Beyond Paper: Office Recycling, From PCs to Packing Peanuts
Recycling can be a challenge for small businesses, particularly home-based operations. About half of the U.S. population still does not have access to a curbside collection program for even the most basic recyclables (paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, and steel), which means people must haul everything away themselves when one pile or another reaches critical mass. What’s more: Regular pick-up services may not handle typical office fare, such as outdated electronics, spent batteries, and burned-out fluorescent bulbs — despite the fact that hazardous contents make it imperative that these items do not end up in the trash. To this end, here are a few resources for disposing of unwanted equipment and supplies easily and responsibly.
Each year, Americans throw out some 180,000 tons of batteries, most of which are single-use, says Earth 911, which helps locate recyclers of old alkaline cells. Call2Recycle collects nearly all types of rechargeable batteries (weighing up to 11 pounds), as well as mobile phones. Best Buy, Office Depot, RadioShack, Staples, Target, and other retailers act as C2R drop-off centers.
PCs, cell phones, PDAs, and various other gadgets contain mercury, lead, PVC plastic, and other toxic components that create potential hazards when incinerated or tossed into landfill. To date, 24 states have passed e-waste laws, many of which put the burden of collection on companies that make and sell electronics. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, maintains a list of manufacturers and retailers who recycle electronics that includes the types of devices each accepts. The EPA also provides tools for finding local recycling programs.
California, Maine, New Hamsphire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts prohibit putting compact and other fluorescent bulbs in the regular garbage. You may recycle them at many home-improvement stores nationwide, including all Home Depot locations. Retailers often won’t take broken lights, so the EPA suggests storing burned-out bulbs in their original boxes, or boxes from replacement bulbs, until you’re able to recycle them. LightBlubRecycling.com also provides mail-in services for a fee, which may be an attractive option for larger small businesses.
If your supply of bubble wrap, foam peanuts, or expanded polystyrene (e.g., the foam that computers and electronics are shipped in) outweighs demand for reusing it, try to recycle everything. Earth 911’s search engine helps locate businesses that accept cardboard, bubble wrap, and more. The Loose Fill Packaging Council maintains a searchable database for packing peanut drop-off centers. The Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers offers guidelines for and help disposing of other types of EPS, which can be converted into new foam packaging for cameras, clothes hangers, CD jewel cases, and other durable consumer goods. Food-service items are not accepted.
All major inkjet and laser printer makers run recycling programs. Typically, these are mail-in programs in which you print out a shipping label with the postage pre-paid and return the used cartridge, in its original box, to the manufacturer. Properly handled printer cartridges can be refilled 5 to 7 times before they’re spent, after which 97 percent of the materials used to make the cartridge can be recycled, says InkGuides.com, an independent price comparison site. The site compiles all sorts of useful links and information about cartridge recycling and reuse.