Article Date: 12/1/2009

Don't Toss It — Recycle It

Don't Toss It — Recycle It

Whether you want to save the environment, or a few dollars, follow these "green" ideas.

SID SHAFRAN, O.D., Bristol, Conn.

If global warming, ozone depletion, harmful ultraviolet radiation and species extinction aren't arguments for recycling, then how about this: Recycling is good for your practice. Why?

► It's socially responsible. For example, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), every ton of mixed paper recycled can save the energy equivalent of 185 gallons of gas.
► A practice that adopts a formal recycling program can attract loyal patients and staff who find it advantageous to associate with a "green" organization.
► Recycling can save money. At the very least, your practice will create less trash, which can reduce your refuse hauling fees.

Most of us are accustomed to recycling residential garbage. But at the office it's often business as usual as we ignore how we dispose of much of our garbage. So the first step is to get staff to "buy into" the idea and participate. Put recycling on the agenda of a staff meeting. Ask your staff for ideas on how to recycle and reuse discarded office products, from small Styrofoam cups to the largest pieces of electronic equipment. Consider appointing a "recycling coordinator" who oversees the program. Now you're ready to begin.

Big package challenges

The biggest and bulkiest source of office waste are the corrugated cardboard boxes used for shipping frames, lenses, contact lens solutions and other ophthalmic and office products. Some commercial waste haulers will not only recycle your corrugated cardboard, they'll provide containers — sometimes for a fee. In our locale, haulers don't offer containers, so we purchased a 32-cubic-foot plastic storage container to store cardboard. (After it was stolen, we bolted a new container to the ground.) Many local waste disposable sites have a corrugated cardboard recycling area, although you may be responsible for transporting the cardboard.

How about the Styrofoam peanuts and plastic cushioning used in packing? Our practice places them all into a large trash bag and gives them to a local Mailbox or UPS mailing store. This creates goodwill among these local merchants as they happily use the free packing material.

Bottles and cans

Cans, glass bottles and aluminum refuse are easy to dispose of and most communities offer recycling programs. Again, storage is a problem. Our town practices single source recycling — that is, it doesn't require that we separate plastic, glass and aluminum for recycling. We store these in two large bins in the office and dispose of them on our scheduled recycle day. We feel it's well worth it. According to the EPA, recycling just one ton of aluminum cans conserves 207 million BTU, the equivalent of 36 barrels of oil or 1,665 gallons of gasoline.

Pushing plastic

Plastic represents a significant portion of recyclables, from water bottles to soft contact lens packages. Encourage contact lens companies to package their lenses in recyclable plastic containers, those stamped with the triangle recycle number.

Also, recycle the plastic orange juice and lunch containers that make their way into the office. Ask staff to use those imprinted with the recycle number. Purchase paper cups for use in the office instead of plastic cups, unless the plastic is stamped as recyclable.

The daily paper

Office paper and newspaper make up the largest amount of recyclables. Our practice shreds reams of documents in an effort to minimize identity theft and maintain compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In addition, we recycle paper containers for juice, milk and cream as well.

We place this wastepaper, non-corrugated cardboard and newspaper into a basket for recycling. We place shredded paper into large paper leaf bags that many towns use for recycling organic yard waste. We can reuse the paper leaf bags again and again. According to the EPA, every ton of mixed paper recycled can save the energy equivalent of 185 gallons of gasoline.

Speaking of bags, instead paper or plastic, we offer reusable cloth bags that staff can use for shopping, office supplies or lunch.

"Recycled" Facts
About 80% of what Americans throw away is recyclable, yet our recycling rate is just 33%. (EPA)
Recycling creates six times as many jobs as landfilling. (Colorado Recycles)
If we recycled all of the newspapers printed in the United States on a typical Sunday, we would save about 26 million trees per year. (California Department of Conservation)
The energy saved each year by steel recycling is equal to the electrical power used by 18 million homes each year—or enough energy to last Los Angeles residents for eight years. (Steel Recycling Institute)
The solid waste industry currently produces more than half of America's renewable energy, more than combined energy outputs of the solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind power industries. (U.S. DOE, Energy Information Administration)
Once an aluminum can is recycled, it's back on the grocery shelf as another aluminum can in 60 days. (

Electronics and hazards

Electronics such as computers, monitors, TVs and radios can be recycled in many towns and or regional recycling authorities. Contact your local hauler for information on how to recycle these products in your area.

Dispose of hazardous and medical wastes in accordance with Federal and local laws. Use the containers that are specified by the regulations to ensure safety.

Safety first … and last

To ensure safety in the workplace, information must be available about the identities and hazards of the materials that you dispose of and store. We communicate this information through material safety data sheets (MSDSs), which provide staff and emergency personnel with procedures for handling or working with hazardous substances. The sheets include information such as physical data (e.g. melting point, boiling point, flash point), toxicity, health effects, first aid, disposal and emergency handling procedures. For additional information on MSDS sheets, visit websites such as

While recycling has reduced our practice's waste disposal fees, our biggest reward is the good feeling our team reaps by being environmentally conscientious. We've made a difference. OM

Dr. Shafran practices in Bristol, Conn., home of ESPN. You can e-mail him at

Optometric Management, Issue: December 2009