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Business recycling tips

Free posters and stickers, staff training tools, and guidelines for your office/restaurant.

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Portland businesses are required to recycle paper, metal, and plastic (“Mixed Recycling”), as well as glass bottles and jars. Learn more about the requirements.

Recycling at your office

1. Set up your space

Make recycling as convenient as garbage. Pair all waste bins (garbage, recycling and compost) together in a central location: This makes it easy for people to put their waste in the right place, keeping recyclables out of the trash, and trash out of recycling. Break rooms, kitchen spaces, and copy rooms are good locations for waste bins.

Recycling bins: You can purchase recycling bins through janitorial suppliers, home improvement or office supply stores, or other retailers. If you’re looking for small containers to fit under desks, search for “deskside recycling bin.” Or repurpose existing containers, like copier paper boxes. Just make sure containers are well-labeled so it’s clear what goes in the bin (find free posters and stickers below).

Color: When purchasing containers, aim for blue for mixed recycling, yellow for glass, black or gray for garbage, and green for compost.

Posters and stickers: Use our free posters and stickers to label all recycling and waste containers. Posters are helpful above the containers and stickers can be used directly on the containers.

Get free posters and stickers

2. Talk with janitorial staff

Emptying recycling: If you have deskside recycling bins, confirm who will be emptying them into the central recycling containers. In some buildings, employees are expected to empty their bins into the office’s large, central containers.

Bags. Recycling should be placed loose into the building’s main recycling containers (usually a dumpster or roll cart). Recycling should not be bagged due to the problems bags cause for the recycling sorting facilities.

What goes in, what stays out. Label all waste containers with stickers, and waste areas with posters, that show what can and can’t go in each bin.

Check in and ask for feedback. Your janitorial staff often know when something needs improvement and can help you meet your recycling goals.

3. Educate employees

Label all waste containers with stickers, and waste areas with posters, that show what can and can’t go in each bin. Do spot checks to make sure non-recyclable items aren’t going into the recycling bin, and correct issues before they become a habit.

Share information about what can and cannot be recycled.

Contact us to schedule a recycling presentation for staff. Encourage staff to bring items from home or work that they find confusing, and we can explain why the item can (or cannot) be recycled.


Recycling at your restaurant

1. Set up your space

Container location: Make recycling as convenient as garbage. Ideally, containers are paired together: This makes it easy for people to put their waste in the right place, keeping recyclables out of the trash, and trash out of recycling.

ColorIf you purchase your own containers, aim to get blue for mixed recycling, yellow for glass, black or gray for garbage, and green for compost.

Posters and stickers: Use our free posters and stickers to label all recycling and waste containers. Posters are helpful above the containers and stickers can be used directly on the containers.

Get free posters and stickers

2. Educate employees

Label all waste containers with stickers, and waste areas with posters, that show what can and can’t go in each bin. Do spot checks to make sure non-recyclable items aren’t going into the recycling bin, and correct issues before they become a habit.

Share information about what can and cannot be recycled.

Contact us to schedule a recycling presentation for staff. Encourage staff to bring items from home or work that they find confusing, and we can explain why the item can (or cannot) be recycled.

Front-of-house recycling

Front-of-house recycling is generally not recommended. It’s common for customers to confuse what items go where. They often put things in the recycling container that can’t be recycled like to-go cups and containers, plastic cutlery, or napkins. This contaminates your business's recycling and may result in all your recycling disposed of as trash.

Most front-of-house waste is not recyclable. More than likely, the only recyclable items customers would have are drink bottles (metal, plastic or glass) or tin foil (if it’s used to wrap a burrito, for example).

Collecting cans and bottles. If your customers have drink cans and bottles, the best way to set up front-of-house collection is with clear, simple signage showing just drink bottles (contact us for help creating signs). It also helps to use a smaller container, like a dish tub on a counter, that allows customers to see what’s in the bin.

Collect front-of-house, sort back-of-house. Some cafes and coffee shops ask customers to put all waste in dish tubs and then staff sort the waste back-of-house. This is especially helpful when compost and recycling are being collected – the more waste needs to be sorted, the less likely it will be correctly sorted by customers, who are often in a hurry and unsure of what items go where.

What happens to your recycling?

See what happens to recyclables after the recycling truck takes them away:

See Vinod Singh explain how recyclables are sorted at Hillsboro's Far West Recycling, and where they go from there.

Sorting recyclables

In Portland, paper, cardboard, metal, and plastic bottles and tubs can all go in one bin. This makes it easier for people to recycle which leads to higher levels of recycling.

But it also means recyclables must be sorted, so all the paper can be sent to the paper mill, metal to the metal recycling facility, etc. Sorting is done here in Oregon, in big warehouses where both machines and people work to remove items that aren’t recyclable and sort out the rest by material type.

An illustration showing the process of recycling
Graphic provided by the Master Recycler program.

Where recyclables go after sorting

Some materials are turned into commodities used here in the Portland metro region. Other materials are sent out of state or overseas to be made into new products.

  • Your empty plastic bottles could become a park bench or filling for a winter coat.
  • Yesterday’s newspaper could become the cereal box you pull off the shelf next year.
  • An aluminum can recycled today can be back on the shelf as a new one in just 60 days!

Watch how materials are sorted and turned into new products in this 13-minute video.

Close the loop: Buy recycled!

Look for products that are made with recycled content. The higher level of recycled content, the better. "Post-consumer recycled-content" means the material has come from items recycled by consumers rather than from scrap materials from manufacturing.