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How and Why Your Company Should Recycle Paper and Use Recycled Paper

Recycled papers

A lot has been written about the greening of American workplaces, but the unfortunate fact remains that many U.S. companies continue to be huge contributors to environmental destruction, pollution, and climate change. Many of those contributions are in the form of discarded paper.

Recycled papers

But why does saving trees matter, and why should companies care? Let's take a look at the many benefits of using recycled paper, and how to get in on the action by initiating a paper recycling program at your office.

The Benefits of Recycled Paper

When your office uses recycled paper, you help promote a more sustainable corporate climate for decades to come. Among other benefits, recycling paper and using recycled paper may:

Reduce landfill waste

America has an increasing trash crisis: Our landfills literally keep growing. This means landfills are eating up huge swaths of otherwise usable land and degrading natural resources too. Landfills are also major emitters of methane, which is one of the primary gases responsible for climate change. Currently, up to 80 percent of discarded paper ends up in a landfill without ever being recycled. By using recycled paper, you help slow the rate at which our landfills are filling up and the amount of greenhouse gases generated by them, too.

Save forests and lessen environmental degradation

Recycling paper allows your used paper to be repurposed. In fact, paper products can typically be recycled into additional paper products up to seven times before the materials start to degrade. This means recycling vastly reduces the virgin natural materials required to produce paper products. For example, Stanford University saved more than 32,000 trees in a single year just by recycling 1,118 tons of paper.

Many people think saving trees isn't a huge concern since it's always possible to plant more trees, which is technically true. However, it also misses the forest for the trees—literally. Healthy forest ecosystems are essential for preventing soil erosion, sustaining healthy waterways, preserving biodiversity, maintaining wildlife habits, and limiting the amount of carbon (a greenhouse gas) released into the atmosphere. Over-managing or over-harvesting forests disrupts these essential processes. Even when trees are replanted, it can take forests decades to recover.

Currently, almost half of the trees cut down in North America are destined for paper production. By utilizing recycled paper and recycling your office's paper products, you can help decrease this and maintain healthier forests, thereby maintaining a healthier planet overall.

Save energy

The amount of energy required to produce new paper from virgin materials is up to 40 percent higher than the amount of energy it takes to produce paper from recycled paper materials. Supporting paper recycling results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions—the major contributor to climate change—and reduces the drain on energy resources. One economist estimated that just one ton of recycled office paper can save a whopping 4,100 kWh of energy, 54 million Btus of energy, nine barrels of oil, and 7,000 gallons of water. (That's enough energy to supply power to an average American home for half a year.)

Reduce pollution

Additionally, the paper production process is a major contributor to air and water pollution. While using recycled paper doesn't negate these effects completely, it does reduce them. For example, using recycled paper instead of virgin paper can prevent an additional 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released into the atmosphere. Recycling paper also limits the amount of pollution that ends up in our waterways.

Recycled papers

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How recycling can save you money

Even when recycled paper costs more, that price doesn't tell the whole story. The reality is that recycling can actually save your office money.

  • Recycling reduces the amount of waste that your office produces each week, which may enable you to negotiate a lower price for your waste removal services.
  • By investing in paper recycling, your office may be eligible for IRS credits. Some states also offer additional incentives, such as rebates on recycling equipment, to companies looking to go green.
  • Because recycled paper tends to have higher opacity than virgin paper, it's possible to save money by using thinner, less expensive sheets because they still have adequate opacity. Using lighter-weight paper in mailings can offer an additional cost savings.
  • Utilizing recycled paper can win you favor among consumers, who are increasingly demanding that brands take steps to limit their eco-footprints. Committing to environmental sustainability can be an effective strategy for earning customers' loyalty (which is, of course, also good for the company's bottom line).
  • Purchasing recycled paper drives up demand for these materials, which reduces the cost of recycling as the industry invests in the necessary infrastructure to effectively scale production. As this trend continues, savings may be passed on to consumers, so it's possible recycled goods may be significantly cheaper than non-recycled counterparts in the future.
  • Choosing sustainable options such as recycled paper will drive down the cost of these goods. As resources grow scarcer, the cost of paper goods will skyrocket. Investing in recycling now can help keep the cost of paper more reasonable over the long term.

Not only does investing in recycled paper provide your office with some immediate benefits, but it's also simply the right thing to do when it comes to preserving the natural resources relied on by everyone.

Recycled papers

How to Start an Office Paper Recycling Program

Now that we've explored the benefits of recycling paper, it's time for your company to consider putting that knowledge to good use by initiating an office paper recycling program. If you don't already have a recycling program in place, here are a few tips to get started.

  • Assign a recycling coordinator or committee. Effective recycling will only happen if someone takes responsibility for maintaining the program. Thus, the first step in developing an office paper recycling program is to assign a willing team member (or members) to the role of recycling coordinator(s).
  • Conduct an audit. Spend a week keeping track of how much paper the office currently tosses out in order to determine the volume of paper your recycling program will need to manage. Also pay attention to where paper is thrown away and any other patterns related to team members' paper usage habits.
  • Research collection options. Some businesses may have curbside recycling pickup, while others will need to recruit the services of a dedicated paper recycling company or a waste management company equipped to recycle paper. Research your options—including volume requirements, paper type restrictions, and separation requirements for paper types—and choose the best option. If your existing waste removal service can handle recycling, make sure its employees are trained to keep waste and recycling separate. If you can't locate any local collection options, your next best bet is to research nearby drop-off locations.
  • Distribute collection bins. You may want to provide employees with individual desk-sized bins. At the very least, plan to place community bins in centralized areas, particularly those spots where lots of paper is thrown away. You may also need to invest in a larger collection bin. Make sure every bin is clearly labeled with a list of acceptable and unacceptable paper goods. This will help ensure that products meant for recycling aren't contaminated with products that can't be recycled.
  • Choose the right products. Your recycling program will have a greater impact if you commit to purchasing products that can be recycled in the first place. Coordinate with the office manager to ensure new paper products can be recycled in your municipality.
  • Engage the team. The success of your recycling program will hinge on participation from team members, so it's critical to clearly communicate with and engage your colleagues. To that end, make sure you announce the program to every single team member, clearly outline expectations when it comes to participation, and share the reasons for the program so they understand its importance and impact. Keep the team updated about the program's progress, and motivate everyone by letting them know when you hit milestones. It's also valuable to solicit team members' input about how the program could be improved.
  • Don't limit yourself to paper. Once your recycling program is in full swing, consider expanding it: Everything from electronics to aluminum cans and even ink and toner cartridges can be recycled. Each new item you recycle will further reduce your office's carbon footprint, so be as ambitious as possible.

By knowing the facts, engaging your team in a comprehensive recycling program, and investing in recycled paper products, your company can help turn the tide toward a healthier and more prosperous future for us all.

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