By Richard Keller, Recycling and Waste Prevention Manager, Department of Public Works and Transportation

Photo of a business person wearing a suit with a leaf in the front pocket

It’s just not enough to do only paper, bottles and cans anymore.

There was a time when commercial recycling (for businesses and institutions) was simply a matter of collecting paper, cardboard, bottles and cans for recycling, reducing paper waste, and buying recycled products. While these elements are still important, we need to expand beyond recycling traditional items. We need to examine the total supply chain.

The digital age has reduced the volume of office paper that we generate, use and recycle. According to Moore & Associates, production of printing and writing paper fell from about 19.5 million tons in 2011 to about 9 million tons in 2020. COVID-19 also reduced the volume of material in our commercial offices, since more of the work was done at home.

So, how do we focus our efforts to reduce waste in commercial buildings? We need to look at the total supply chain—purchasing, use and final disposition of all the products that we use.

Green Purchasing

As the song, “Do-Re-Mi,” from The Sound of Music says, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” The first question you should ask before buying a product is, “Do I really need this product?” Do you have an effective inventory control system that shows whether or not you need the product? Many of us buy products that we already have on the shelf. Is there another part of your organization that has the product you need? How many items do I actually need? The most effective and cost-saving method of managing your waste is to buy only products you actually need.

Once you have decided you need a particular type of product, you should consider which product brand is best for the environment. Every product has a dollar cost and an environmental cost. As commercial businesses, we can reduce our effect on the planet by requesting products that do less harm to the environment. Examples include:

  • Products with recycled content
  • Environmentally preferable products
  • Reused and remanufactured products
  • Products with less packaging or less material
  • Products that are themselves reusable or recyclable
  • Refillable products
  • Products that are more durable and longer lasting

Waste Prevention 

Once you have purchased the product for your business, you need to use up the product to reduce waste. Techniques include:

  • Having locations in your office or containers on the job site where employees can put recyclable materials
  • Ensuring that you conduct proper maintenance on equipment so that products will last longer. This can include vehicle maintenance (timely oil changes, etc.), changing filters, cleaning and vacuuming carpets regularly, etc.
  • Repairing items as needed to avoid the cost of buying a new product

Finally, once you have finished with the product, you need to consider the final disposition of the product. Can you reuse the product in your own operation? Can you reuse or rebuild the product? Can it be repaired for further use? Is there another organization that can use the product? Can you donate the item to a local charity?

Recycling is Everyone's Business

Photo of a group of people looking at a large recycling sign

Many states have programs for recycling market development—where state and local agencies help create or expand recycling markets, helping businesses find a home for their used material. Governor Larry Hogan signed legislation in Maryland in 2021 to create new recycling markets for Maryland businesses. The goal of the legislation is to let businesses know that “Maryland is open for recycling business.”

Business, industry and institutions can contribute to reducing the volume of waste generated and move our society closer to zero waste.

The County does not provide commercial recycling services, however, we will be providing additional information in the future on business recycling.

For more information on recycling in Baltimore County, visit the County’s website.