Reducing waste at work

A Sustainability Action Plan project

Office waste

One way the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) works to protect and improve our environment is through sustainable business practices.

Recycling and source-separated composting

Compost sign At the MPCA, recycling collection stations are located on each floor of the St. Paul office and at each of the seven regional offices. Materials collected vary slightly by location, but standard materials collected in each location include:

  • White and pastel office paper
  • Mixed paper
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Cans, glass and plastic bottles
  • Reusables*
  • Technotrash*
  • Tyveks and transparencies*
  • Batteries*
  • Printer toner cartridges*

Organic wastes in St. Paul are source-separated in each floor’s break room, conference rooms, and cafeteria and hauled to a composting facility in Empire Township. The Duluth office has a vermi-composting (worm) bin in their office for staff to dispose of some types of food waste.


Results for the St. Paul office, which include some of the materials collected in the regional offices (identified by an asterisk above) are available for the PDF icon past 10 years. As a result, the agency staff Alliance for Recycling and Reduction of Waste (ARROW) committee attends new employee orientation to explain the expectations and support for recycling and reuse activities in the MPCA office locations.

In September 2009, MPCA performed a waste sort of remaining garbage, which identified source-separated composting as a critical area of continued focus for staff education.

Paper reduction

paper-reamsUsing paper is expensive, both in terms of dollars spent by the MPCA in paper purchasing and the negative effects it has on the environment. To reduce paper use at the agency we are pursuing three main strategies:

Reduction strategies:

  • Correspondence Policy: Formatting of document margins, type size and spacing, and printing double-sided.
  • Print and copy double-sided using Multi-Function Devices (MFDs). All our copiers are set to default to double-sided copying and many computers/printers are as well. MFDs have also reduced the number of pages printed and/or left “orphaned.”
  • Print Preview: In Fall 2007, MPCA tested a software program (GreenPrint) that forces print previewing and found paper use could be reduced by at least six percent. This software was going to be implemented in areas with high volume printing; however, MFD deployment pushed back implementation of this tool.
  • MPCA staff can also ask others to think before they print e-mail, too. In March 2008, this tag-line was approved for inclusion in staff e-mail signatures: Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.
  • We ask staff and visitors to limit handouts at meetings by writing agendas on white boards, using computers and projectors, and sending presentations or notes electronically before or after meetings.
  • MPCA also has a Paper Reduction Tool Kit, that includes an eight minute video available to staff and others on the Web site.

Reuse paper strategies

In the past MPCA’s green team, ARROW, collected second-chance paper and made notepads from it, cutting down on the purchase of new notepads. This was discontinued in 2008 due to concerns about Data Practices Act requests and the potential to include non-public or irrelevant information. In 2008, staff surveyed other public entities about this concern, and how they have overcome it. As a result, we intend to review this strategy in 2010.


MPCA uses 11,000 reams of paper (about 5.5 million sheets) per year--and spent $39,000 on toner.

The MPCA uses almost exclusively 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, processed without chlorine. The combination of our lower paper use and use of 100 percent recycled content paper makes for significantly less environmental impacts.

Environmental impacts


Impacts of MPCA-sized office, using average amount of virgin paper

Impacts of MPCA's paper use

Wood use
173 tons
0 tons
Total energy
1,918 million BTUs
596 million BTUs
Purchased energy
910 million BTUs
596 million BTUs
Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
1,304 pounds
703 pounds
Greenhouse gases
284,510 lbs CO2 equiv.
98,508 lbs CO2 equiv.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
921 pounds
396 pounds
622 pounds
202 pounds
Hazardous air pollutants (HAP)
108 pounds
4 pounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
278 pounds
50 pounds
Total reduced sulfur (TRS)
17 pounds
0 pounds
953,760 gallons
283,938 gallons
Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)
314 pounds
167 pounds
Total suspended solids (TSS)
507 pounds
190 pounds
Chemical oxygen demand (COD)
4,587 pounds
759 pounds
Absorbable organic halogens (AOX)
47 pounds
0 pounds
Solid waste
113,917 pounds
31,754 pounds

* Data from Environmental Defense Paper Calculator.