Waste Reduction Tips for the Office

In 1994, United States residents generated over 209 million tons of municipal solid waste. If current trends continue, by 2010, we will have an additional 70 million tons to manage each year. Approximately one-third of our waste is generated by businesses, such as offices, restaurants, and retail stores. The amount of office waste can be lowered through “source reduction,” that is, by using less and thereby reducing the amount of material thrown out every day. The following reduction tips are designed to reduce the amount of office waste that otherwise would have to be recycled, burned, or landfilled.


Reducing Paper Use

Office workers generated 6.8 million tons of office paper throughout the country in 1994. Overall during that year, paper (including cardboard and newspaper) was the single largest component of the municipal waste stream, amounting to 81.3 million tons, or 39 percent of the nation’s waste. Office paper was the third largest category of paper wastes generated, after corrugated boxes and newspapers. Office paper increased from 1.7 percent of the waste stream in 1960 to 3.2 percent in 1994, and is projected to be 6.4 percent in 2010, making it one of the fastest-growing categories of waste.

You can reduce the amount of paper used in your office by following these guidelines.

Eliminate unnecessary copies, notes, and memos by:

  • Posting office announcements in central locations
  • Sharing and circulating documents
  • Setting up central filing systems
  • Reformatting faxes to omit cover sheets
  • Editing on the computer before printing
  • Storing files on computer disks
  • Using small pieces of paper for short memos

Use all paper on two sides, whenever possible, by:

  • Increasing two-sided copying
  • Printing rough drafts and informal memos on the unused side of paper that would otherwise be thrown out (draft paper)
  • Loading laser printer paper trays with draft paper
  • Reusing draft and computer paper for notes and scrap paper

Further reduce paper by:

  • Single spacing documents, where possible
  • Setting margins narrower for drafts
  • Changing margins to avoid pages with little text
  • Using a smaller type face
  • Refolding and reusing file folders
  • Targeting specific audiences for direct mail to reduce your contribution to junk mail
  • Avoiding duplication on your mailing lists

Encourage your office manager to buy:

  • Laser printers that can make double-sided copies
  • A program that allows you to fax from a computer to avoid print outs
  • Fax machines that use plain paper
  • Narrow lined note pads
  • Electronic mail systems
  • Photocopy machines that are set for two-sided copying (existing machines can be adapted)


A single-sided, double-spaced document uses four times as much paper as a double-sided, single-spaced document.

Switching from Disposables to Reusables

Many things used during the work day are designed to be thrown out after one or more uses, such as paper or polystyrene cups, paper towels, typewriter ribbons, pens and pencils. Products that last less than three years, called nondurable goods, comprise 27 percent of the waste stream. Disposables constitute a significant portion of these goods. By using items that can be refilled or reused instead of thrown away, offices will not only help to eliminate unnecessary trash, but can save money. Many of these strategies require changes in current purchasing criteria as well as changes in behavior.

  • Use nondisposable tableware (mugs, silverware, plates)
  • Use cloth towels in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Refill laser cartridges and re-ink typewriter ribbons
  • Buy reusable filters for coffee machines
  • Buy mechanical pencils and refillable pens
  • Use reusable envelopes for interoffice mail
  • Buy refillable tape dispensers
  • Encourage employees to reuse lunch bags
  • Use undated, erasable wall calendars
  • Reuse envelopes with metal clasps
  • Consider purchasing a water cooler to replace individual bottled water
  • Encourage the building manager to install reusable air filters in your buildings’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system
  • Encourage suppliers to ship material in reusable containers
  • Ship your own office’s materials in reusable/reused packaging


Extending Product Life

While cost is a major consideration in purchasing decisions, product durability, repairability, and length of warranty and service contracts must also be taken into account. A product that lasts 20 years instead of 10 produces half the waste and saves money.

  • Buy or lease durable and repairable equipment, such as photocopiers, fax machines, computers, typewriters, and coffeemakers
  • Consider length and coverage of warranties and service contracts when selecting products
  • Use longer-lasting light bulbs
  • Buy sturdy desk supplies, such as bookends, file holders, and staplers

Buying Less Toxic Products

Many products that are used in offices contain toxic materials that can cause problems with waste disposal and can also affect our health. Changing procurement practices to favor less toxic and nontoxic alternatives can significantly improve office environments and reduce the toxicity of the waste stream.

  • Purchase cleaning products with nontoxic content in large reusable containers or use homemade cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda
  • Buy products with less toxic ink and dye
  • Purchase unbleached paper products
  • Use low toxic correction fluid or correction tape
  • When redesigning an office, purchase less toxic products, such as solid wood instead of particle board (which emits formaldehyde), and carpet tacks instead of toxic floor covering adhesives
  • Purchase equipment that does not require batteries (which leak hazardous chemicals), such as solar-powered calculators, manual can openers, and mechanical pencil sharpeners

Other Tips for Office Waste Reduction

  • Buy coffee, tea, and sugar in bulk
  • Share newspapers and magazines
  • Organize swaps of unnecessary items from your home with your colleagues
  • Donate food, furniture and other materials to local organizations, such as homeless shelters or charities
  • Share source reduction ideas among coworkers
Scroll to Top