Don’t Throw Out That Bottle!
Every week, the hit television show “The Office” showed office workers behaving badly. While this satire highlighted poor social behavior, another sinister but widespread workplace practice still lurks in the shadows: poor waste management.
We’ve all seen it: empty bottles, cans and papers in the garbage; disposable dishware and cutlery in the kitchen; leftover food being thrown away. Maybe we’ve even engaged in this behavior for lack of better options. For an office building with multiple tenants and maybe a cafeteria, this waste can add up quickly. Even though the State of California has Mandatory Commercial Recycling, including organic waste for certain businesses, individual businesses do not have State-mandated recycling goals.  Therefore, each business is free to implement its own efficient, personalized recycling program. If you work in a large office setting, a waste audit is a good first step in finding the best ways to increase recycling.
Getting The Lay Of The Land: The Waste Audit
Before you can increase recycling in the workplace, you need to know exactly what your office is recycling and tossing out. The best way to tell exactly how much more recyclable material can be recovered is by completing a waste audit. To see how the pros do it, City of Thousand Oaks staff attended a waste audit at Lakeview Corporate Center (LCC), a LEED certified building that currently houses 7 tenants. The building’s uses include 5 offices as well as a cafe and gym. Together these businesses represent over 700 full time employees.
In January 2017, sustainability firm Recelerate conducted the audit, along with a volunteer from SwissRE, a building tenant and recently certified Thousand Oaks Green Business. The auditors went through garbage dumpsters, the recycling compactor and spoke to landscaping and maintenance staff to determine the composition of the waste. 
According to the waste audit, the building is only diverting (i.e., composting or recycling) 43% of its waste stream. This figure shows that on an average day, more than half the building’s waste is going to landfill. Therefore, the building tenants have some work to do to help the City of Thousand Oaks meet its State-mandated waste diversion goals.
Next Steps: Changing Behavior
The audit report recommends new signage, improved container use, employee training, and adding a composting program. These changes alone could bring the diversion rate up to 80%. Furthermore, additional waste could be prevented through environmentally preferable purchasing policies, wiser resource use and re-use practices. With some additional measures, the facility should be able to achieve a 90%+ diversion rate and work toward becoming a zero-waste facility.
Simple changes can make a big difference quickly. For instance, every office could give its employees coffee mugs, followed by regular reminders to use them when visiting the cafeteria. Well-marked recycling bins should also be provided at convenient locations within each office. In fact, the City of Thousand Oaks provides up to 50 FREE recycling boxes for each business. For more information about getting free boxes for your business, fill in this onfline form and a member of City staff will contact you.
Once your business makes a few changes, you might be surprised how quickly the new, greener behavior catches on. You will also soon get another pleasant surprise: a lower garbage bill at the end of the month. It turns out that recycling service is cheaper than the service taking your garbage to a landfill. It’s a win for you and a win for the environment!
The City’s Public Works Department and Waste Management offer free waste assessments to evaluate current service, estimate current diversion rates and advise businesses on how to start or improve their recycling program. The assessment will include advice on whether or not a full waste audit is needed. These on-site assessments can also trouble shoot space limitations and other obstacles to recycling. To schedule an appointment, contact the City at GoGreen@toaks.org or (805) 449-2400 or Waste Management at (805) 955-4346.
 The State of California has set a statewide recycling goal of 75% by 2020, including organic waste. A number of broad Statewide mandates, rather than business-level targets, implement this goal. Local municipalities, including the City of Thousand Oaks, oversee compliance with State targets and goals.
 This waste audit specifically excluded sewered wastewater, construction and demolition waste, hazardous waste and e-waste. The audit did include landscaping waste, parking lot cleaning services, document destruction/paper shredding and pallet re-use.