Working from home gives you flexibility, a change of scenery and quite a bit of power.

The power to make the world a little greener, one printer and toner cartridge at a time.

When you work for a large company, the practices and policies that impact the environment are largely made a few levels above your pay grade. But at home, you are the boss when it comes to reusing and recycling equipment, turning down the heat and the power, or deciding to refill your own ink cartridges.

Some of the ways to green your home office are just common sense, but are things you might not think about when you’re working in a large office setting. You can always print on both sides of a piece of paper, but in the rush of corporate life you forget to change the setting. You could unplug your computer when not using it, but no one else sitting near you does.

“Some of the easiest things are looking for a place to set up (your office) with as much natural light as possible, and going paperless as much as possible,” said George MacDonald, director of the sustainability division for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “They might sound like minor things, but they add up.”

And they can add up to a pretty large impact if you consider that some 7.5 million Americans say they work from home most of the time, according to U.S. Census data released in 2016. That’s about 5 percent of the workforce. Here, then, are some ways you can make your home office more environmentally friendly.



The first thing to do, if you don’t already work from home, is to ask your employer if you can. By working from home even one day a week, and not having to use your car that day, you’re helping to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. More than 114 million Americans say they drive to work alone, according to Census data. A 2015 EPA report showed that 27 percent of all greenhouse gases come from transportation, and 60 percent of those emissions come from cars and light-duty vehicles.

Once you actually are working from home, you might find it easier to commute to appointments or business errands in a greener way, said Sarah Cushman, a Portland transportation consultant who works out of her home. A home worker has the flexibility to spend a half hour walking or biking somewhere in the middle of the day, then making up work time at night, she said. She and her husband share one car, and both work some days from home. The arrangement sometimes requires that they take the bus, or carpool for longer-distance appointments.

“I think more people could ask to work from home but probably don’t realize it,” Cushman said. ” Telecommuting is definitely part of the equation when it comes reducing automobile trips.”

If you need help making a case to your employer about working from home, read the Harvard Business Review article “How to Convince Your Boss to Let You Work from Home.”



It’s easy enough to recycle toner and ink jet cartridges, and keep them out of landfills. Most stores that sell them will take used ones back and sometimes give you a credit toward another purchase. Staples offers a $2 credit per cartridge, up to ten a month. But you can also refill toner cartridges yourself. They can only be refilled three or four times, but refilling prolongs their use. You can buy refill ink at stores, including Walmart, for $7 to $10, plus syringes for refilling for about $2 per package of four. The makers of ink refills recommend you use rubber gloves to handle the cartridge, then locate the two refill holes, often found under the label. Use the syringe to fill the cartridge, then clean the syringe when you’re done. Similarly, you can avoiding throwing away used-up disposable pens – and consider how often you do that without any thought! – by using a fountain pen instead, for about $5 and up (usually up), and refilling it. For most fountain pens (except the very pricey ones), you can buy refill ink cartridges, which can be cleaned out and reused, again using a syringe to add ink to the cartridges. The more sustainable option may be to buy a bottle of ink, for $12 and up, and refill the pen by dipping the nib, or tip, into the ink and twisting the pen to draw ink into it.

For more information on refilling ink and toner cartridges, search the topic at


A lot of office workers lament being low on energy, but in a home office that’s a good thing. If you are just starting to work from home, consider an energy audit to make sure your home workspace is energy efficient. You can find a state-certified energy audit company at the state’s Efficiency Maine website. The cost typically runs from $300 to $600. You might find out you need new windows, or that a simple doorstop will keep the heat in.

Another way to save energy is set up your home office near a window, to use as much natural light and passive solar heat as possible, MacDonald at the DEP recommends.

When buying office equipment, like computers and printers, look for the federal Department of Energy’s Energy Star certification. The DOE estimates that using an Energy Star-certified computer, monitor and printer can save $250 in electricity costs over the life of those products. Using the power management setting of an Energy Star computer can save an estimated $35 a year. For more information on Energy Star products and how to find them, go to



There are a few small, very easy things people can do to lessen their environmental impact. But they are the kind of things most of us forget to do or never got in the habit of. Here are some reminders.

First, buy recycled paper, then use as little of it as possible. Make sure your computer is always set to print on both sides. Don’t print unless entirely necessary. If you are paying bills for your home business, set up online bill-paying accounts.

You can also save money and electricity by plugging all your home office equipment into one power strip and then remembering to turn the strip off at night or when you’re away.


When your home office equipment stops working, it’s important to find a way to effectively recycle it. In Maine, consumers are helped by a state law that requires manufacturers to pay for the cost of recycling such e-waste as TVs, computer monitors, laptops, tablets, e-readers and desktop printers.


Some towns have an e-waste collection day or collect e-waste at their municipal transfer station, while others set up a collection site with another town. The best way to find a place that takes electronic waste near you is to go to the state DEP’s website at and search for “Help ME Recycle.”

That will produce a map of the state which lists transfer stations that accept computer equipment, fluorescent light bulbs, and electronics – including TVs – for recycling. Though the cost of recycling is covered by manufacturers, municipal transfer stations and recycling centers will usually charge a fee to pay for the cost of their operation. In Greater Portland, the city-owned Riverside Recycling Facility on Riverside Street in Portland accepts a wide variety of e-waste, including TVs and computers.

EWaste Recycling Solutions in Auburn, a company that deconstructs electronic waste for recycling, holds collection events as benefits for local groups around the state. People are asked to donate money to a group as they drop off their stuff. One such event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 4 at 11 Municipal Drive, Scarborough, to benefit the Scarborough Band Boosters.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

Twitter: @RayRouthier

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