How to segregate waste in offices?

Here is a simple process to initiate waste management that results in maximum participation among residents and sustained evolution of the practice.

Pic source: Green Commandos

Preparation / Infrastructure

The first phase of the entire drive is to set up the related infrastructure to support the waste segregation initiative at the office. The infrastructure involves the following steps:

  • Determining the service provider who will collect the dry recyclables on a regular basis. This step also involves coming to a common understanding on the frequency of collection and financial obligations of the service providers.
  • The number of segregations required at the office premises are the following:
    • Wet kitchen / biodegradable waste (e.g. fruit and vegetable peels, cooked food waste etc,.) It needs to be ensured that this waste is not given in plastic liners.
    • Dry recyclable rinsed waste (e.g. paper, plastics, metal, cardboard etc,.)
    • Electronic waste (eg: CDs, old printers, CFL bulbs, and tube-lights etc,.)
    • Hazardous biomedical waste (eg: Bathroom rejects such as hair, used sanitary napkins etc,.)
  • Setting the number and placement of common bins in the office premises.
    This is the most important step of the entire procedure, as this makes or breaks the infrastructure within the office. Typically, if the office has cubicles, individual bins in cubicles should be avoided. Having small cubicle bins doesn’t only increase the overhead on the support staff to maintain the bins with plastic liners etc., but also demotivates the concept of thinking before throwing.

    Bins should be placed in strategic locations, where people are most likely to throw their waste. These include, but are not restricted to the following:

    • Bins in the common floor for Dry Recyclable and Biodegradable Waste:
      2 colour coded bins with hinged swinging lids should be placed at common locations sparingly within the office space. The two bins are for:

    • Dry recyclable waste such as paper, plastic, cardboard, bubble-wrap etc. The bin should typically be 70L and blue in colour, with some awareness material/information stuck on it to clearly define things that could be put inside.
    • Wet biodegradable waste, such as food waste etc. The size of bin will depend on whether employees eat their lunch within the office space, or go out to a canteen or outside. If they go outside, smaller bins can be kept in the office, so that it’s easy to empty them on a daily basis.
  • Employees should be motivated to walk to the bins to throw their waste regularly.
    • Bins in the cafeteria for Dry Recyclable and biodegradable waste:
      The bins in the cafeteria should be slightly larger in size, and should again have the two categories mentioned above.
      If possible, steel utensils should be used. Syrofoam plates should be avoided at all costs, as it is difficult to recycle it! To avoid food waste, a signboard similar to this may be put up. It has to be remembered that Recycling comes only after Refuse, Reduce and Reuse!
    • Bins in the bathrooms for biomedical waste: Bathrooms in the office premises (especially women’s restrooms) should have a bin for biomedical waste. As per BBMP orders, biomedical waste should be thrown in newspapers marked with a red cross. Thus, instead of using a plastic lining, a newspaper lining should be used instead in the bathrooms.
    • E-waste collection bins: One bin should be kept in a central location for collecting electronic waste. Employees having problems discarding e-waste at home should also be encouraged to get their waste to the office. New designs are available for e-waste bins, which are transparent, and add an aesthetic touch to the office too!
  • If the office is generating a bulk quantity of biodegradable waste, you can look at the option of having a composting solution in place. Some solutions include, but are not limited to:
  • Deciding a storage area in the premises to hold the dry recyclable waste for at least a fortnight before the service providers can come for the collection. Please note that this storage unit should be clean and hygienic, preferably at some distance from the wet waste bins, and also in locked premises.
  • Deciding frequency of collection and transfer of waste to the storage area, and training support staff to get them used to the new collection mechanism.

Awareness / Initiation

  • Once the above preparations have been made, the next step is to have an awareness presentation for the employees of the office to make them appreciate the reason for the exercise, and get commitments from them to participate / join the volunteer group driving the initiative.

    The presentation can be managed by the Green Commandos team or any other sister organisation of Solid Waste Management Round Table. The presentation can also double up as a sign for employees to start segregation. Bins should have been procured by this time, the service provider finalised, and training given to the support staff.

  • Before the initiation, a fun session such as a clean-up drive at some area close to the office premises may also be planned to invigorate employees. There should be a positive buzz going around the office about the new initiative at the time of launch for maximum participation, and a sense of pride fostered among all employees.
  • An email should also go out to all employees indicating the process clearly and mentioning the office’s new waste management policies, which mandate segregation of waste. This can be sent along with some consolidated awareness material or quizzes for people to understand the context of segregation.

Sustenance / Follow-up

  • Once the segregation starts, it would be ideal to have some sort of on-going competitions to keep the momentum for segregation going, maybe by giving small prizes to the most waste-wise employee etc,.
  • An employee survey may be conducted once the practice has been in place for close to 2-3 months to sense how much the employees have internalised the concept.
  • The waste management policy of the office should become a permanent addition to the orientation module of new joiners. A starter kit may also be prepared for them, including a ceramic cup or water bottle so as to completely eliminate paper/plastic cups from the office.

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