From offices trading in stuffy cubicles for open-concept layouts to the huge shift to home workstations, office spaces have undergone some substantial changes in the past couple of decades.
While no one knows exactly what the future holds for these workspaces, we predict that the next shift will be toward the zero waste office—the answer to preserving the planet’s resources while also benefiting businesses, employees, and consumers.
What is Zero Waste?
Zero waste is an eco-initiative that aims to eliminate waste so nothing gets filtered into landfills, the ocean, or incinerators. This movement significantly propelled forward by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), aims to create a circular economy in order to reduce the alarming rate we are consuming natural resources and filling landfills.
How do you embrace zero waste as a business?
- Encourage employees to create less waste
- Embrace low waste office supplies
- Create products that support consumer’s zero waste lifestyles
- Be mindful of how resources like water and energy are being used
- Ethically source materials
- Recycle and compost
To achieve the above, one invaluable resource is the zero waste hierarchy—an expansion of the internationally recognized “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” model. This tiered guide can not only assist with consumer decisions, but also help guide businesses to roll out products and services to support the initiative.
If it seems complicated, we promise it is easier than it sounds! Below you will find three actionable steps to start converting your office to zero waste today.
1. Get Employees on Board
Implementing zero waste practices into the workplace will be a lot more successful if you get your team on board. You want to make sure that they know why the company is going zero waste and what kind of changes to expect. A few ways to engage your employees include:
Doing a Group Challenge
Try a 30-day zero waste challenge or a week long zero waste cooking challenge. Make sure it feels like a shared experience by hosting a group on a social media platform for anyone participating. This will be a place to announce daily aspects of the challenge and allow participants to discuss any hardships encountered, give advice, and offer encouragement.
Running a Seminar
Get a zero waste expert in to talk about the concept and look at some changes that can be made around the office. This is a great starting point if this is a foreign concept to most of your team.
Volunteer as a company with a local organization with a cause that ties into zero waste, such as a beach cleanup or community garden project, and gather volunteers from the office. Volunteering is a great way to introduce employees to nature preservation. Plus, it offers an opportunity to bond as a team.
Holding a Contest
Pull together a zero waste prize with items that support the initiative like a reusable mug, wax wraps for lunches, a fountain pen, etc. From there, get employees engaged by holding a contest for the basket. Get them to enter by offering ideas on how to go zero waste in the office. It not only engages them in the concept, but you might be surprised with the ideas they come up with!
2. Put Resources in Place to Make Zero Waste Easy
You want to make zero waste feel like a natural part of your office’s culture. Introducing employees is a wonderful first step to do this. However, you should also look at ways to make the transition as easy as possible and provide resources to take the initiative to the next level.
Recycling & Compost
Clearly marked compost and recycling bins are a must. Adding additional signs showing exactly what goes in each is also a good idea. Why is this important? Recycling allows materials to stay in circulation, decreasing the need for new raw materials. Then there is composting, which is essential to reduce greenhouse gas. When we throw food waste and other organic material in the garbage, they decompose without air, creating one of the largest contributors to global warming—methane. Composting is a simple solution to this issue since it allows decomposition with air. Therefore, little to no methane is released.
A billion plastic coffee pods are produced yearly—with the vast majority ending up in the landfill. Nix these polluting cups altogether and go for a single cup coffee maker with a reusable filter. Employees will still get a fresh cup of coffee, but there won’t be waste made with every brew. Want to go one step further? Create a zero waste coffee station with compostable stir sticks, porcelain mugs, and coffee, sugar, and creamer in glass jars from the bulk store.
For water cups, skip the single-use ones and get everyone to bring their own reusable water bottle to refill. In the breakroom you may also want to consider cloth napkins with a clearly marked bin for dirty ones, a set of silverware to avoid plastic utensils, and a set of real plates and bowls.
3. Rethink Traditional Office Supplies
From stashes of plastic highlighters to hordes of paper, office supply waste adds up over time. Below are a few simple zero waste office supply tips and swaps to consider.
Use What You Already Have
Sustainable options are favorable, but don’t skip using what you already have on hand to buy new supplies—it defeats the purpose since those supplies will end up in the landfill either way. If you have a surplus of supplies that you don’t want to hold on to, donate them to a local school or community art program.
The majority of pens are made from plastic that is hard to recycle and since most local recycling companies won’t take them, they end up in the garbage. Therefore, it is a good idea to switch to a fountain pen. These pens can last a lifetime and produce zero waste since they are filled with ink from a glass bottle.
Other options for eco-friendly pens include ones made from recycled plastic or biodegradable cornstarch. While these are not true zero waste options, they are still a better route than traditional plastic pens.
A stapleless stapler means you can skip the metal staples. It will also make shredding much easier since you won’t have to pull out staples.
Skip the plastic highlighters and opt for a highlighting pencil instead. It still gets the job done, but all of the shavings can be thrown in the compost. As a bonus, you won’t have to worry about it drying out.
From printing to sticky notes, paper is everywhere. To reduce paper use in the office:
- Print double-sided
- Use a smaller font size and reduce the margins
- Buy recycled paper since it requires less water to make
- Email materials for meetings instead of printing them
- Sign documents online
- Swap to a cloud-based storage system for documents
- Send digital invoices to clients instead of mailing them
- Make notes on scrap paper instead of sticky notes
Reducing office waste doesn’t happen overnight, it is the cultivation of smaller steps taken over a long period of time. By taking action now, you can start transitioning to the office of the future—an office that is ahead of the curve and doing its part to preserve the environment.