July 13, 2024

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Spring Greening: Getting Started With a Home and Office Cleanup

5 min read
Spring Greening: Getting Started With a Home and Office Cleanup
Spring Greening icon

This article is part of Rubicon’s Spring Greening series, where you can learn how to green up your cleanup this spring.

Spring cleaning is all about taking stock of what you have and getting rid of what you don’t need. For many of us, a good spring cleaning yields loads of garbage to clear out. But indiscriminately throwing everything into the trash and sending it to a landfill creates a different kind of mess: an environmental one.

That’s why we’re launching Spring Greening to help you green up your cleanup. To put things into perspective, here are some quick stats on how waste piles up:

  • Glass bottles take 4,000 years to decompose
  • Americans use 80 billion aluminum cans each year
  • The US produces 100 billion cardboard boxes each year
  • Americans throw away 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour
  • Americans receive 4,000,000 tons—that’s 8,000,000,000 pounds—of junk mail each year
  • The average American uses 650 pounds of paper each year
  • In the United States alone, 140 million phones are thrown into landfills each year

With just a little effort and forethought, we can keep dangerous chemicals out of our groundwater, keep methane and CO2 out of our air, keep plastics out of our rivers and oceans, slow the pace of deforestation, and even help out other folks in our communities.

For businesses, it pays to manage your waste in a sustainable way—figuratively and literally. Managing your commercial waste stream means:

  • Less waste sent to landfills
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • Potential recycling rebates
  • Fewer pickups and tonnage fees
  • Positive brand reputation
  • Increased customer engagement
  • Compliance with government regulations

Whether you’re cleaning out your home or your workplace, you’ll want to start with a material characterization, also known as a waste audit: figure out which kind(s) of waste you’re dealing with, then devise a plan for how to manage each waste stream.

As our Spring Greening initiative rolls on, we’ll be providing in-depth advice and insights into dealing with specific kinds of situations and materials—but for now, here’s a quick rundown of the different categories of materials you will be getting rid of (and how to get rid of them).

Cardboard/OCC

Old corrugated containers (OCC), often referred to as cardboard, are boxes, containers, or other packaging from unbleached, unwaxed paper with a ruffled, or corrugated, inner liner. Cardboard comprises the majority of commercial recycling. Just remember: to keep cardboard recyclable, keep it free of grease and oil.

For more information, read our guide to cardboard/OCC recycling.

Mixed Paper

Mixed paper includes a wide variety of white and colored paper that is not sorted into categories, types, or grades. It represents up to 22 percent of waste produced in large office buildings. Paper can be broken down and reused approximately seven times, so make sure to put it in your curbside recycling bin (or in the “paper only” bin at your workplace)—as long as it isn’t used paper towels, tissues, or diapers, which cannot be recycled in this manner.

Mixed Plastics

Mixed plastics include rigid and flexible plastic of various polymer types and colors (excluding plastic bottles and non-packaging items). It accounts for about 10 percent of all waste produced by wholesale distributors, but only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. Most is landfilled, incinerated, or leaks into the natural environment, impacting natural ecosystems and finding its way into our oceans and other waterways. For every ton of plastic waste recycled, more than one ton of CO2 emissions is avoided, petrochemical production demand decreases, and less microplastic is ingested by both wildlife and humans.

Read more about plastic waste and how to handle it.

Plastic Film and Banding

Do you have a plastic bag full of plastic bags that you’re afraid to throw out? You’re not alone. Plastic film can be tricky to recycle. But it can be recycled—for example, into plastic lumber or slip sheets—especially once it has been baled in bulk. Check with your waste management partner to see if they offer plastic film rebates, or grab a prepaid plastic film recycling box from the RUBICONMarketplace™.

Organics and Food Waste

Organic waste is any animal- or plant-based material that can be converted into compost or renewable energy. It may also include paper towels, oil and grease, and compostable plastics. As landfill trash, it contributes to emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2. Diverting organics from landfills can lower a business’s waste costs and emissions, bolster the circular economy by recycling nutrients and energy via compost or anaerobic digestion, or simply feed folks in need.

To learn more, read “Composting 101: How to Reduce Food Waste at Home and Work.”

Electronic Waste

Electronic waste, or “e-waste”—old devices, such as phones and laptops—typically contain harmful chemicals like mercury, lead, arsenic, and brominated flame retardants. When e-waste is simply tossed in the trash, those chemicals end up in our air, soil, and groundwater, and can contribute to illness, organ damage, and neurological issues. Proper e-waste recycling decreases our need to burn fossil fuels and mine precious metals—and it can get that old device to someone who would be grateful to keep it in use.

Learn more about e-waste and how to recycle it.

Universal Waste

Universal waste is a special category of hazardous waste that includes fluorescent lamps, cathode ray tubes, mercury, and batteries. It poses problems similar to e-waste, so don’t just throw it in the trash!

To properly dispose of universal waste from your home, check the regulations in your city/state—the EPA has a helpful list of state programs—or grab a prepaid recycling vessel from the RUBICONMarketplace.

Read our guide to learn more about universal waste—and how your business can properly dispose of it.

Spring Greening icon

This article is part of Rubicon’s Spring Greening series, where you can learn how to green up your cleanup this spring.

Originally published March 21, 2023

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