Bins of various items sorted for recycling.

Reduce Your Agency's Office Waste

Reduce Your Agency's Office Waste


The first tier in the waste management hierarchy is waste reduction. Reducing agency waste has the potential to both save money on waste hauler and disposal fees, and it provides numerous benefits to the environment, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by diverting materials from landfills. After conducting a waste audit, state agencies and office buildings can take steps to reduce their waste by incorporating the ideas within this section into their office or agency sustainability initiatives.

Is recycling mandatory in office buildings?

The Solid Waste Management Act of 1988 made recycling mandatory throughout NYS, making all of us responsible for separating recyclable material from the solid waste we generate. These laws took effect by September 1st, 1992. Recycling applies to all sectors:  commercial entities, institutions, multi-family, and single family dwellings. State agencies are required to comply with local law by providing recycling programs directly through their agency or by leasing arrangement. So whether you are at work, home, school or play, contact your recycling coordinator to review the rules in your area. Know before you throw! 


Local recycling coordinator and DEC Recycling contacts

General Tips for Reducing Office Waste

Everyday office tasks such as print jobs and mailings can be sources of waste. With a large number of staff at state agency office buildings, small changes to office practices can lead to a big difference. Incorporating these small changes and making them part of routine practice will help your office or agency reduce their waste generation.

  • Make sure your office is meeting EO 4 purchasing requirements. See EO 4 approved specifications.
  • Make sure your office is purchasing recycled content paper products.
  • When making purchases, choose items made with post-consumer recycled content whenever possible.
  • Make bulk purchases or if ordering several small items from a company, request to have them all shipped in one box.
  • Use and search the OGS State Surplus Property Program listing before requesting to make new purchases. Each state agency designates a Surplus Coordinator that works with OGS State Surplus to process all property or vehicle transfers accordingly. There is a link on the website where Surplus Coordinators can view available property, as well as register for the application if they require access. If you aren't sure who your agency's Surplus Coordinator is, contact the State Surplus Property Program at 518-457-6335.
Use Less Paper
  • Default your printer to print double-sided.
  • Use a routing slip when circulating internal documents to avoid printing multiple copies.
  • Use reusable interoffice envelopes.
  • Collect reports and other document submissions via email.
  • Request that staff removes their names from junk mail lists.
  • Use shared network computer drives to store files instead of distributing printed copies.
  • Use social media and email to distribute information about agency events.
Reuse Office Supplies

Encourage the reuse of office supplies by developing an office supply reuse area. An internal office supply reuse area is an important tool in reducing the use of natural resources to create new materials, reducing office waste and reducing office purchases. Office reuse items might include but are not limited to: binder clips, manila envelopes, hanging file folders, pocket folders, three-ring binders, etc.

What to do With Unusual Items

Create an "odd recyclables" area. Items in the "odd recyclables" area should be office-generated items and not personal items brought in from home. Office "odd recyclables" collection items might include but are not limited to cell phones, alkaline batteries, rechargeable batteries, CDs and floppy disks, greeting cards, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), eyeglasses, holidays lights, ink and toner cartridges, plastic padded envelopes, Tyvek envelopes, and bubble wrap. Not sure what to do with your "odd recycles" and need help recycling them? Check Earth 911's recycling database where you can enter your item and zip code in order to find an appropriate recycling location or outlet for your recyclable material.

Green Your Meetings and Events

Green Meetings

Bringing your sustainability initiatives to meetings that you're hosting both inside of and outside of the office can help to further your agency's sustainability goals. Although it may seem overwhelming at first, the following resource can help in the planning process.

Green Meeting Industry Council Best Practices: The Green Meeting Industry Council's Best Practices list provides the framework for planning your green meeting from start to finish. 


Zero Waste Workplace Events

From retirement and birthday parties to holiday events, luncheons, and special occasions, workplace events are an area where additional waste is generated. With simple advanced planning using the tips below, waste generation can be reduced at workplace events.

  • Send an announcement prior to your event to let people know that zero waste is the goal and encourage your guests to keep waste reduction in mind.
  • Distribute event materials via email instead of printing flyers. If you do make flyers, don't laminate them (paper cannot be recycled once laminated).
  • Provide collection containers labeled for compostables, recyclables, and landfill items. It may also be helpful to have one person staff your collection containers so that the compost and recycling don't become contaminated with landfill items. Make sure the items that are going into your collection containers are accepted by your waste hauler.
  • Use washable tablecloths instead of disposable ones.
  • Suggest that people bring their own reusable plates, cups, cutlery, and napkins, or provide them at the party.
  • Have a wash station or kitchen area available for people to clean their dishes.
  • Encourage people to bring their reusable water bottles to the event.
  • Purchase beverages and other event items, such as condiments, in bulk. Have beverage dispensers or pitchers for drinks. Take any containers that have a bottle deposit to a redemption center.
  • Use a regular coffee maker instead of single-use coffee and tea machines.
  • Avoid wrapping paper for gift items and try using reusable bags, reusable boxes, or creative options such as scarves, hand towels, or items such as gardening pots or baskets tied with a bow.
  • Consider looking at your post-event waste to see where improvements can be made for future events.

Green Your Lunch

Lunch hour is another time of day when additional waste is generated. However, with proper planning, a lot of waste can be avoided. The following tips and resources can help you get started.

When you bring your lunch - Pack your lunch in reusable glass or plastic containers with a reusable lunch box or bag. The Winter 2017 issue of New York State Conservationist for Kids identifies simple swaps to help you reduce your lunchtime waste.

When you eat out - Bring your own reusable container to have your takeout or leftovers put in. If you know that you won't finish your food, ask to have half of it put in your reusable container at the start of your meal in order to reduce potential food waste.

Keep a "Reusables" Cabinet - An office reusables cabinet with a supply of dinnerware items for everyone to borrow from can help guarantee that single-use items are less likely to be used over the long term. Stock items like water bottles, thermoses, cups, mugs, plates, bowls, silverware, water pitchers, platters, and serving utensils. Ask colleagues to help supply the cabinet with items from home they may no longer want or use.

Coffee and Tea Waste Reduction - Coffee and tea are considered a staple in most office environments. However, these two beverages can generate a lot of waste, especially if your office has a single-serve brewing machine, like a Keurig. Incorporating waste reduction education into this area of the office can become a waste reduction habit for people.

  • Remove single-serve brewing machines from your office. If your office has one, try incorporating the following in order to reduce your environmental impact: Reusable inserts; Recyclable pods (these may not be accepted in your recycling program due to their small size - check with your recycling facility before establishing this practice at your office); and Certified compostable pods (look for BPI certified products).
  • Purchase coffee and/or tea in bulk.
  • Avoid single serving packets of coffee or tea.
  • Supply coffee items such as cream and sugar in bulk instead of in single-use packets or containers.
  • Use reusable mugs and thermoses.
  • Use reusable spoons to stir your coffee instead of plastic stirring sticks. If this isn't an option, use wooden stirring rods and then compost them.

Organize an Office Swap - One person's trash is another person's treasure. Designate a place in the office for an "office swap." Encourage colleagues to bring in unwanted items from home for others to use. Suitable office swap items include books and magazines, craft supplies, gardening supplies, clothing, and athletic gear.

Office Outreach and Education

As with all waste diversion efforts, ongoing outreach and education is key to improving and maintaining your recycling and composting programs. Agency newsletters, emails, websites, and social media are helpful tools for communicating with staff. Keep your message consistent to encourage participation. Other tips include:

  • Design signs for your recycling, composting and trash containers showing what is and is not allowed in each bin. Highlight frequently-used office items and display your signs prominently. 
  • Consider placing separate collection containers for bottle deposits and plastic bags/film plastics.
  • Inform staff about the popular How2Recycle label that is appearing on many types of product packaging. This label instructs people on the proper recycling method for the item it's on.
  • Find out if your recycling facility accepts cartons - broth & milk cartons, and juice boxes. The Carton Council website has a search database and helpful information on how to properly prepare cartons for recycling.
  • For more information and assistance, contact the Department of Environmental Conservation's Recycling program at [email protected].