When you think about how to reduce plastic waste in the office, you should know that it is simpler than you think to make a difference. This is true whether your office is in the basement or downtown.
First, there’s no denying that the world has a plastic problem. Single-use plastic is more popular than ever and so is plastic production. Unfortunately, most of this plastic is not even recycled.
In fact, the U.S. recycles less than 10% of its plastic, and worldwide, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. The world has created islands of plastic that clog up the ocean and threaten the environment.
The good news is that you can take a few simple steps to reduce your environmental footprint. Here are some effective strategies you can use to reduce plastic waste in the office.
Make Lunchtime Sustainable
In the work world, when you think about how to reduce plastic waste in the office, you might consider where you go at lunchtime.
Your lunchtime routines can be a source of much of your plastic waste.
Simply making your own lunch saves a huge amount of plastic waste as well as your greenhouse gas emissions. But if you need a break after sitting in your basement on Zoom meetings for hours and have to leave the house to maintain sanity, there are options for reducing your waste.
Bring your own reusable utensils. Restaurants don’t mind this; in fact, they welcome it because it saves them money from using less takeout packaging.
Search for “reusable utensils with a case” on Amazon and you’ll see dozens and dozens of options. We like this simple, compact plastic utensil set from Sistema. It takes up so little space.
This little tweak to your routine can save hundreds of disposable forks and knives from the landfill over the years.
Also, take a pass on the plastic waste within the office by keeping some silverware on your desk at work.
One tip: you must be vigilant about reminding restaurants to hold the plastic forks when you place your order.
If you are having a pizza party, remember to dispose of your pizza boxes in a sustainable way. Despite what most people think, pizza boxes are recyclable. Or, if your local area doesn’t recycle pizza boxes, you can definitely compost pizza boxes.
The more people who do this, the closer the whole office will be to truly going green.
Go for Sustainable Office Supplies
Single-use plastic can be found in the most unexpected places in an office. That’s why it’s important to consider things like the packaging you use, as well as your stationery. You could switch to refillable pens and recycled paper or phase out printed communications altogether.
Use Recycled Paper Made From Old Coffee Cups
If you’re going to use printing paper, opt for an eco-friendly alternative such as recycled printing paper from Printworks.
Printworks has a proprietary process to separate the very thin plastic lining from the paper in beverage containers and to-go containers.
When you use this recycled paper, it is like you are catching the waste you created when you ordered out but forgot your reusable containers.
Ditch Disposable Pens
When you are assessing how to reduce plastic waste in the office, pens are probably not the first thing that comes to mind.
Pens are small but Americans throw away a lot of them, actually 1.6 billion disposable pens every year. And if you were to look around at home or in the office, you’d notice tons of unused pens laying around.
So if you still do a lot of writing in your office, consider investing in nice, refillable pens made from recycled plastic bottles. It’ll work out cheaper in the long run while reducing your carbon footprint.
We like the Pilot B2P (as in plastic “bottles to pens”). You will find the Pilot B2P pens work just like any other normal pen, but buying them diverts plastic waste from the landfill. In fact, B2P gel ink pens and B2P ballpoint pens made from 89% and 83% recycled plastic bottles respectively.
Post-consumer is the best since it means Pilot is diverting plastic waste that was destined for the landfill or incinerator.
Also, Pilot sells refills to make those pens last for years! Make sure you pay attention to the size and type of pen and get the correct one. You can get refills for gel ink or ballpoint and in .05 and .07 diameter.
If you want to refill the ballpoint versions, it is oddly hard to find the refills on Amazon since they are not listed as B2P refills. We suggest sticking with the gel versions if you want to easily refill them and have these pens last years.
If you are a little more particular about your writing instruments, Ohto sells beautiful refillable pens that write like a dream.
Ohto pens are made from aluminum, you can thus recycle them if for some reason needed to discard of them. However, you basically couldn’t ask for a more durable pen and you can use them for many, many years. The only waste will be the small plastic ink insert.
It is hard to explain, but taking notes with a fancy pen somehow makes staff meetings more bearable. Try it out and see how your co-worker droning on and on magically becomes music to your ears!
One suggestion, get plenty of refills since you’ll notice they run out of ink more quickly than the average disposable pen.
Go Paperless to Reduce Plastic Waste
Going paperless is a no-brainer nowadays. With cloud-based document storage widely available, you can save yourself tons of time hunting through paper files and notes.
Most workplaces are 100% digital nowadays so there really is no need to use paper. Stick to laptops, tablets, and phones to communicate through email blasts, Slack, etc.
If you must use paper products, go with 100% recycled paper products. We have a rundown of all the best recycled paper products you could ever need, including numerous office supplies made of recycled paper.
Get Rid of Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are like the runner-up to plastic water bottles in the International Championship of Plastic Waste.
You can keep reusable canvas bags, old plastic bags unsuccessfully avoided, or small collapsible grocery bags in your desk and in your backpack or purse.
Though you can’t always trust the B Corp label, Chicobag is a very cool B Corp that uses recycled plastic bottles to make many of their products. You can get one of their super compact collapsible grocery bags, which easily fit in your purse or backpack. It even comes with a little clip, allowing you can hang it on your bike or backpack so you never forget it.
If your business is in the retail industry and you’re still offering plastic bags; get rid of them now. You can offer reusable bags, cardboard boxes, or paper bags. As an employee, there’s no better feeling than knowing that you’re contributing to a sustainable future.
Create Recycling Hubs Will Reduce Landfill Waste
Close the loop and recycle any plastic that you use. Waste and recycling should form a key part of company culture and having one or two recycling hubs within your office will help you achieve just that.
Unlike desk bins that encourage mixing of waste and contamination, recycling hubs encourage your team to separate and recycle waste- especially plastic. Make sure there are clear instructions on the recycling hubs on what can be recycled and what can’t be. Hold a training day to educate staff on how to use recycling and watch your company culture transform.
The thing about plastic is that it can never fully break down. Instead, it turns into microplastics that end up in the ocean, contaminating the water we drink and the food we eat. We’ve talked about how microplastics from shoes and microplastics from textile waste can wreak havoc in nature.
That’s why it’s so important to do away with single-use plastic no matter how cheap and convenient it appears to be. Luckily, it’s not difficult to swap out single-use plastic with more sustainable, reusable, or recyclable alternatives.
Cultivate a More “Green” Office Culture
The more educated you are, the more empowered you’ll be to take the right action, and in this case, that means doing things that help to reduce office waste. Now, imagine if the whole team were to prioritize a more sustainable way of doing things, your office culture would transform almost overnight.
If you’re a supervisor, consider hosting a team-building event where you can share relevant information that’ll help everybody change their behavior. When people feel informed and supported, they’re much more likely to get involved.
Perform a Green Audit
If this is your first foray into green living, you probably don’t know about all the single-use items in your office. That’s why it’s important to perform a green audit where you can take stock of all the single-use items in your office.
This can be a fun team-building exercise, whether you are in an actual office or dispersed across the globe gathering only on Zoom.
Take a look at the supplies in your kitchen, bathrooms, and common areas. Identify single-use items like plastic straws, spoons, and food packages. Replace these with sustainable alternatives and recycle the rest.
Move over March Madness, you can make it a contest and crown the winner of your plastic waste reduction tournament!
Ban All Single-Use Plastic
If you really want to throw down the gauntlet with plastic waste, you can ban all single-use items in your office. Try to challenge people to stop using plastic water bottles, straws, and coffee cups from the office.
Do this on the same day or right after your team-building event to make the most of the momentum built up by the event and encourage consistency. Work together to come up with solutions and make sure that everyone feels involved in the decision-making process.
Consider canceling your water cooler subscription and using tap water since delivered water systems are comparable to single use plastic water bottles when it comes to global warming. Also, avoid vending machines to reduce accessibility to single-use containers.
A good old-fashioned coffee machine is another sustainable refreshment alternative that’s totally worth investing in. And make sure to pair it with reusable coffee mugs because conventional coffee cups are not recyclable as they’re lined with plastic.
Try to avoid the Keurig-style coffee machines which create a lot of waste. Get your inner-barista on and use a pour over coffee maker. But if you must use a coffee machine with single-use coffee pods, switch to recyclable pods instead.
If you offer straws at work or have a business in the hospitality industry, consider offering alternatives like metal straws or biodegradable paper straws instead.
Go Reusable and Market Your Brand
Instead of using disposable plastic cups at the water cooler, opt for reusable or recyclable paper cups. Or better yet, bring your own reusable water bottle to work.
As a team leader, you can provide access to reusable bowls, plates, cups, and metal straws so your staff doesn’t have to use single-use items.
You can even provide company-branded reusable containers for the staff to use, like reusable water bottles from Klean Kanteen.
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