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Green practice: Take out the trash

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Cite as: (2009) 83(03) LIJ, p.84

Good waste management has benefits for the environment and a firm’s budget.

Waste management at work can be a neglected area of green practice because, let’s face it, it’s not pretty and it’s certainly not sexy.

A straw poll of law firms1 shows that there is a range of waste management practices already in place. But despite their differences, there is one thing all law firms have in common: they can easily reduce rising waste disposal costs.2

A well-designed and implemented waste management plan not only increases the amount of recycling a firm can generate but it can do so without much imposition on staff.

So what waste do you need to consider? It is anything that you dispose of from the workplace, for example, paper and cardboard, leftover food and its packaging, plastics, printer cartridges, used office stationery and its packaging, and electronic waste (computers, disks, printers, photocopiers etc.).

If you do not have a waste management system

Ask and ask again whether a waste audit can be undertaken and a waste management plan created.

Organisations can save money by developing their own plan through pooling staff ideas (including cleaning staff) and giving implementation and monitoring responsibility to specific individuals or an environmental committee.

There are many useful resources to guide you on the Sustainability Victoria, EPA and VECCI websites (see also “Where can I get further information on reducing my waste at work?” (right)).

If creating your own plan is not realistic for your firm, think about contacting a professional waste management consultancy.

A good plan will focus on the “waste hierarchy” of reduce, reuse, recycle, and will separate waste and recycling (including paper and cardboard) into different streams.

An example of the benefits of introducing a comprehensive and coordinated system can be seen at 200 Queen Street, Melbourne, which houses a number of law firms and barristers’ chambers.

Introduction of a new waste management system for the building had an immediate impact, increasing the recycling rate by 31 per cent.

If you do have a waste management system

If you already have a waste management system, consider whether it is effective and identify areas for improvement on a regular basis. There are many well-designed systems that do not work to their greatest potential. Remember:

It needs to be easy

There may be practicality issues. For example, poor placement of common-area recycling bins can lead to contamination of recycling bins with non-recyclables or recycling in waste bins. These small actions can significantly reduce the effectiveness of plans through a multiplier effect.

It needs to be easy clear

Another common issue is that staff are often unsure what waste goes where. This can be overcome through improved staff engagement and education. Clear signage is an easy fix so that staff don’t spend billable time standing in front of a series of rubbish bins thinking about where to throw their takeaway coffee cup.

It needs to be encouraged

By far the most common barrier to a successful waste management regime is a lax attitude. Deal with this by ensuring firm culture encourages smart waste management behaviour and that senior staff lead by example. Results are best achieved when there is a combination of executive sponsorship supported by constructive and consistent input from the rest of the firm. A positive attitude is essential.


Although changing behaviour around waste requires persistence and attention to detail, it is surprisingly simple to effect change that is good for the environment, the budget and our social conscience.

Begin by recognising that each of us creates waste and then ask yourself: what can I do to make a difference?

EMMA PEPPLER is research assistant to Stuart Morris QC and a lawyer with the Environment Defenders Office community legal centre.

1. Email survey of ten firms conducted by the author.

2. Landfill levies are fees charged when waste is deposited to licensed landfill in Victoria. Levies operate on a polluter pays basis and have more than doubled over the past decade.

Introduction of a new waste management system for the building had an immediate impact, increasing the recycling rate by 31 per cent.

Where can I get further information on reducing my waste at work?


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