How to be Zero Waste in Your Office
Offices are notorious for being an eco-disaster. From junky coffee machines to wasted paper and endless disposable coffee cups, most offices are an environmentalists nightmare.
As the majority of our time awake is spent in offices (unless you're lucky enough to be able to work from home or not work at all), developing and implementing sustainable practices will drastically help your carbon footprint and trash output.
But you do not need to spend any money to implement these practices, nor do you have to fear like looking like a sustainability nut if that’s a concern of yours. Personally, most all my coworkers know that I’m a tree hugger and support my lifestyle, although they might joke and roll their eyes when I talk about finding compostable floss (true story).
I’ve broken this post up into two sections. The first are the actions you can implement for yourself to personally help out the earth.
The second part are changes you can try to make around your workplace to help your office.
Bonus, these things don’t require any money!
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Personal Zero Waste Actions
1. Bring your Lunch
Skip the expensive lunches out that comes wrapped in plastic and with a hefty price tag.
Instead, opt for bringing your own in a container. I personally love these glass ones if I need to heat up food. The downside of them is that they are a bit heavy (I consider it another way to get a workout in). If I have some snacks like protein balls or trail mix, I'll throw it in this stainless steel airtight/watertight container. But if you have a cold lunch, I highly recommend this stainless steel bento container with three separate sections.
2. Use reusable utensils
6 million tons of non durable plastics such as plastic utensils are discarded every year.
An easy switch is to use a reusable set! If your work place doesn’t supply them, I suggest bringing in some from your home.
Don’t have any to spare? Check out your local thrift store!
Still no luck, check out this lightweight bamboo set. I personally take these with me everywhere and love that they come in a case so I cant find them easily in my bag.
3. Use hand dryers rather
Rather than take a paper towel from the bathroom to dry your hands, try using a hand dryer, or wipe your hands a quick wipe on your pants (I do this haha).
Although paper towels aren’t plastic menaces, the energy used to produce and ship them is enormous. Adding to that, most paper towels are thrown into the garabge where they starved of the oxygen and room to decompose safely so they end up producing methane, which is 24 times worse for the environment that Co2.
Hand dryers will be the greener choice in about 95 percent of circumstances over paper towels.
4. Save your food scraps
Brought an apple to work and now have a core to deal with? Throw it in your empty lunch container and bring home with you to compost.
Really this works for any kind of food scraps like avocado pits, leftover lunch bits, tea leaves, etc.
5. Bring a mug
4 billion Starbucks cups alone are thrown away each year.
In case you weren’t aware, their cups aren’t recyclable even though they claim they are due to the coating on the inside of the cup to keep it from dissolving.
Add in the other popular coffee chains and their plastic and styrofoam cups (cough cough, Dunkin Donuts) and we have a massive global issue on our hands.
Instead of forking over a crap ton of money for burnt coffee in single-use plastic, opt for making your own at home and bringing it in a reusable thermos. Not only will you help save the planet, but you can also save big bucks (in my case, I save \$650 per year!)!
RELATED: My Zero Waste Coffee Routine
6. Bring a water bottle
Single-use plastic water bottles are the bane of every zero waster’s life.
Strike one: Plastic, like the ones from single-use water bottles, can only be downcycled meaning that it can only be recycled into another item once.
Strike two: Scientists estimate that five million to 13 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. This stuff does not naturally biodegrade, so we will be stuck with it and its environmental ramifications for many many years to come.
Strike three: The carbon footprint of one single use plastic water bottle is 82.8 grams of carbon. Considering we consume 563 billion plastic water bottles every year, we end up producing 46 billion tonnes of carbon pollution on a global scale solely due to our ‘disposable’ plastic water bottle habits.
Avoid all of that by brining in your own water bottle. I love my double insulated one from Klean Kanteen because it keeps my water cold through many, many meetings. But any upcycled pasta jar will work well too!
7. Drink loose leaf tea
Something that has shocked me and that I think a lot of the rest of the zero waste community is just now realizing is that tea bags contain plastic. Little tiny plastic threads are woven into the fiber of the tea bag to ensure it doesn't dissolve in hot water.
I sometimes see photos of gardeners pulling out plastic shells of tea bags from their gardens because people don’t realize that tea bags aren’t compostable.
The easiest solution is to buy loose leaf tea! Either throw the tea leaves is in a metal strainer or use a bamboo straw that has holes at the bottom for instant filtration.
8. Make coffee at home
If your office only has Keurig with the plastic disposable pods, consider making your coffee at home.
The pods are so bad for the environment that the man who invented it openly regrets it.
I find that not only do I feel better not throwing those pods away, but I genuinely enjoy how much better my coffee at home tastes because I can easily customize it.
9. Take the stairs
While the exact number of energy output from taking the escalator or elevator has yet to be narrowed down, there is a broad consensus that "taking four rides a day (arrive at work, go out for lunch, return, then go home) in a typical workplace elevator produces 0.3-0.6kg of CO2 per person per day." While this may not the most pressing environmental issue, anything does help.
Plus, the exercise from taking the stairs every time does add up, hopefully help saving you doctor costs in the long run.
10. Say no to freebies
If you’re in a client facing role who attends conferences etc, you are probably exposed to tons of ‘freebies’. I personally experience this in my line of work.
Pens, pads of paper, umbrellas all with company names are thrown around willy nilly for promotional purposes. While I understand the marketing tactics behind it, it’s terrible for the environment.
These ‘freebies’ make the environment pays for it.
Every time we take one, we tell these organizations that they need to replace it, contributing to another plastic creation and the energy involved to make and transport it where it will most likely end up in the landfill.
For real, when was the last time you actually used up all the ink from a pen you got from your dentist's’ office?
While these were actions you can take personally to impact your own trash and greenhouse gas emissions, there are a few more actions you can take to impact your entire company.
Office Wide Zero Waste Actions
11. Try to get composting for whole company
People most likely throw their banana peels, leftover lunch scarps, and coffee grounds into the trash.
Help divergent that organic material from ending up in a compressed landfill where it will contribute to potent methane production and instead see if your company would be open to composting!
If your company doesn’t have compost bins, see if there’s a local company that provides a compost pick up service.
Now most of the time, organizations need a monetary incentive to pay for services like this. To get this ball rolling, I suggest going to your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team.
There are a bunch of marketing benefits from a company going green like, for example, attracting greater talent. Many job seekers look for organizations with sustainable practices. According to this study, career fair attendees reported greater attraction to organizations with environmentally friendly practices even when up against the most desirable employers at the career fair.
Use facts like this to make your case about how composting at your company would not only be good for the environment but would be good press for your organization too!
12. Teach recycling protocols
Similar to recycling, if your company doesn’t have a recycling program (or if they don’t do it right) see if you can teach a workshop.
Although my company does have a recycling program, I still see styrofoam cups in there (a big no-no) among other non recycling items. I’ve since created visual printouts of what can and cannot be recycled and stuck them on the bins so people have to see them before they throw them out. It has helped cut down on the amount of non-recyclables in the recycling bin dramatically.
13. Get Hand dryers
If your bathroom at work only supplies paper hand towels, see if you can install a hand dryer.
According to this article, hand dryers will be the greener choice in about 95 percent of circumstances.
This is due to the production and transportation of the logs to the factory, the energy used to make the towels and the toxic chemicals used in that process, the transportation emissions of the towels to your company, and the cleaning chemicals used to clean up after the used towels end up on counters and floors.
Save a tree, use a hand dryer (or if you’re like me, use the ‘wave-your-hands-frantically- around-you-to-shake-off-water-then-pat-dry-on-your-pants method).
14. Get reusable Keurig pods
If your company does have a Keurig but only have the plastic pods, see about getting a reusable pod!
All you have to do is scoop in coffee grounds, plop it into the machine like normal, and then tap the pod on the rim of your compost/mason-jar-travel-compost/trash bin to free the grounds and let someone else use it.
Although I still recommend making your coffee at home to have better control of your trash output, this is a easy step in the right direction for others how might not be so environmentally inclined.
15. Set a good example!
I think this one is the most important. Set a good example!
When others see you pulling out your metal container full of snacks or you thermos of coffee every day, they’ll start to take notice. In my case, a couple of my co-workers asked me about it and I told them why I do it. A couple of days later, one of them came in with a reusable thermos and water bottle to match me! I was so touched to know that by just setting a good example and living my life, I inspired him to do the same.
People are more open to change when it’s not being shoved down their throats.
And although my co worker still uses plastic food items, cutting down on his styrofoam coffee cup and plastic water bottle addiction has certainly helped the environment.
Wrapping it up!
Thanks for sticking through this longer post -- I hope you enjoyed it :)
I know that sometimes living a zero waste lifestyle can be daunting when in public, and it’s still something I struggle with to this day. I wish I was as badass as some of the other zero wasters I look up to.
That being said, anything and everything helps. I hope this inspired you to start putting actions to your thoughts and live a more sustainable lifestyle, even when at work!
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Hi, I'm Taylor
Amateur adult. Zero waste zealot. Personal finance fiend. Spicy food supporter. I’m an mid 20’s gal living in Denver, Colorado. My love of the outdoors has cultivated my zero waste lifestyle, which inadvertently fueled my passion for personal finance. Cheers to everyone interested in lessening their footprint while growing their wallet!