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Workplace Recycling: Bin Set-Up Can Boost Recycling

By Courtney Thomas, Eco Promotional Products, Inc.

The largest amount of waste in a workplace comes from mixed paper (37%) and trash (35%). How can workplaces get their employees to recycle more, especially when it comes to paper?

Recycling at Work recently hosted a webinar discussing a 2014 workplace recycling study conducted by Action Research commissioned by Keep America Beautiful and sponsored by PepsiCo Recycling.  In the study, more than 30 similar-sized offices in four major metropolitans were randomly assigned to one of four waste disposal conditions: 

    1.  Two equal-sized recycling and trash bins at desk

    2.  Recycling bin only at desk

    3.  Little trash bin hanging on recycling bin at desk

    4.  Information only, existing recycling and trash bins were not replaced. 

Identical informational materials were given in all conditions. 

The study found that the optimal workplace waste configuration is a big recycling bin paired with a smaller desk-side trash bin which increased overall recycling and reduced contamination. Here are the results from the test group using the big recycling bin paired with smaller trash configuration:

  • Increased recyclables from 65% to 85%, and decreased contamination in the recycling bin by 20%. 
  • Reduced the amount of recyclables in the trash from 29% to 13%. 
  • Reduced the amount of office paper in the trash to almost zero.

How can you help increase recycling in your office?  Make recycling easy with paired bins, one for recycling and one for trash, at every waste station from desks to common areas. Check out our USA Made Recycling Bin. Secondarily, educate employees by developing educational material that is consistent and simple. In common areas, such as break rooms and kitchens, display a trash sign and a recycling sign showing pictures of common office items. The recycled sign should highlight office paper waste that is recyclable as well as recyclables most often used by employees, such as soda cans and/or bottles, aluminum soup cans and frozen meal packaging.  On the trash sign, effective photos could be food waste, paper towels, tissues. 

While education is crucial to increase recycling, this study also found that education alone does not work; it must be combined with a new bin configuration, either a big/little combination or two equal sized containers.

Visit to take the Recycle at Work Pledge. You will also find a  copy of this research report along with tools, templates, and other guidance to establish an effective workplace recycling program.