Convenience, Bin Size Keys to Establishing Improved Results of Recycling in the Workplace

STAMFORD, Conn. (April 28, 2015) — Providing employees with a desk-side recycling bin and a smaller trash bin attached to it can serve as a success model for increasing recycling and reducing waste in the workplace. The recommendation, referred to as the “Little Trash” scenario, is one key insight comprising the first wave of the “Recycling at Work” study, commissioned by Keep America Beautiful with support from PepsiCo Recycling and CBRE. 

Conducted over a six-month period in 2014, the study’s purpose is to help define best practices for a recycling program that will foster improved recycling behaviour in the workplace and result in an increase of quality and quantity of materials collected. The results, released today, provide a number of common-sense approaches that can be broadly applied in most workplace environments.

The overarching recommendation, which achieved a 20 percent increase in office recycling during the study, is to provide employees with a desk-side recycling bin along with small trash bin. In common areas, it’s recommended that recycling and trash bins be paired with simple, consistent signage provided on bins and posters with the most common recyclables identified on the recycling bin. For more research findings and recommendations, go to the “Recycling at Work” study and fact sheet here.

The study, conducted by Action Research, focused on the effects of office bin placement on recycling rates and level of contamination. In addition, the research team collected qualitative information about the potential issues encountered prior to and during the study’s implementation, as well as other important factors to consider when setting up a workplace recycling program.

“Our research clearly shows that by combining specific-sized trash and recycling receptacles, with simple signage and messaging, businesses and other organizations can increase employee participation and improve their rate of recycling of office-generated materials,” said Jennifer Jehn, president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful. 

Most research conducted about recycling behavior has focused on residential or curbside environments. In a national poll of adults 18-65, when asked, 87 percent of respondents indicated that they typically recycle in their home, but only 41 percent indicated they do so in the workplace. Furthermore, 50 percent of those respondents indicated that it is difficult to extremely difficult to recycle in the workplace.*

Four different workplace recycling approaches were tested. While the “Little Trash” scenario proved to be the most successful, the “Equal-Size” set-up also produced positive results. With convenience being the most common barrier to recycling, it’s important to note that these two equally convenient options — providing a recycling and trash bin at each desk — produced different results.  

The “Little Trash” approach yielded improved quality of material collected in the recycling bin – an increase of 20 percent in the quality of recyclables – along with a significant increase in knowledge about recycling and proper recycling behavior. After implementing the “Little Trash” condition, offices significantly increased the proportion of material in the recycling bin that was actually recyclable and decreased the amount of trash collected in the bin. There was also a decrease in the amount of recyclables improperly placed in the trash bin, especially that of office paper. Paper in the trash bin was reduced to nearly zero.  Moreover, the respondents of the “Little Trash” approach had a positive experience with the program. 

As part of the “Recycling at Work” Study, baseline waste audits were followed by two short-term and two long-term audits for a total of 200 audits that were conducted in partnership with Great Forest, one of the leading sustainability consultancies in the U.S. The data was used to look for changes over the course of the program, including total recycling and trash collected by weight; weight and percentages of recyclables in the recycling and trash; among other measures.

Based on the frequency of the 10 targeted items in the recycling and trash, the study suggests the following items should serve as higher priorities for an office recycling program:

  1. Office paper is the most frequently recycled material, but it was still present in the trash in 50 percent of offices.
  2. Plastic beverage bottles and aluminum beverage cans are about equally present in recycling bins and trash bins. Similar to paper, these materials remain a priority.
  3. Paper towels were very frequently ending up in the recycling bin, with a steady decrease of presence over the course of the project.
  4. Food scraps had enough of a similar pattern to deserve a priority focus, though they were not present in recycling bins as frequently as paper towels.

Ed Socci, director, advanced research, PepsiCo said, “We strive for the smallest possible environmental footprint in developing, producing and packaging our foods and beverages. One way to accomplish this is by utilizing recycled PET (rPET) in our beverage packaging. For more than a decade, PepsiCo has included rPET in our primary soft drink packages and we’re especially proud that Naked Juice is made with 100 percent post-consumer rPET. With current recycling rates, there’s a significant opportunity to increase rPET supply. Knowing that many beverages in the U.S. are consumed in the workplace, we saw the study with Keep America Beautiful and partners as a powerful way to understand current recycling practices and improve them—which increases the availability of rPET and enables us to provide our consumers with even more sustainable products.”
Full copies of the Executive Summary and research are available here.

*Survey conducted Aug. 28 – Sept. 15, 2014, of 1,000 adults 18-65 by C+R Research, Inc., on behalf of KAB and the Ad Council.

About Keep America Beautiful
Keep America Beautiful is the nation’s leading nonprofit that brings people together to build and sustain vibrant communities. With our national network of community-based affiliates, we work with millions of volunteers who take action in their communities to transform public spaces into beautiful places. Through our programs and public-private partnerships, we engage individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community’s environment. Learn how you can donate or take action at Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or view us on YouTube.

About PepsiCo Recycling
The PepsiCo Recycling initiative, introduced on Earth Day 2010, brings innovative recycling solutions and partnerships together with the goal of increasing the U.S. beverage container recycling rate to 50 percent by 2018. With programs including Dream Machine container collections,Recycle Rally K-12 school recycling and gas station, retail and workplace recycling, and the help of many strategic partners including The Nature Conservancy, Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, Keep America Beautiful, students and public citizens, PepsiCo Recycling has collected more than 83 million bottles and cans to date. To learn more, visit

About CBRE Group, Inc.
CBRE Group, Inc. (NYSE:CBG), a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company headquartered in Los Angeles, is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm (in terms of 2013 revenue).  The Company has approximately 44,000 employees (excluding affiliates), and serves real estate owners, investors and occupiers through approximately 350 offices (excluding affiliates) worldwide. CBRE offers strategic advice and execution for property sales and leasing; corporate services; property, facilities and project management; mortgage banking; appraisal and valuation; development services; investment management; and research and consulting. Please visit our website

About Action Research
Action Research is a behavioral research and marketing firm located in Oceanside, California.  Since its establishment in 2001, the mission of Action Research has been to blend traditional marketing activities with effective strategies of behavior change to promote, clean, healthy, and sustainable communities.  Action Research is an international leader in community-based social marketing and specializes in using state-of-the-art survey and research methodology to inform the development and evaluation of effective environmental, conservation, transit, and health programs. Our emphasis is on creating, implementing, and evaluating programs and campaigns aimed at changing behavior.