Sorting Trash Saves Trees and Cash

Consultant helps businesses find attractive bottom-line benefits in recycling white wastepaper. ON THE RECYCLED PAPER TRAIL

LIKE millions of office workers, Mary Zappulla gave little thought to what she threw in her wastebasket each day or what it cost her employer, WBZ TV-Radio in Boston, to have it hauled away. Before the company started an in-office recycling program, her wastebasket would fill up each day with about five pounds of paper, food wrappers, and other trash.

These days, however, that same wastebasket is less than half full. That's because her second container - the one for recyclable papers - is packed with valuable used white paper that will be sold to a wastepaper dealer, cutting down on disposal costs and saving trees.

``I'm glad we're doing it,'' says Ms. Zappulla, an executive secretary. ``It only takes a second to put [the trash] into one area or the other.'' About 200 co-workers are participating.

Still, this office is one of only a few in the Boston area with a recycling program. Most businesses don't recycle because it takes organization, planning, and time, which cost money.

But a feisty young entrepreneur is out to prove otherwise. Matthew Costello, founder of New England's first office recycling consulting firm, Corporate Conservation of Cambridge, Mass., says collecting paper is cheaper than sending it to landfills. He notes that New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York City have already passed laws requiring offices to recycle their wastepaper.

``A company should do this because it makes smart business sense,'' says Mr. Costello. ``Recycling is the least-cost method of disposal.'' Originally he thought of office collection as just sound environmental practice; now his pitch is to the bottom line: ``It's about making money and keeping money. It isn't only about ethics and environmentalism.''

As a consultant, Costello works with interested businesses to figure out what type of collection system would best suit the working environment. In bigger offices, he recommends dual-wastebasket systems for employees; when the recycling basket fills, workers take the contents to a central collection box. In smaller offices, there may be only one collection box. Costello arranges for pickup of the wastepaper and sale to a paper dealer who in turn sells to a recycling mill.

Why target businesses? Because they produce so much high-quality waste. Typically, 55 percent of a city's waste is generated by the business community, according to Costello. An Environmental Protection Agency study in 1977 found that the average office worker throws out 1.5 pounds of paper a day. Costello says one-third of that is recyclable.

Costello started his consulting business when he couldn't find anyone to help him set up a program for his former employer, The Wilderness Society. But when he read an article in this newspaper (Aug. 2, 1988) describing the success of AT&T New Jersey's cost-effective recycling program, he knew he'd found the key to making recycling attractive: Talk money - saving it and making it.

Sitting in his paper-packed office in busy Harvard Square, Costello is enthusiastic about enlisting more offices in the recycling ranks. He holds up a phone book. ``Our target market is three-inches thick,'' he says. ``Multiply that across the country.''

On the floor are rows of (reused) file folders and several open boxes stuffed with ``typical office waste,'' which he totes around with him for demonstrations. He slides the first box over, heaped with colored papers, pink telephone message slips, yellow legal-pad pages, junk mail, wads of paper, used envelopes. ``This is called `office mix,''' he says. ``It's recyclable, but it's not valuable.'' Brokers pay little for it, and most is shipped overseas.

The next box makes him smile. It's filled with valuable ``white ledger'' paper: letters, reports, memos from photocopying and fax machines, printouts from computers - some with colored inks, staples, or paper clips that he says are acceptable. ``This is high-grade paper,'' he explains, which means it can generate income for companies; in the Boston area it will earn 4 cents a pound.

Costello says for programs to be successful, everybody - from top-level management on down - should get involved. No company's needs are too tough; even confidential papers that have to be shredded can be recycled.

Costello charges $55 an hour for consulting, for which he paws through a week's worth of trash at an office, meets with committees, and draws up a ``program plan.'' He also gets one-third of the profits from wastepaper sold in the first year.

But his job doesn't end with taking out the trash. As he reminds his clients, recycling means buying back recycled products. ``You have to close the loop. A business isn't really recycling unless it buys products made from wastepaper,'' he says.

There are drawbacks to office collection. Smaller companies may not make a profit and may not even find a wastepaper company willing to pick up their quantity of paper. Some companies already have waste fees figured into their rent.

But this doesn't matter to Interleaf Inc., a computer software company nearby, which has been collecting its white paper for several months and giving it to a nonprofit recycling organization. Jon Waldron, an employee on the recycling committee, says the benefits go beyond money concerns. ``What we've proven is we can be good citizens without paying a financial penalty.''

Costello sees office recycling programs as a first step in raising awareness about how much we throw away. Sorting office papers, says Costello, ``makes everybody think about waste and conservation, often for the first time. They begin to think about the amount of paper they use. I now see people photocopying nine pages instead of 10. Using a mug instead of a paper cup. Using two sides of a paper instead of one.''

WBZ's Zappulla says the recycling mentality hasn't spread into other areas of her life yet. ``But that's not to say that it won't.... I never really gave it much thought until we started doing it here.''

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