Reverse Recycling

The offices and employees of the City of Durham are implementing a Reverse Recycling system in 2013 in order to reduce waste and increase recycling. Any workplace can demonstrate environmental stewardship and increase sustainability by utilizing these principles to recycle more and discard less.

Insturctions for Department Liaisons (who can assist you, where to get bags)

Reverse Recycling…What is it?

“Reverse recycling” is the concept that instead of a desk worker typically producing a large amount of waste and a minor amount of recycling content, organizations work to modify employee behavior to produce a minor amount of landfill waste compared to a larger amount of recognizably recyclable material. In typical office environments the largest quantity of recyclable material will be paper. In Durham it is not necessary to separate colored paper, newsprint or coated papers from white copy paper, and with the current single stream model in use, we don’t have to separate plastic, metal or glass from the paper, so this simplifies the process. All recyclables go in to the same receptacle.

 How does it work?

  1.  Desk employees use the mini-bin for their “trash” (candy wrappers, banana peels, peach pits, fast food cup, etc).
  2.  All recycling goes into the larger bin (that used to be your wastebasket). This includes paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum.
  3.  When necessary, employees empty their own bins into the appropriate larger bin in their area.
  4.  Custodial team empties the larger bins on a regular basis. (But NOT the personal bins)

What is reverse recycling?

The idea behind reverse recycling is to “reverse” they way you think about what you throw away and what you recycle.  The goal is that if you pay more attention to what you are disposing of, you will find that much of what you throw away is actually recyclable! As you change your habits, you will find that you can recycle an enormous amount. In this program, your old wastebasket becomes your new recycling container and the new, mini bin container attached to the side of the large recycling basket becomes your new wastebasket.

Who in the City organization will be taking part in this program?

This program is for everyone, in every department, and every building of the City government. However, the program is being phased in over the next year, one department/division at a time, so you may not begin immediately. Each department/division will be contacted when it’s time to start.

Why is the City asking employees to do this?

This program is useful in many ways and is a part of our “Culture of Service” in that it promotes service to self, our co-workers, and our community. By increasing our recycling efforts, we make a positive impact on the community where we all either live and/or work and we contribute to the greater good of Durham. Other communities who have implemented a program like this have reduced their waste from between 75% to 95%! The less material we throw into the dump, the better Durham will be!

How will this benefit me?

It will benefit you in numerous ways since you will become a better recycler, you will create or strengthen better habits in yourself, and you will reduce the amount of recyclables that you throw away due to carelessness or lack of knowledge. You will become an expert in recycling without really trying!

What do I have to do, exactly?

First, you need to be aware of what you are throwing away and think for a moment if it’s recyclable. If it is recyclable, then it goes in your new BIG bin with the BLUE label (the old trash can). If it is NOT recyclable, then it goes in the small saddle bin with the GREEN label. At the end of each day (or when your bins are full), you will simply need to empty both of your bins into the area designated by your department/division for disposal.

Wait a minute! I have to empty my own garbage?  What about the custodians?

Yes, you are responsible for emptying your own garbage and your own recycling into the area designated by your department/division for disposal. The custodians will be responsible for emptying those larger bins (both garbage and recycling) into a building-wide collection site. Please, DO NOT ask the custodians to empty your individual bins as this is no longer their responsibility.

But why do I have to empty my own garbage? That’s not what I get paid for.

Your smaller waste bin may only need to be emptied once or twice a week, so it’s not a great inconvenience. It can be done during one of the many times you leave your desk. In order to make the program work, everyone has to be involved. The hardest part is remembering, and changing your habits! Be patient with yourself; it won’t take long until this will all be second nature.

How do I know what to recycle and what is garbage?

If you live in Durham, you can recycle the same things here that you do at home. If not, you can find out what is recyclable by visiting  In addition, there will be a liaison in your department/division that can help you locate this information.

What about colored paper?

Colored paper can go in with white paper and envelopes (even the ones with windows!)

Can I really put paper and cans and plastic together?

Yes, but use common sense. If your can still has soda in it, then you need to empty it before you put it in the recycle bin. If your paper has melted cheese or other food on it, then it needs to be thrown away as trash.

What about the bag my hamburger came in?

That would be trash since any paper or cardboard that has visible food particles on it should be placed in the trash bin.

This “mini bin” is way too small; it will never hold all my garbage!

You can recycle almost everything that comes across your desk. The amount of ‘real’ garbage left is very little, so the Mini Bin will be big enough.

What happens when I leave food stuff and items that make a mess and smell? We don’t have composting in our office.

You will be shown were you can get plastic liners for your new smaller bins so it won’t be that messy. If you eat lunch at your desk, it’s best to put food scraps directly into the central garbage bin. You would probably do that anyway, no one wants ants in their office! You could also promote the use of litter-less lunches – bring lunch from home in reusable containers.

When will this start in my department/division?

Each department/division will implement the new program individually, since each has different space and organizational challenges. The City would like to feature rolling out this program on November 15in honor of “America Recycles Day,” with the goal of have all City departments/divisions fully on board by next year on “America Recycles Day” (November 15, 2013).  Each department director and recycling liaison will be contacted when it’s time to rollout the initiative in their department.

How can I learn more about Reverse Recycling?

For more information on the reverse recycling concept, visit any of the following links:

I still have questions. Who can I call?

If you have more questions, or want to share your concerns or thoughts about this new initiative, please contact Tania Dautlick at City of Durham General Services Keep Durham Beautiful, 919-354-2729 or Larrisha McGill, City of Durham Solid Waste Management Department Recycling Coordinator, at 919-560-4186 x32227.