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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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Paper is the largest component of the solid waste stream in the United States by weight, comprising about 40% of total waste. Paper is also a significant portion of most departments’ budgets.  The amount of paper used in office settings can be reduced by using less paper to begin with, reusing where appropriate, and recycling.  Visit the SustainVU Paper Reduction page for an extensive list of ways to reduce paper consumption.  Specific steps you can take to reduce paper usage include:

  • Communicate electronically and create hard copies only when needed. Edit documents on screen using the “track changes” function and bookmark websites instead of printing to reduce paper usage.
  • Change all printers, copiers, and faxes to their double-sided printing settings.

Did you know? Double sided printing can reduce your department’s paper budget by 30-50%.  A small amount of these cost savings could then be used to purchase paper with a recycled content of 30-100%. In an office setting, implementing standard double sided printing combined with the use of recycled content paper is one of the most important things you can do for the environment.

  • Consider electronic magazine subscriptions and books whenever possible, or consider purchasing an Amazon Kindle or similar e-reader.  Small, compact laptops with internet access capabilities are becoming more affordable, too.
  • Use your email Inbox as a filing system and set up “storage” folders within your Inbox.  If your email account has limited storage space, and you find that storing emails and documents in your Inbox is not feasible, you can arrange for emails and documents to be saved periodically to your computer.  In Outlook, this function is called Auto Archive.
  • If you need to take a file to a location outside of your office or to work on a document at home, email it to yourself from work or use a memory stick, mp3 player, iPod, or an external hard drive for transporting your files.
  • A networked system and shared drive space within your department or area allows individuals to share documents instead of emailing them to each other with the added benefit back up on Vandy’s network.  Offices that handle confidential and sensitive information can arrange to have different levels of access for shared drive areas, ensuring that only people who have clearance can access certain information.  ITS administrators typically set-up network access and shared drive space.
  • Secure on-line file sharing, review, and document retention can be a reality by obtaining a Microsoft SharePoint site via ITS, which are available to VU entities at no cost!
  • While online file sharing program like Google Docs allow users to modify and share files from multiple locations, PLEASE USE CAUTION, because much of the information Vanderbilt handles is governed by privacy laws like FERPA and HIPPA.
  • Different filing styles work for different people.  One suggestion might be to file by project or major area of responsibility, then by year.  If you manage several people, you might want to create a folder for each person and their work.
  • Wheeled bags make carrying a laptop around much easier, allowing you to take notes on your laptop that can be stored on the hard drive.  This keeps the user from handling lots of paper.

Other waste products besides paper can be reduced by doing things such as:

  • Only buying what you need.
  • Providing reusable mugs and cups instead of using disposable water bottles.
  • Installing battery re-chargers and investing in rechargeable batteries.
  • Considering renting or sharing infrequently used products.


Get creative when it comes to reusing materials.  Items like plastic bags and packaging can have a variety of uses once they serve their original purpose.  Single sided printed paper can be reused to print drafts or for scratch paper or shredded and used as packing material.  Easy ways to reuse magazines and books are to buy only one subscription or one book for your department and pass it around.  Unwanted magazines and books can also be donated to libraries or local schools to be reread.


Many materials, including paper, cans, newspapers, cardboard, and plastic can all be recycled. DO NOT RECYCLE ANY FOOD-CONTAMINATED MATERIAL, RESTROOM WASTE, MEDICAL ITEMS, PLASTIC BAGS, OR STYROFOAM.

If your office does not currently recycle, follow these steps to implement a program:

  • If you are in a VU residence house, campus administrative or academic building contact the Campus Recycling Coordinator at 615.343.2784 or
  • If you are in a building that is not owned by Vanderbilt but is contracted through VU Real Estate Property Manager, contact Benji Rust at 615.343.4912.
  • If you are in a VUMC building and part of the School of Medicine, contact Daris Merriweather at 615.322.6107.
  • If you are in any other VUMC building that is not part of the School of Medicine, contact the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office at 615.322.2057 or
  • Anyone not included can contact your building manager, contract directly with a recycling company (such as RockTenn, QRS, or EarthSavers) or install recycling containers yourself and transport them to the VU Recycling Center located on Appleton Drive between the Peabody maintenance building and the Commons Center.

Used computers and electronics should be disposed of via the Vanderbilt Electronics Recycling Program. Vanderbilt Procurement Policies and Procedures for Departments require that all university-owned equipment, capital or non-capital, be processed through VUMC Surplus Services.  Visit the Computers & Electronics Recycling page for more information and instructions. Never throw electronics or computers into the dumpster- U.S. regulations forbid it because these materials contain chemicals and heavy metals that are harmful to humans and the environment.

Ink and toner cartridges for your printer, fax, or copier and cell phones and PDAs contain chemicals that could be hazardous to the environment if landfilled and left to leak into the soil and groundwater. Additionally, the materials used for the casings (plastic, metals) do not readily biodegrade. Thus, it is preferable to recycle these materials to keep them out of landfills. Procurement, HR Express/Commodore Concierge, Guy Brown, and the VU Sustainability and Environmental Management Office (SEMO) are pleased to announce the availability of recycling for ink/toner cartridges and cell phones at Vanderbilt University. Visit the Ink & Toner Cartridge Recycling page for more information and instructions.

Small batteries, including normal alkaline batteries (such as AA, AAA, C, D, etc.) and rechargeable batteries (such as nickel-cadmium, lithium ion, and nickel-metal hydride batteries, from cell phones, PDAs, and portable equipment), generated from work-related activities should be recycled through the Vanderbilt battery recycling program.  Visit the Battery Recycling page for more information and instructions.

Visit the SustainVU Waste and Recycling page for more information on recycling opportunities available at Vanderbilt University and Medical Center.

Click here to return to the Sustainable Department Greening Guide.