Day 7: Zero Waste

A zero waste existence is within our grasp.

Cities are increasingly adopting composting programs. The circular economy is gaining traction. Food waste is gaining deserved attention. On the project-side, we are fortunate that many of the contractors we work with are committed to achieving a high waste diversion rate, looking for opportunities to reuse materials wherever possible.


Recycling efforts of Independence Plaza’s tenants saved enough fresh water to supply 42K people for a year.

It‘s time RNL walked the talk on the operational side and really looked at our own waste stream. Each of our offices has unique access to recycling, composting and other waste options, due to their locations and building’s facilities. But the one thing they all have in common is people who work for a firm that values its environmental impact. So it’s time to talk trash, and more specifically, how we can generate less of it.

Let’s start with our Denver office - we are lucky to be in a building, Independence Plaza, run by forward-thinking and motivated building management in terms of environmental issues. From January 2015 to October 2015 (the latest data available), the collective tenants of Independence Plaza had a diversion rate of 63%. These recycling efforts saved enough electricity to power 42 homes for a whole year, enough gas to drive 75,425 miles, enough trees to produce 21M sheets of paper, and enough fresh water to meet the needs of 42K people for a whole year.

So what have we [RNL] done?

In an effort to increase awareness of recycling and composting, we have:

  • Re-arranged the collection bins in our two kitchens to prioritize recycling over trash by providing three recycling containers and only one trash container.
  • Placed the recycling containers in a more convenient location than the trash receptacles.
  • Tripled the number of composting containers and placed them right next to food prep areas.
  • Added two new battery recycling containers.
  • Put up signage explaining what can and can’t go in each of three streams (recycling, compost, trash).

But this is not enough.

Take a look at the bins at the end of any given day and you’ll see compostable and recyclable items in the trash, and non-recyclable items in the recycling. So what’s next? We can set a goal for a higher waste diversion rate, but without knowing where we stand now, asking people to ‘just do better’ won’t be effective.  In the coming weeks we will be doing our own waste audit. This involves hand sorting all the waste collected over the course of a day, then weighing it and calculating what our diversion rate is. We are anticipating that number won’t be great, but we’ll have a benchmark to help us set a goal. We’ll need to be creative with the wording of the most unappealing meeting invite ever, and offer incentives of the beer and pizza variety, but I am hopeful the audit will be useful.

In the meantime, if anyone has ideas or success stories on how to radically improve office waste diversion, please let us know!