Waste Reduction for Commercial Building

Waste Reduction Measures for a Multi-tenant Commercial Building


In June 1993, an internship project was funded to find opportunities for businesses in a multitenant building to reduce solid waste through source reduction and recycling. The internship was sponsored by the Minnesota Office of Waste Management (OWM), the Waste Reduction Institute for Training and Research (WRITAR), and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP).

The multitenant building selected was the University Technology Center (UTEC), which houses over 140 diverse businesses. When the intern started, UTEC already had a recycling program in place for over one year. Through this program, recycling bins had been placed in opposite corners on each of the four floors in the building to facilitate and encourage volunteer tenant participation in recycling glass, cardboard, beverage cans and office paper. Most tenants participated in the volunteer recycling program, but were often unsure about what materials could be recycled.

Project Goals

Project goals were to: 1) establish a new recycling program (by making modifications to the existing program); 2) evaluate UTEC’s existing recycling efforts and its effectiveness in reducing waste volume; 3) provide information and training (education) to tenants on solid waste source reduction and recycling; and 4) implement waste reduction measures.

1. Establish the UTEC Green Check Project

The MnTAP Intern worked with UTEC to establish the UTEC Green Check Project. The project consisted of: securing UTEC management support for source reduction and recycling projects; analyzing existing tenant recycling efforts; and providing education and training to tenants on source reduction and recycling techniques for office situations.

Letter of Support. UTEC’s manager wrote a letter to all tenants explaining the UTEC Green Check Project and UTEC’s support of the project. It also explained what UTEC had done in the past, was doing currently and would do in the future about its environmental policies and goals. Tenants were encouraged to participate in and support the project. The letter of support provided a strong sense of management commitment.

Informational Display. In addition to the letter of support, tenants were informed about the UTEC Green Check Project through a three-panel, tabletop display that emphasized several source reduction tips. The display was placed in the UTEC lobby near the main office. Along with the display, source reduction and recycling information and handouts (fact sheets) were available to tenants and their customers. A project description and an on-site sample survey were also available to tenants who wanted to learn more about the UTEC Green Check project or to volunteer to help with the project.

The location of the display near the main office allowed most tenants to see the display as they collected their mail. Over 65 project descriptions were distributed throughout the 4 weeks that the display was set up.

In addition to the display, tenants were solicited by going door-to-door and explaining the project and benefits of solid waste source reduction and recycling. Most of the tenants had already heard about the project from co-workers or from the display information. Of the 140 total tenants at UTEC, 19 volunteered to participate in the project. The remaining tenants were not willing to commit themselves to the project for various reasons, including time requirements and lack of employee participation.

2. Evaluate Existing Recycling Efforts

To find out the effectiveness of UTEC’s existing recycling program, the intern measured existing recycling efforts of tenants, and tenant knowledge of the recycling program. Information was gathered during site visits to help determine the amount of source reduction and recycling that each business was currently achieving.

On-site Evaluation and Assistance. Site visits were conducted at the 19 participating businesses. During the visits, the intern explained source reduction and recycling techniques that each tenant could do to reduce the amount of solid waste generated. Tenant interest in an intrabuilding materials exchange and reuse program was also examined. Many tenants practiced recycling at home, but did not carry the habit to work; however, they were eager to learn what they could do to reduce waste in their offices.

During site visits, the intern analyzed and weighed the contents of each garbage bin in the office. Weighing each employee’s refuse container was a very effective method of showing the importance of reducing and recycling. With this method, the intern could give suggestions to each employee for reducing their waste and information about what could be recycled.

Solid Waste Questionnaire: A recycling and waste reduction questionnaire was sent out to all tenants in the building. The survey asked tenants to specify what UTEC could do to help them reduce and recycle more of their solid waste, and how the current recycling program at UTEC could be improved. The survey also asked what each office was currently doing to reduce waste besides recycling.

Out of 90 surveys, 24 were returned. Some suggestions for improving the current recycling program included: establish a program to reuse packaging and boxes; label recycling containers to clearly state what materials are acceptable; establish a battery recycling program; and provide recycling bins for offices. Another tenant suggested that the main office charge less for double-sided photocopying than for single-sided photocopying. Efforts were made to incorporate tenant suggestions into a comprehensive solid waste recycling and disposal system.

3. Provide Tenant Education/Training

Workshop: A lunchtime workshop was coordinated by the intern for tenants and management to learn more about solid waste source reduction. Thirteen tenants and one UTEC staff member attended the workshop. The workshop presentations were on the following subjects:

  • UTEC Green Check Project update, including new policies on waste disposal at UTEC.
  • The benefits of reducing waste through source reduction, along with examples of how other businesses have profited from source reduction.
  • How to set up an office source reduction program, including tips on successful source reduction techniques.
  • Alternate methods of transportation to work including bus riding and car pooling.

Solid waste source reduction grab bags were also given out to the participants. These grab bags included reusable mechanical pencils, binder clips and diskette labels, recycled content file folders and Post-it note fax transmittal memos.

4. Implement Waste Reduction Measures

After collecting information on recycling preferences and opportunities, the following waste reduction measures were carried out through the UTEC Green Check Project.

TYVEK Envelope Recycling: DuPont established a program to recycle durable envelopes made of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). A 3-x-3-foot, oversized TYVEK envelope was placed in the UTEC main office to collect used TYVEK envelopes from tenants for recycling. When the collection envelope was filled, the used envelopes would be sent to a recycling plant in Roseville, Minnesota. These envelopes would then be ground and manufactured into new envelopes.

Packaging Materials Reuse Program: A collection box for bubble wrap and foam peanuts was placed near the main recycling bins at the UTEC loading dock. The packaging materials were either reused by tenants within the building or delivered to a nearby packaging company for reuse. Approximately one 55-gallon bag was filled every week.

Household Items and Clothing Drive: As part of Minnesota’s Waste Reduction Week, the intern organized a three-day household item and clothing drive with Goodwill Industries. This project encouraged source reduction not only in the work place, but also in the home. Over 50 containers were filled with contributions of clothes and other items from the tenants.

Recycling Bins: To encourage recycling, UTEC management bought 200 desk-side recycling bins to distribute to the tenants at no charge. The intern produced a list of what could be placed in the bin according to the guidelines set by the hauler and applied the list to the side of the boxes for quick reference.

Recyclables Collection: An in-office recycling program was established at UTEC. Tenants with a full janitorial service contract had their recyclables collected at no charge from a central location in their office once a week. Noncontracted tenants could have their recyclables collected once a week for a small fee. Because of the haulers commingled recyclable collection system, tenants were required to purchase two containers for the recyclables: one for steel, aluminum, newspaper, office paper and plastics; and one for glass. UTEC management agreed to pay 50 percent of the cost of the recycling bins for each tenant.


Garbage Collection: With increased source reduction and recycling activity by the staff and tenants at UTEC, less solid waste was put into the garbage dumpster. As a result, garbage pickup was reduced from three times per week to twice per week. This saved $180 per month or $2,160 annually in waste disposal costs.

Recycling Collection: Because of the increase in recycling activity, the recycling bins were emptied three times per week instead of twice per week. For the extra collection, the hauler charged UTEC an extra $75 per month. However, UTEC still saved approximately $105 per month, or $1,260 annually in reduced solid waste disposal costs.

Continuing Opportunities

Lessons learned from this project are similar to those often identified in industry. Successful source reduction and recycling efforts are best achieved through the following:

Management Support: For a solid waste source reduction program to be effective and successful, a commitment of full support must be made by upper management. When tenants see a strong sense of support and participation from the building staff, this encourages them to follow their example. Management must be willing to take the initiative to set an example for tenants to follow.

Communication: Communication between management and tenants is the key to a successful program. A monthly newsletter is an excellent opportunity to establish this communication link. The newsletter could include building events, new policies, reminders, source reduction and recycling updates, and a materials exchange classified section. A suggestion box could provide opinions and suggestions from tenants for improving the current recycling program in the building.

Posting Garbage Collection Bills: An effective way to show tenants the cost of waste they generate is to post monthly bills, such as garbage collection bills. These bills also show the savings (if any) that result from reducing or recycling solid waste.


Setting up a successful waste reduction and recycling project in a multitenant commercial building requires ongoing effort and communication between management and tenants. It also requires creative thinking to finding recycling incentives and outlets for recycled materials.