The paper trail: how to start a recycling program at your business.

Author:Sandlin, Eileen Figure

Four plain-and-simple facts from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality make a compelling case for implementing a recycling program at your business:

* A typical business office generates about 1.5 pounds of wastepaper per employee per day. Financial businesses generate over two pounds per employee per day.

* Nearly half of typical office paper waste is comprised of high-grade office paper for which there is a strong recycling demand.

* Commercial and residential paper waste accounts for more than 40 percent of waste currently being sent to landfills.

* Every recycled ton of paper saves approximately 17 trees.

Once you've made the decision to recycle, it's important to do a "waste assessment" to find out exactly what kind of waste you're generating. If you're like most small business owners, the bulk of your office waste consists of high-grade white or off-white paper like copy paper, letterhead and note paper. This is the kind of paper that can be recycled into high-grade bond paper.

The rest of your paper probably consists of what recyclers call a "mixed paper," or a combination of many types of paper, including bond, colored paper, manila folders, envelopes with clear plastic windows, carbon paper and even paper cups and plates. This kind of paper can be recycled even if it has a limited number of paper clips, staples and sticky notes affixed to it. Once these metals have been removed by the recycler, mixed paper can be remanufactured into tissue products.

Then there's Styrofoam, which presents problems of its own.

"Styrofoam has so much volume but so little weight that there's not much money in it for recyclers," says Ramsey Zimmerman, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition. "Companies should use or ask their suppliers to use alternative packing materials like corrugated cardboard and paper egg crate material instead because they can be recycled."

Zimmerman also recommends reusing Styrofoam packing "peanuts" for your own packaging, or returning them to a mailing center where they can be reused. Many mailers will accept them at no charge. Just call ahead to make sure your offering will be welcome.

"Recycling is a very altruistic activity," says Lucy Doroshko, a recycling coordinator with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in Lansing. "It actually can improve morale because employees feel good knowing they're doing the right thing for the environment."

But it's more than a touchy-feely issue. Paying...

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