Never Say Never

The magazine ads were tantalizing: “We sort. We recover. We recycle. But we never simply throw away.” Could it be? Did Ricoh, the giant office-equipment maker, truly generate zero waste?

For sure, Ricoh sports an impressive environmental record, including a litany of awards from organizations such as the World Environment Center and Energy Star. To reduce waste at its American facilities, it has hired rubber-gloved workers to root through trash to analyze what might be reused or recycled.

Every new hire is trained in ISO 14001, the international standard for incorporating environmental responsibility into operations and products. Employees also get two garbage cans — one for recycling and one for waste. If a recyclable is discovered in a waste bin, it’s placed back on the offender’s desk for proper sorting. Tough love.

In all, Ricoh says, waste has been reduced to less than 10 tons per month in the United States, from 40 tons in 2002. But zero? Uh, no. “Waste streams are

difficult to manage in the United States,” says Mike Sarasin, director of the corporate quality assurance and environmental management division. So trash from the company’s cafeteria kitchens, for example, does in fact end up in local landfills.

Which makes us feel somewhat less guilty about tossing Ricoh’s promotional materials on its “Environmental Edge” — printed, by the way, on recycled paper using vegetable-based inks.FCS