9 Tips for Staying Zero Waste at Work

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9 Tips for Staying Zero Waste at Work
02 May 2022
5 min read
TWN Special

Post Highlight

You want to get rid of the garbage in your life, but you don't know where to start. I mean, how are we supposed to navigate the maze of garbage that enters our lives daily?
While it may appear difficult, keep in mind that you do not have to slash all of your trash in one swoop. Making any lifestyle change takes time, and reducing your waste – including what goes in your recycling bin – is no exception. That is why I have compiled this list to assist you in getting started. Yes, I’m talking about Zero Waste Tips!
While we can all do our part, it's also important to remember that our garbage problem is not your fault. Your actions will not solve our trash problem on their own. Long-term solutions can only be achieved by changing how products are designed and packaged, as well as how our waste is managed in general – and you can help with these efforts as well. More information can be found in our bonus tip! #TWN

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It can be challenging to maintain a zero-waste workplace, especially if your job produces a lot of waste.

I've gotten a lot of emails and complaints from nurses to house flippers about how much trash their jobs generate.

While many of us can do small things in our personal lives, translating those to the workplace can be difficult because many of us lack the control and authority to see these types of initiatives implemented.

But first, I'd like to state that trash happens.

And, in some cases, especially in the medical and scientific fields, waste is required to keep everyone healthy. That’s why we all need Zero Waste Tips.

My friend used to work in a print shop, which is a notoriously wasteful industry.

The shop he worked in did an excellent job of promoting eco-friendly materials and sustainable alternatives, but he was surprised by the number of negative emails he received telling him, "You can't be zero waste; you work in a print shop!"

I'm sure many of us have jobs that don't completely align with our values.

Yes, there was a lot of waste at the print shop, but he felt what he was doing was important.

He was assisting people in making better decisions.

In fact, I don't think you should rush out and apply to only sustainable companies if you want to start living a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

We need people who care about the environment to work in the most wasteful industries to change them from the inside out.

Consider this: you could be responsible for hundreds of tonnes of waste reduction. Making changes from within will be slow and difficult, but how rewarding will it be when it all pays off?

All of this to say, no matter what your job is, there are ways to reduce your personal waste.

But, of course, I'll be discussing ways to reduce waste in the workplace as a whole, such as reducing landfill output, abandoning single-use plastics, beefing up your recycling program, and possibly even starting a composting setup.

Tips for Zero Waste

Let’s explore some tips for going zero waste in the office:

1. Start with Breakfast

Many of us eat breakfast on the go, whether it's at a drive-through or a snack bar wrapped in single-use plastic.

These habits result in a large amount of packaging waste that accumulates over time.

Instead, take a more strategic approach and plan ahead of time. Making your own breakfast is a simple way to avoid single-use plastic.

If you don't have time for a sit-down breakfast, consider making some overnight oats the night before.

Store them in a jar that you can bring to work and heat up or eat cold.

Of course, there are a variety of other breakfast options that you can prepare the night before, such as granola bars, parfaits, muffins, and more. You must plan ahead of time.

When it comes to coffee and tea, if you want to grab and go, bring a travel mug with you and ask the barista to put your drink in it.

2. Pack a Trash-Free Lunch

Packing your lunch is a simple way to avoid the waste associated with takeout.

Almost everyone at the office where I used to work got their lunch to-go from nearby food trucks and cafes and brought it back to their workstations.

It resulted in a massive amount of packaging waste and was extremely costly!

Pack your lunch in reusable containers such as glassware, metal tiffins, or stasher bags to save money and reduce packaging waste.

Rather than brown-bagging it, buy a reusable lunch box or bags.

I love my two-tiered tiffin, but if you prefer a bag, you might like this organic cotton lunch sack.

If your office does not have a kitchen with real cups and cutlery, keep those in your lunch bag.

In terms of your actual meal, try to eat something plant-based.

It's even better if you include foods that are in season and grown locally.

3. Make a Compost Plan

If you want to live a more sustainable trash-free life, you'll probably eat a lot more productively.

After all, what could be a more convenient zero-waste snack than an apple, orange, or banana?

As a result, you'll most likely end up with some compost.

If your workplace is environmentally conscious and progressive, they may provide on-site composting, which is fantastic!

However, in my experience, your office is more likely to not provide compost, so bring an extra container from home.

I brought an old plastic Tupperware container with me to work and stored it in my freezer.

I'd fill it with tea leaves, banana peels, and other food scraps, then take it home and add my scraps to the compost heap in my backyard.

4. Stock your Work Kitchen

If your office kitchen isn't stocked with reusables, consider bringing a set of dishes to use.

I brought a few plates, bowls, flatware, and tea strainers from the thrift store for a few dollars to my office.

I always encouraged everyone to use the dishes, and it was great to see so many of my coworkers preferring reusables over disposables.

We'd often have food catered for birthdays or holidays, and instead of using disposable dishes, I'd grab my reusable plate and save a lot of trash.

If you want to take it a step further, talk to your boss about stocking the office kitchen with reusable plates, mugs, cups, and utensils so that everyone has access to zero waste alternatives.

I'm writing a blog post about how to start a green team at work.

And, if you already have a green team dedicated to making the office more environmentally friendly, this would be an excellent project, to begin with.

5. Eco-friendly Office Supplies

The most eco-friendly thing you can do is reuse your existing office supplies because don't we all have a drawer full of plastic pens? Is it just me?

When you've exhausted all of your supplies, think about switching to eco-friendly alternatives.

One of my favorite aspects of my desk is how few office supplies I need and how easily everything stays organized.

I only have two pencils, two fountain pens, a bottle of ink, a pencil highlighter, a notebook, a calendar, a stapleless stapler, and scrap paper made from single-sided misprints.

I also keep a few cloth napkins and rags in my desk drawer, as well as a cute mug and a 32 Oz mason jar for water.

My desk is clutter-free, which helps to keep my mind active, and I adore it.

Of course, if you're looking for a new project to tackle with your green team at work, consider switching over all of the office supplies to their eco-friendly counterparts.

6. Reduce your Paper Use

Try to give your printer a break.

If you're used to receiving presentation decks from every meeting, request that digital versions be emailed to you rather than printed copies. Instead of using the printout, everyone can take notes in a notebook.

This will save a lot of paper and help everyone stay more organized.

And, I mean, how many times do you actually refer to your presentation notes?

Also, if you need to print something, do so on both sides!

And, if you're looking for more ideas for your green team, try to get your workplace to stock 100 percent recycled paper because if you're not buying products made from recycled materials, are you recycling?

7. Commute Greener

It's no secret that commuting harms the environment, especially if you drive. Instead, why not make your commute more environmentally friendly by carpooling or taking public transportation?

Consider walking or biking to work if you live close enough!

I have a 30-minute rule for myself. I prefer to walk or bike if it is less than a 30-minute walk.

It makes getting around town much easier and reduces emissions.

Setting up a carpool program is another excellent task for the green team.

Spreadsheets to see where people live and who can conveniently pick up who on the way to work and organize days of the week when people can come in together to reduce overall emissions.

8. Advocate for Recycling and Compost Bins

How is your office's recycling going? Is it almost non-existent? So, how about composting?

I'm guessing that many people don't know what your city accepts for recycling and, as a result, cross-contaminate the recycling and trash bins.

Set up a presentation and get signage that clearly states what goes in each bin, with pictures if possible!

Then, check in with the janitorial staff to ensure that everything is kept separate.

If you're feeling particularly daring, you could even set up a composting station.

A waste audit, in my opinion, is an excellent way to demonstrate to your boss how much waste is being discarded unnecessarily.

Businesses pay for trash collection, whereas recycling collection is usually free.

So, if you can demonstrate that you can divert x number of pounds from the landfill, you could potentially save your company a lot of money!

9. Be a Leader in Sustainability on your Job

When you've mastered the art of reducing waste on the job, it's time to take it to the next level.

Most businesses have a long list of sustainability goals and/or greenhouse gas emission targets, but the majority of them fail to meet them. It is where you come into play!

Make a list of ideas for how to reduce your company's environmental impact and help them achieve its goals.

I've given a lot of ideas in this blog post about how you can spread the sustainability message beyond yourself and influence the company, but here are a few more to get your wheels turning!

  • Install electric hand dryers instead of paper towels.
  • Set up bike storage to encourage people to bike to work.
  • Install electric vehicle chargers.
  • Talk to the caterer or cafeteria about reducing food waste and providing more reusable options.
  • Recommend a book on sustainable living for the book club.

Being zero waste at work and authentically living your values, as always, piques others' interest and starts conversations about eco-friendly living.

Leading by example can inspire change much more quickly than you might think!