Waste Less at Work: Employee Edition

Are you trying to be more environmentally friendly at home? Are you taking steps to reduce your waste and plastic use? If yes, then work might be getting you down. Let us help you take back your power and lead by example with these environmentally friendly suggestions.

Businesses are renowned for taking the path of least resistance, which often means generating a lot of trash. This article will give you some suggestions for how to manage this. Don’t underestimate how as one employee you can make a difference. 

1. Coffee Mugs

Many offices have coffee machines or tea stations. If yours has paper cups then beware. Each so-called paper cup is lined with a thin plastic film. It cannot be recycled. It is single use plastic. Bring your own mug to wash and reuse. You may even consider donating some of your old mugs. That way a few are available for others to use. You can remind people: it’s nicer to drink out of ceramic anyway!

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2. BYO Water Bottle

This might be a no-brainer, but make sure you have a water bottle with you at all times. We are blessed to live in places with clean drinking water from the tap. Take advantage of that. Do not accept plastic water bottles. Refill your own. If anyone asks, you might like to explain that you don’t want to drink the thousands of microplastics in each plastic bottle. For more information, check out this 2018 study.

3. Cutlery

If you work in an office where lunch is sometimes ordered in, then it is highly likely there is plastic cutlery in the delivery. If you are getting takeaway at lunch, the restaurant might only offer single use plastic cutlery. You can avoid this waste. It is super easy to have your own set with you. Borrow from your collection at home or go to an op shop. An op shop gives you a chance to get unique pieces, which can be fun. It’s cheap too.

4. Microwaves

Do you heat your food in the microwave? Avoid this if at all possible. If you really want to use this reheating method then at least make sure your food isn’t in plastic. When plastic is heated, chemicals are leached into your food. You are probably trying to be healthy by packing a lunch. Try not to undo some of that good with the microwave.

5. Plates & Bowls

Speaking of heating something other than plastic, what can you use? Invest in glass containers (or stainless steel – but definitely don’t heat any metals). Also keep a plate and bowl at work. That way you can transfer your lunch if you need to reheat. You can also avoid a Styrofoam (gasp!) or paper plate when lunch is catered. You may get some questions if you bring your own plate and cutlery, so read on to the next point.

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6. Be Patient & Resilient

You will likely get comments from colleagues if you are doing something different. That is how society-at-large operates. So don’t be shy to explain why you’re bringing your own goods. Be proud but not condescending. Shame will not get you far. Taking a positive, excited approach will do more good than you imagine. Take the time to explain how easy it is. Educate where someone is open to it. And let it go when someone is not.

7. Watch your use of Office Supplies

Do you use and lose pen after pen? They are single use plastic too. If you must use a pen then take care of it. Use it to the end of its life. If possible, make the switch to a pencil. For things like binders and folders, reuse the ones you have. Avoid the temptation to throw something out because it gets a little tear or looks a bit worn. We have a disposable mentality. Become more aware of this, and set an example of reusing what you have.

8. Be Mindful of Printing & Photocopies

Even though single use plastic is the hot topic, we all know that paper comes from trees. With deforestation and the burning of the Amazon and Australia, our planet would benefit greatly from our reduction of paper use. Print and photocopy only if you must. Print or photocopy double sided. Use old presentations and printouts as scrap paper instead of a notebook.

9. Skip the Paper Towel

If your office doesn’t have an air dryer in the toilet, then opt to skip the paper towel. You’ll be surprised by how quickly your hands will dry by shaking them. If you really want to dry them more, then wipe them off on your lower pant legs. The water will dry quickly. Conversely, if you feel you must use paper towel, then take one small piece. Use it thoroughly. A second is not needed if you utilise the one you have.

10. Talk to Purchasing

If you want to take your involvement a step further, find out who buys the office supplies. There will likely be a department in a large organisation. In a smaller company, it could be one person. Talk to them about ways to become greener. There are many resources on the Internet. One easy change is buying toilet paper wrapped in paper, not plastic. A great company is Who Gives A Crap. Their toilet paper is made without cutting down trees. It does not come wrapped in plastic. They donate 50% of their profits to building toilets in underprivileged areas. Win-win-win. 

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11. Transportation

How do you get to work every morning? It is said that driving is a huge contributor of emissions. Not driving will have a significant impact on a personal level to your environmental footprint. If you can take a bus, ride a bicycle, ride a scooter, or walk that is ideal. If those are not options, then consider a carpool with a colleague. While this may mean some slight inconveniences, you can sleep well knowing you are helping the planet.

Do not underestimate how much your actions can inspire others. Lead by example. Don’t be bothered by comments from those who don’t know better. As we said above, be patient. Take the time to explain what you’re doing if they’re open to it.

You are planting seeds, and need to trust that they will grow in their own time.

In closing, each choice matters. Every little effort helps. Anything on this list does good! Thank you for the ways you are already making a difference. We hope you are inspired to take more positive action after reading this. Please share if you think your colleagues or friends would benefit from knowing these simple tips for the workplace.
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written by alison starratt