Narrowing the Office Waste Stream to a Trickle

This post was written by Prashant Kripalani, a manager in Clorox’s Eco Office.

A few years ago we embarked on a waste-diversion strategy at our corporate offices in Oakland, California, with the goal of diverting at least 90 percent of our landfill trash to recycling and composting. This effort was led primarily by a group of employee volunteers known as our local Eco Network. To achieve our desired diversion rate, we made two changes to the way our employees discard their office waste.

First, we instituted a three-bin system: Each break room (one per floor) and each large meeting room now has three bins, labeled Waste, Recycling and Composting. The recycling bin is meant for paper, recyclable plastic, cans, bottles and the like. The composting bin is for all discarded food. The waste bin should contain only nonrecyclable plastic such as bags, candy and snack wrappers and nonrecyclable plastic flatware. The containers were also clearly marked and color-coded (blue for recycling, green for composting and black for trash). Second, each employee desk now has only a small blue bin for recyclable waste. Employees are expected to carry all their trash and compost waste to our break rooms.

Posters labeling each break-room bin and identifying what should go into it were put up, to make everyone aware of what should go into each type of bin. In addition, regular communications and lobby events have been conducted to remind people how to properly discard their waste.

Within the first year, we achieved a 70 percent waste diversion rate, which, although significant, was below our goal of 90 percent. Achieving a 90 percent rate would mean ensuring that we send only 10 percent of our total building waste to landfills. We realized that we were quite below target and would need to change something.

Incentive to Throw Away Less

In November 2011 and April 2013 we conducted “One-Bag” challenges on every floor that we occupy in our Oakland corporate headquarters. The challenges were co-sponsored by our Glad® brand. The One-Bag challenges worked this way:

  1. We audited our waste for one week to understand what our diversion rate was by floor (we learned that our overall diversion rate was 70 percent prior to the challenge).
  2. During the One-Bag challenge weeks, employees across all floors were encouraged to properly dispose of their waste and produce less than one bag of landfill-destined trash for the entire week! We defined a bag of trash as only 10 pounds of trash for the entire week.
  3. Every evening our Eco Network team audited each floor, and at the end of the week we calculated the overall building waste diversion, as well as each floor’s performance.

During the challenge several floors managed to produce less than 10 pounds of trash, and many floors had diversion rates between 85 percent and 95 percent! Employees were given an incentive to participate – the floor that produced the least trash in one week (adjusted for the number of employees per floor, of course!) was recognized as the winning floor on our corporate intranet. They also won a free lunch, courtesy of the Glad brand. This free lunch was zero-waste, involving no plastic and no trash – everything was either composted or recycled.

Stretching for the Goal

As a whole, our Oakland employees achieved an average waste diversion rate close to 80 percent, post-challenge. And we are maintaining that 80 percent diversion rate for the building. While we are still shy of our 90 percent goal, we are determined to continue on the path of education and training to achieve it. We know it is possible!

We continue to encourage all employees to think about the impact before anything is tossed in the bins. Small steps to reduce waste can get us to our 90 percent diversion goal.

We are encouraging employees to find better ways to properly manage our waste, such as:

  • Talk to other employees and spread the word. This involves communicating our waste diversion strategy and its benefits to others on our floors, so that everyone is vested in reaching the goal.
  • Use eco options where available. Choose reusable containers and water bottles, reduce plastic bags in the building and don’t use or bring in any plastic foam, for example) because there is only so much one can do with nonrecyclables.
  • Sort waste before discarding. Read the signs and learn what goes into each bin. Eco Network volunteers are available to explain what goes in which bin to anyone who’s confused.
  • Think small, and make big changes. It comes down to small steps like planning, sorting and communicating. If we all get involved, it can make a big difference in reaching our goal.

We are confident that we will get to our best-in-class 90 percent waste diversion rate soon!

Prashant has been a member of Clorox’s Eco Office for 4 years and lives in the Bay Area with his family. He likes to spend his spare time planning fun activities for his 7- and 3-year-old daughters.