Q. My office building goes through reams of paper every day but doesn’t provide recycling bins. What can I do? —Marianne, N.Y.

A. The first thing to do is become best buds with your office manager. He or she should know how your building’s waste is currently being routed, who (if anyone) is sorting it, and what you’re paying for various services. Make sure to bring a positive attitude — no one wants to be accused of a recycling misdemeanor. Simply ask what system is in place and how you can help the office do more. Offer to organize a meeting for tenant reps and cleaning staff (they’ll need to be on board with the new program, since they bag trash and deliver it to the curbside, loading dock, or compactor); or ask to call in an environmental consulting company to set up an on-site program. If your office manager can’t answer your questions, or if you don’t have an office manager, try your property management office.

And don’t beat yourself up too much over those years your building hasn’t been recycling. It’s possible some of the paper you’ve been chucking with the banana peels and coffee cups has actually been diverted from landfills without your knowing it. Since waste management facilities get paid to turn in recyclables, many practice post-recycling, or pulling recyclables out of mixed trash after collection. But that’s no excuse to continue slacking; far less material can be recovered from mixed trash than from pre-sorted waste, since wet food tends to contaminate recyclables. Plus, many waste facilities charge extra for postcollection sorting labor, says Ken Richards, general manager for national sustainability consultancy Great Forest. So if you toss everything down the same chute and your facility has a post-sorting program, you may be tossing big bucks out the window. According to Richards, a medium-size company can actually cut its waste hauling and management fees by up to a third or even half just by setting up an on-site sorting system and taking other measures to make sure all recyclables are routed as efficiently as possible.

Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008. It was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008