Ways to reduce waste at work

By Ana DeVito

The workplace sometimes feels like another world. It can be difficult to transition habits from your home life to your work life, without fear of judgement. But there are worse things to be judged for than living a low waste lifestyle, so instead of hiding it, flaunt it and maybe inspire others to do the same.

Here are 8 easy ways to reduce waste at work.

1. Skip Takeout and Pack Your Lunch

I understand why buying lunch is an appealing option. Waking up in the morning, and making the effort to pack a balanced meal, can seem daunting. Plus, taking a lunch break outdoors means escaping your coworkers for some well-deserved ‘me time.’

But, if you’re making the transition to zero waste, buying lunch every day is not sustainable. There are two major issues with buying lunch. One, it’s expensive. And two, it’s rarely zero waste.

We all know that spending $15 on a salad every afternoon is not sustainable for your wallet, so I won’t get into problem number one. I would like to focus on problem number two, takeout lunches are not environmentally sustainable.

Takeout involves so much waste. Prepared foods are usually wrapped in plastic and then put in a box. The box is placed in a paper bag, which is reinforced by a plastic bag. And all of this packaging is accompanied by single-use plastic utensils (that are often also wrapped in plastic).

When you make lunch at home, you choose how your food is packaged. Plastic wrap can be replaced with beeswax food wraps. Plastic packaging like zip-lock bags can be replaced with infinitely reusable stainless steel containers. Bags can be replaced with lunch boxes. Plastic utensils can be replaced with reusable ones and paper napkins can be replaced with linen alternatives.

But, if you do choose to buy your lunches, know that there are still ways to reduce the waste. For example, you can keep a set of reusable utensils and cloth napkins at your desk. That way you can tell the cashier, “no” to plastic utensils and paper napkins.

2. Hydrate without paper or plastic

A trip to the water cooler doesn’t have to include the use of a plastic or paper cup. Make sure you have a reusable water bottle that is specifically for the workplace. Give it a home at your desk and resist the urge to grab a single-use plastic bottle from the communal fridge.

3. Recycle and compost

Ask your employer if they’d be interested in instituting a recycling and composting program in the office. If not, take it upon yourself to leave a designated compost jar on your desk. After your jar is filled with tea leaves and apple cores, bring it home to finish the job.

4. Use fountain pens

Single-use plastic ballpoint pens dry up very quickly because the ink is easily exposed to air. With fountain pens, the ink does not dry as quickly, which means fewer are discarded to end up in our landfills. Even better, many fountain pens are refillable. So you can purchase one quality metal pen, and continuously buy ink, making for not only an eco-friendly but a wallet-friendly purchase. As they say, quality over quantity.

5. Drink from reusable mugs

Caffeinate without creating waste. Keep a reusable travel coffee cup at the office. Every time you head to the company kitchen, fill up your mug instead of a paper cup. When your coworker asks if you want to accompany them to the local coffee shop, bring your travel mug and ask the barista to make your drink inside. Travel mugs are the waste-free solution to workday pick-me-ups.

6. Use hand towels

Here’s a zero waste necessity that’s sure to come in handy — a linen hand towel. Keep your own linen towel in the office bathroom. Then, you can wash your hands in the workplace without using a paper towel or electric air dryer.

7. Print double-sided documents

Just as legible with half the waste. There is no need to print single sided.

8. Advocate for eco-friendly company activities

Most employers today offer opportunities to volunteer. Volunteering with your workplace can not only benefit a cause that you care about, but can also improve bonding and relations between coworkers. Take part in these company-wide volunteer outings, and make suggestions for green activities. It’s a great way to educate your coworkers about environmental issues. You can inspire others to take actions to reduce waste.