If you've adopted the zero-waste lifestyle in your daily life and at home, you can also take this practice into your workplace and work to achieve a zero-waste office. Many people spend a considerable amount of their days in their offices. As a result, we must consider the impact of our waste within the workplace as much as at home.
Although some companies have sustainable practices ingrained in their policies, others simply don't. Whether you work in an established zero-waste office or looking to make a difference, there are various ways to reduce office waste. The zero waste journey is a continuous practice in our daily lives. This should apply to office spaces as well.
This article will discover practical ways to establish a zero-waste office.
One of the more prominent discussions within today's sustainable living space is switching to a zero-waste lifestyle. People are looking for ways to put a year's worth of trash into mason jars. People are becoming more conscious of their choices and purchases. Although we see many examples of environmentally-friendly tips for personal lifestyle changes, how do we bring these into the office? After all, offices play a significant role in society and how we go about our lives.
In its simplest terms, zero waste entails principles focused on waste prevention. This applies throughout product life cycles - from extraction down to disposal.
By adopting a closed-loop system, waste generated becomes a useful resource. In theory, this is beneficial to the environment. However, reducing waste becomes more practical with the reality of waste products - from packaging waste to other items. From this examination, we can establish a zero-waste office as one that strives toward sending nothing to landfills.
Apart from physical office supplies and other products, a zero-waste company also pays attention to energy use. At its core, such an office has eco-conscious workers and has responsibility in its policy. Such policy targets generating less waste and reducing the office's carbon footprint.
Establishing sustainability goals and building a green team are essential practices when going zero waste in the office. Offices generate tons of waste every year.
For instance, the average office worker makes use of 10,000 copy paper sheets each year2. Imagine the amount of paper that ends up as trash. There are various small to large steps that office workers and employers can take to ensure an eco-friendly workspace. Here are some tips for building a zero-waste office, whether you're self-employed, an employer, or an employee.
Paper is one of the most prominent office supplies. As a result, it constitutes a significant amount of an office's waste. Reducing paper use is one of the first steps to prioritizing waste reduction.
In today's digital age, it's easy to avoid printing in some cases where we can share digital copies. An eco-friendly office culture embraces a conscious paper approach. There are cases where workers need to print certain documents. In such cases, the deliberate practice would be to only print when necessary and only print the essential pages. Some of the zero-waste tips for paper usage include:
Avoid printing when you can easily share a document electronically.
Printing on both sides helps reduce the number of papers you'll need for printing.
Sometimes, we make errors and realize them only after printing. This leads to using even more papers. By proofreading and previewing a document, you can prevent mistakes and therefore print less.
The best thing about reducing paper usage is that it benefits the environment and the business. It can help an office space save money you would otherwise spend on buying paper. Also, this translates to less packaging waste.
Further reading: We have a deeper dive into practical steps you can take to reduce paper waste in the office for more ideas.
Undoubtedly, every office requires certain supplies: these aid productivity and efficiency in the workspace. The downside is that many of these constitute waste due to the materials manufacturers use to make them.
Alternatively, there are various swaps you can make when addressing office supplies. The first step is to audit the office supplies the company already uses. Afterward, you can make a list of eco-friendly alternatives that'll help the company reduce waste. Whether you're an employer or employee, you can make suggestions that contribute to eco-friendly choices.
Below are some eco-friendly product and swap suggestions:
Here we've selected some of the best sustainable products under the pens and pencils category.
You can reuse paper clips over and over again, thereby helping to reduce waste.
Plastic tapes are difficult to recycle as they contain polypropylene, which poses difficulties in recycling. Offices can switch to alternatives like paper and plant-based tapes.
These include recycled eco-friendly paper and other recycled and recyclable supplies. By doing so, you'll be supporting recycling efforts in the community.
Using reusable office supplies can significantly make your office zero waste. You can also get creative with it by using scrap paper for notes and other uses.
Most places of work will ship goods or packages to customers or partners at some point. Additionally, with the rise in home shopping and eCommerce, many more businesses offer online shopping.
If you work in a business that regularly ships products, a simple step you can take is ensuring as much as possible that the packaging is sustainable and eco-friendly. Ditching plastic bubble wraps, opting for recycled paper, and double-checking paper products come from sustainable sources all help to prevent waste along the supply chain.
Due to the nature of office spaces, you will no doubt find waste products that you can recycle into useful pieces. Office staff and management personnel can encourage the recycling process by encouraging staff members.
For sustained effort, management should provide recycle bins that encourage sorting out recyclable items. Recycle stations can also be set up around the workplace to encourage people to sort out their trash.
Offices may establish an in-office recycling program or choose to partner with external recycling programs like TerraCycle. You should separate items you can recycle in the office, such as glass, paper, and metal. You can also properly throw away food scraps with a general compost bin.
One of the best ways to reduce office waste is by switching to mainly reusable containers and products. This prevents the rate at which you toss out items. It helps to reduce the need to recycle as well constantly.
General office areas often have items that everyone can use and enjoy. For instance, everyday eating or relaxation areas often have water dispensers and cups. Instead of stocking the office with disposable cups, why not switch to water glasses and mugs? Or encourage people to come in with personal items such as a reusable water bottle.
The management can switch to dispensers in workspaces that still rely on plastic water bottles, which are not good for the environment. Dispenser bottles, in place of single-use plastic bottles, can help a company cut down on its plastic reliance and "throw-away culture" as people refill their own.
Bathrooms are another area where waste adds up. Rather than disposable paper towels, consider switching to reusable ones and eco-friendly toilet paper. But soap for your dispensers in bulk rather than lots of smaller plastic bottles, or even better, go for zero waste hand soaps.
Food waste is one of the main challenges within households and office spaces. If you're applying zero-waste food practices within the home, you can bring these into the office environment.
Food waste contributes around 8 to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Studies also show that we waste 30% of the food we produce. Office spaces will keep contributing to this global challenge without tackling this issue.
Although this challenge primarily starts at an individual level, it can become an established office practice. When you go into the office, be mindful of what you take in and how you dispose of it.
When office buildings and complexes provide compost bins, it can prevent food waste from ending up in landfills. This further encourages workers to become conscious of how they throw food out. If your workplace doesn't offer compost bins, you can bring in your container to drop scraps. So, instead of simply trashing your leftovers, you can put your banana peels and other scraps to good use. Below are more tips to help you reduce food waste in the workplace.
Related: Not sure what you can and can't compost? Have a read of our guide for helpful tips that apply in the office and at home.
Still, on the subject of food, why not consider office snacks that can support the practice of reducing waste? When you bring in products that have lots of wrappers and materials, it contributes to waste in the trash bins.
Everyone needs something to snack on from time to time, and you can maintain an eco-friendly attitude to this. Choosing zero or low-waste snacks translates to better choices for you and the environment. Plus, you'd be surprised by how innovative you get with choosing your snacks.
You can switch from packaged snacks to package-free and plastic-free options as a part of your zero-waste program. Below are some zero and low-waste office snack ideas:
Another way to reduce waste is by packing your own lunch. How often have you or your co-workers settled for takeout during lunch breaks? These usually come in lots of packaging materials and disposable containers that contribute to waste.
When you pack your lunch, you can consciously choose the containers you bring into the office. It helps to reduce waste from wrappers, plastic bottles, and disposable cutlery. Instead, opt for a reusable container, reusable water bottle, and personal cutlery, or for a container designed specifically for the job, an eco-friendly lunchbox.
Make it a habit to have a reusable bag that contains all your zero-waste essentials. Your reusable bag can also hold your tumbler or bottle, preventing using single-use plastic.
E-waste may not be a top-of-mind consideration for many companies, but it plays a role in environmental issues. In today's world, it's almost impossible to visit any office or company that doesn't use electronics.
Technology is constantly developing, and companies always look for ways to improve efficiency. As a result, this often leads to tossing out old or outdated electronic items. There's usually less consideration given to old electronics and their role in waste.
We often first consider smaller items like plastic and paper when we think of recycling. However, especially within the office environment, it's important to give considerable thought to recycling electronics to reduce e-waste.
Each year, the world produces 50 million tonnes of e-waste1, which could rise to 120 million by 2050. Although some old items may be unusable, many others are in working condition. So, what zero-waste tips can office spaces benefit from to prevent this waste?
Sometimes companies toss out gadgets and electronics that are still in working condition. Due to the constant growth in technology, there's always something new that technology giants are developing.
As a result, many companies feel the need to update their electronics. Instead of throwing these items away, companies can donate or sell them to those who need them. For instance, your company can donate computers to public schools.
Another way to prevent waste is through recycling. Some retailers offer in-store and drop-off options as part of their sustainability programs. By dropping items off to be recycled, you're saving valuable parts. The manufacturers can use these parts to develop other items.
Office appliances and electronics require proper care. Without good care, these devices are prone to damage. When offices prioritize regular maintenance checks for electronics, it can help extend their lifespan.
Energy efficiency is also a necessary aspect we should consider when discussing electronics. By choosing products marked as energy-efficient, offices will be protecting the environment and saving money. When considering such products, you can look out for Energy Star products. This symbol helps you identify electronics that minimize energy use as must as possible, thereby helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Related: How to save electricity at work
A zero-waste office is a significant contribution to a sustainable world and economy. There are many ways office complexes can begin to introduce zero-waste policies into their spaces.
Even in cases where workplaces don't have such policies, individuals can suggest improvements. Changes such as reducing paper, creating recycling options, and switching to eco-friendly products are necessary. We can start creating healthier environments from small individual changes to larger organizational ones.
Ryder, G. & Houlin, Z. (2019, January 24). The world’s e-waste is a huge problem. It’s also a golden opportunity. World Economic Forum
Illinois Library. (2021, June 23). Paper use and recycling
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.