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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Recycling containers – from simple to sophisticated, tips for a successful set up

Five things to consider for a successful workplace recycling system

  • Make it easy. Place a recycling bin next to every garbage can and place compost bins near where people eat.
  • Use labels. Label recycling, compost, and trash containers clearly and prominently.
  • Be consistent. To decrease confusion, make your recycling and compost systems consistent throughout your workplace.
  • Provide Reminders. Provide periodic reminders of what gets recycled, composted, and trashed. Contact us to schedule a refresher presentation.
  • Work with Janitors. Talk with your janitorial staff, especially if you’re changing your current set up. Clarify if they’ll be emptying all containers, or if staff need to empty desk containers into central collection containers.

Example setups from some of our certified businesses.

Some workplaces value aesthetically pleasing waste areas. Recycling, compost, and trash bins can be placed in cabinets. This approach keeps different types of waste bins together and requires clear and informative labeling for proper disposal.

Labeled recycling bins
Schwabe, Williamson, & Wyatt’s bins are contained but also visible. Labels make it clear what gets disposed of where.

Well-labeled, accessible recycling bins
The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) places their waste bins near where people work and labels their compost “Food Scraps,” clearly informing people what goes into the bin.

For some people, remembering what gets disposed of where is a challenge. Large visual signs and labels are a great way to help people remember what goes where. Sustainability at Work offers free recycling and compost signs for businesses, or you can make your own!

Recycling bins labeled with images
Fortis Construction’s waste bins are nicely labeled with images showing what goes into each bin.

Color-coded waste bins
The waste bins at PECI are nicely color coded – blue for recycling, green for compost, and black for trash. Large signs above show what goes into each bin. People can see into the bins as a reminder of what to put where and as a way to encourage proper disposal.

Some workplaces produce non-curbside recyclables such as batteries, toner and ink cartridges, computers and other electronics, plastic film (bubble wrap, shrink wrap, plastic bags), and other rigid plastics such as cups and clamshells. These items can be collected separately and taken – usually by staff volunteers – to a recycling depots. Call to find depots near you: 503-234-3000.

Several bins for non-curbside items
Mahlum’s recycling area uses extra bins to collect and sort non-curbside recycling items such as plastic bags and film, cork, Styrofoam, batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and electronic equipment.

Free and simple is good too!
Many businesses use our free recycling boxes under desks and in break rooms. We also provide posters to use on, or near, waste containers.

You could also make your own posters, though we recommend running them by us to confirm all the information is correct. Recycling and composting can be confusing, and we’ve seen posters that unintentionally create confusion.

Guest post written by Mia Reback, a summer intern with the Sustainability at Work program.