sides of previously printed paper when you need to print a draft of a document you're working on. Reuse envelopes for in-office correspondence (or better yet, send an email). When a shipment arrives, save and reuse the box and packing materials, or see whether the shipper will take them back for reuse or credit. Just about anything in the office is a candidate for reuse: furniture, relabeled folders, shredded paper (for cushioning shipments)—use your imagination.

• Mug it up. Instead of using disposable cups for your coffee, bring in your own mug. On the same note, forgo paper plates and throw-away utensils for ones you can wash and reuse.

• Just say no to disposable water bottles. Plastic bottles you use once and then throw away raise concerns about both health (page 153) and waste (page 78). (According to the group Refill Not Landfill, Americans drank 8.3 billion gallons of bottled water in 2006—that's a lot of empty containers!) Instead of bringing bottled water into the office, get a reusable container and fill it up at the water cooler or drinking fountain. If you do drink a bottle of water, drop it in the recycling bin when it's empty.

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