In Singapore, office buildings are one of the largest contributors of waste generation from the commercial sector. However, even with a clear signage and waste management practices, many facility sustainability or CSR managers struggle to motivate their colleagues to recycle right. Here are a few tips.
There are multiple reasons to justify an improvement of the recycling rates in offices:
- Meet corporate targets
- Reduce costs
- Reduce the impact on the environment
First principle: recycling is difficult
Recycling is difficult and is becoming increasingly difficult as we have access to more types of materials and products. It means that one single email or one single poster explaining how to do recycling will not work. You need to consider recycling (and waste management generally speaking) as an on-going educational project.
Tip #1 – Regularly illustrate good and bad practices
Regularly, do a quick inspection of the recycling and general waste bins. When you observe incorrect sorting of the waste, take a picture. Then, once a week or once every two weeks, send an email in the office to show what was wrong. Focus on 2 or 3 items. Below is an example.
Tip #2 – Positive reinforcement
Promoting good practices is an elegant way to incentivise good behaviours. Positive reinforcement can look like:
- Sharing stories in the company newsletter about how an employee changed some habits to reduce the amount of waste he/she was generating,
- A waste champion acknowledging an employee who just took the time to separate a pile of plastic and paper waste,
- Acknowledging good team behaviour when a group of employees (office level, team, departments…) achieved a low contamination level is low or a high recycling rate,
- Celebrate the collective effort in reducing waste and reducing contamination of recyclables.
Tip #3 – The message should be about the environmental benefits
When justifying the efforts in improving waste management, and when rewarding teams for the successful results, it must always be about the environmental benefits. Environmental benefits can include:
- Reduction CO2 emission,
- Preservation of natural resources for the making of new products (water, oil, wood, metals…),
- Extension of the lifespan of Semakau landfill.
Generally speaking, do not offer pecuniary rewards for waste reduction or recycling rate improvements, as it tends to create a situation with opposite results from what is intended.
Tip #4 – Send your waste champion to visit a Material Recovery Facility
People have no perspectives on where waste go and how they are managed: out of sight, out of mind.
Ask your waste management contractor if it is possible to organise a visit of the Material Recovery Facility. Send key personal such as your Waste/Sustainability Champions to witness the processes and to report to the rest of the office.
Note that it is possible to organise group visits of the Semakau Landfill, see here.
Tip #5 – Build a knowledge base for recyclable and non-recyclable items
Although plastic and organic wastes are not the main source of discards, they are the most common source of contamination of recyclables. Moreover, newer materials tend to blur the line between paper and plastic, or compostable plastic and recyclable plastic. Therefore, it might be worth listing all the common items found in the bins of your offices and clearly state what is recyclable or not. This list should be made available on the knowledge base or intranet of the business in the sustainability section.
As a basis, you can use the NEA list here.