Commercial waste from businesses has been increasing over the past decade, with government efforts such as the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Waste Management Plan 2021 opens in new window and the government’s Environment Act 2021 opens in new window, aimed at reducing business waste and increasing commercial recycling.
Research by Defra opens in new window found that in 2021 43% of commercial or business waste is recycled against a national target of 65%.
Many business owners are conscious of their operations’ effects on the environment, and they understand why it’s important to cut waste and commit to eco-friendly practices opens in new window.
And they’re not alone, with consumers demanding sustainable products opens in new window and admitting that their perception of an organisation is influenced by its stance on environmentalism.
But it can be tricky for organisations to know where to begin opens in new window – particularly if you’re a start-up that has countless other things to worry about.
Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to get started.
1. Review your current recycling practices
If you want to get better at recycling, reviewing what you’re already doing makes sense.
Do you have recycling bins on the premises, and are people using them, for example?
It could be a good idea to see how much non-sustainable waste opens in new window your start-up is sending to landfill and consider ways to recycle or ‘upcycle’ materials, from card waste to office furniture.
‘Household-like’ waste forms the largest type of commercial waste (33.6%), according to a 2021 report by the DEFRA opens in new window.
This type of waste may be able to be managed more effectively within office and workplace environments through effective recycling schemes.
By assessing what you’re already doing, you can see what’s working, and it might generate ideas for other activities.
2. Create a recycling policy
Effective recycling practices begin with top-level commitment, opens in new window and that usually means getting something in writing.
A recycling policy can be a good starting point because it establishes your start-up’s stance on environmental issues and embeds responsible practices at the heart of your operations.
The document could state your organisation’s objectives and goals, as well as the scope of your activities.
It could also include details about your commitment to waste reduction, resource conservation, and environmental responsibility.
3. Set up recycling stations
It can make sense to make it as easy as possible for your team to recycle, and one way to do that is to position recycling bins in easily accessible places.
Most people know the importance of eco-friendly practices and may recycle when given the chance.
By simply placing a recycling bin next to a regular bin, people may take it upon themselves to separate their waste.
Much of what’s thrown out in the workplace is recyclable, whether paper, coffee cups, or cans.
Even office supplies, such as printer cartridges or batteries, can be recycled, so you may find that the amount of waste going to landfill is reduced.
4. Remove personal bins
You might consider going one step further than setting up recycling stations by removing wastepaper bins from the workplace.
The goal is encouraging employees to be more conscious about throwing things away.
If they have a bin directly under their workstations, they might automatically throw things away to keep their desk tidy.
But if you make them get up and walk to a recycling station, they may be more likely to place things in the correct bin.
5. Educate employees
If your eco-friendly policies and initiatives are to succeed, it can be a good idea to make sure everyone in the business knows about them and what they’re expected to do.
The challenge isn’t necessarily about educating employees on the climate crisis and the importance of recycling.
Instead, part of the challenge can be about raising awareness of your activities and how employees can get involved.
You can consider tackling this in many ways, from formal staff awareness training exercises opens in new window to casual reminders in the office.
Posters may be an effective way to embed your message, while you might also consider providing updates on your activities in staff briefings.
It can pay to focus on the benefits of recycling and the positive actions you take instead of the negative environmental situation.
Positivity may help foster greater engagement, and your team may feel as though they are being rewarded for good practices rather than being criticised for bad ones.
6. Implement workplace initiatives
Another way to get staff involved in recycling programmes is to launch workplace initiatives.
Although many employees willingly commit to eco-friendly practices because they care about the environment, others may require further coaxing.
For example, you might ask staff to photograph their weekly food shop, and whoever has purchased the most sustainable items will receive a prize.
This helps motivate employees to learn about the sorts of items that are recyclable and the volume of non-sustainable goods that they purchase.
7. Go paperless
Although organisations are increasingly operating digitally, we still throw out vast quantities of paper each year – with Defra finding that 14.8% of commercial waste opens in new window is paper and cardboard.
It’s easy to think of paper as a sustainable resource – after all, it’s made from organic material, and it can be recycled – but it still takes resources to produce, and its production can result in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Consider removing paper from operations throughout your business, and look for ways to move documents, data, and files to digital versions.
8. Ban takeaway cups in the office
Coffee cups are one of the leading causes of waste in the office – not to mention one of the most avoidable.
Millions of us purchase hot drinks on our way to work opens in new window, and when we get into the office, we throw away the empty cup.
Even if you recycle these cups, you are still contributing to waste that needs to be transported, sorted, and reclaimed.
This can take time and energy, demonstrating that responsible recycling isn’t simply about maximising the volume of your green bins.
Instead, providing mugs, cups, and glassware in the office can be a good idea, encouraging staff to use, wash, and reuse drink containers.
9. Source sustainable products
Identifying other single-use items that sustainable alternatives can replace can be a good idea.
For example, your start-up could rent or purchase items second-hand rather than buy new ones.
If you want to renovate your office with new furniture or electronics, look for local charities that want to take your old equipment.
Ask other local small businesses if they would benefit from your old furniture or equipment – many small start-ups can save money by reusing unwanted or replaced equipment.
10. Set monthly targets
Targets and key performance indicators can be a great way to track your performance and commit to long-term change.
These could give your team something to work towards, particularly if you reward them for meeting their targets, and it gets everyone involved in your recycling practices.
You can use several metrics, such as monitoring the volume of recycling you produce.
However, your goal shouldn’t solely be to generate as much recycling as possible.
Instead, you might focus on cutting your overall waste and using sustainable products wherever possible.
As such, it may also be a good idea to track non-recycling waste and try to reduce this figure by as much as possible.
Thinking of starting a sustainable business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with The Open University on environmental decision-making and how organisations impact the environment.
- Financial methods in environmental decisions opens in new window opens in new window
- Future energy demand and supply opens in new window opens in new window
- Energy in buildings opens in new window opens in new window
Plus free courses on finance and accounting, marketing, project management, management and leadership.
Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.