Colour-Coding for Effective Office Recycling

In today’s environmentally conscious world, we’re all aware that promoting recycling is crucial for reducing waste and conserving resources. One effective strategy is colour-coding, which leverages visual cues to encourage proper waste disposal. Let’s explore how colour-coding can enhance office recycling in the UK and what research tells us about its impact.

The Power of Visual Communication

Colour is a powerful tool for conveying information quickly and intuitively. When applied to recycling bins, it helps users identify the correct bin for specific waste streams.

With effective colour-coding employees can identify recycling bins from a distance, even without reading labels. For example, blue bins are commonly used for ‘dry’ recyclables like paper, and cardboard.

Glasdon Electra 85 recycling bin with Recycle Now colours and graphicsGlasdon Nexus evolution recycling bins with colour-coded waste streams

Research-led: Colour Inference in Recycling

A study by Karen B. Schloss and colleagues explored how people interpret colour-coding systems, specifically in recycling.

Participants viewed images of coloured but unlabelled bins. They were then asked to indicate which bins they would use to discard different kinds of recyclables and litter.

The study explored how people perform assignment inference to determine how colours map onto concepts.

The study tested two ideas:

  1. Local Assignment Hypothesis: People simply match objects with their most strongly associated colour.
  2. Global Assignment Hypothesis: People also account for the association strengths between all other objects and colours within the scope of the colour-coding system.
    Participants tended to discard objects in bins that optimised the colour-object associations of the entire set, supporting the global assignment hypothesis.

Sometimes, this led to discarding objects in bins whose colours were weakly associated with the object, even when stronger associated options were available.

The study also explored different methods for encoding colour-coding systems.


Colour-coding systems are used in hospitals, animal shelters, and recycling programs.

Colour is a useful visual feature for communication because it can be quickly observed from a distance and can signal various messages.

The study provides insights for designing intuitive colour-coding systems that facilitate communication through visual media such as graphs, maps, signs, and artifacts.

Choosing your office recycling bin colours

An effective recycling colour scheme will be familiar and recognisable to employees, either through alignment and consistency with local authorities or through workforce education with effective signage and awareness building.

Consistent Bin Colours

Many UK councils use consistent bin colours to simplify recycling. For instance:

  • Black Wheelie Bin: General waste.
  • Blue Recycling Bin: Dry recyclables (paper, cardboard).
  • Green Bin/Container: Food waste.

Customisation for Office Spaces

Tailored Solutions: Offices can use standard ‘Recycle Now’ graphics and colour-coding for waste streams or personalise to their own scheme’s colours. Consider standardised colours:

  • Black Bins: General waste.
  • Grey Bins: Cans.
  • Pastel Blue: Paper.
  • Red Bins: Plastic bottles.
  • Pink Bins: Batteries and small electronics.
  • Pastel Green Bins: Mixed glass.
  • Lime Green Bins: Mixed recyclables.
  • Green Bins: Food waste.
Recycle Now Graphics

Education and Signage

Clear Communication: Use colour coded signs and labels near bins to reinforce recycling rules.

Employee Training: Educate staff on colour meanings and waste separation.

Keep Standards Consistent: Users will acquaint themselves with your scheme, eventually recycling without sign reading or confusion – this is an optimal situation that you don’t want to disrupt with changes to waste stream colours and graphics.

More tips about graphics & signage

What is Recycle Now?

Recycle Now is the national recycling campaign for England and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to motivate more people to recycle more of the right things, more often. By encouraging responsible recycling practices, Recycle Now aims to protect our planet and reduce waste.

Here are some key points about the Recycle Now campaign:

  1. Motivation to Recycle: The campaign emphasizes the importance of recycling and encourages individuals to participate actively in recycling efforts.
  2. Consistent Recycling: It promotes a common-sense approach to recycling, ensuring that people across England can recycle the same materials whether at home, work, or school. This consistency eliminates confusion about what can and cannot be recycled in different parts of the country.
  3. Environmental Impact: Recycling saves approximately 18 million tonnes of CO₂ annually, contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable environment.
  4. Education and Awareness: Recycle Now provides information on recycling symbols, tips to reduce contamination, and practical guidance on how to recycle effectively.

Colour-coding transforms recycling from a chore into an intuitive practice. By implementing consistent colours, educating employees, and designing effective systems, offices can contribute significantly to UK recycling targets.

Remember, every shade matters—whether it’s a blue bin for paper or a green bin for food waste. Together, we can make a difference!

We offer office recycling bins designed with the easily recognised ‘Recycle Now’ colours and graphics, or you can contact us to request your own custom branding and designs.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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