It is often said that we don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, but what we need is millions of people doing it imperfectly. This philosophy doesn’t just apply in the home, but in the workplace too. In fact, even though you might work in an industry that is wasteful by nature (for example medical professionals who employ a lot of single-use items, or people who work in publishing and print books for a living), it’s important to know that even though you may not be in a position to implemented higher level changes, there is always something you can do to limit your personal impact while inspiring others.
First way to be waste-free at work, is getting there in a least impactful way possible. This means either using public transportation, carpooling with someone, or walking or cycling, if it’s not to far way.
Figuring out more eco-friendly ways to get to the office could also be a way for co-workers to get to know each other more, for example you could draw up a map of where everyone lives and see who is closest to who, and if they’d be willing to share a ride to work.
Snacks and meals
Be sure to have reusable utensils in your purse/backpack or in your desk drawer at all times. Items such as cutlery, reusable cups or mugs, cloth napkins and a reusable water bottle should never be too far away if you want to cut down on waste. Whether you have your coffee breaks in the office, or you go for lunch in a nearby cafe or restaurant, food and drink related utensils should always be nearby. This is also and easy tip to share with colleagues and which can easily be implemented without too much of a cost for the company. Simply suggest that everyone bring their own mug, or, if your office has an on-site kitchen, considering asking your boss whether he/she would be willing to stock the work kitchen with reusable alternatives such as plates, mugs, cups, and utensils so everyone can have access to zero waste breaks.
As far as snacks are concerned plan ahead and bake goods yourself to avoid as much single-use packaging as possible, or choose to snack on an apple you got from the Farmer’s market, where there's no packaging at all! Whatever you choose to snack on never forget to pack it in glassware, metal tiffins, stasher bags, or a reusable lunch box or a reusable bag.
If your meals or your day-to-day habits result in organic waste such as apple cores, fruit peels, or tea leaves, consider bringing and extra container for scraps which at the end of the day you can take home and add to your compost pile (Read more: 'Benefits of composting - even if you don't have a garden')
As always finish what you already have as far as supplies are concerned, and then replace as necessary with more sustainable alternatives. For example, when you run out of plastic highlighters, purchase pencil ones, and raid home drawers to see what you already have and avoid buying doubles.
Cut down on paper
The greenest paper there is, is no paper at all! Keep things digital whenever possible and spread the word with your co-workers and vendors by asking for e-statements and digital invoices. Also, implement double-sided printing as a default setting on your printers or computer, so whenever you really do need to print something out (on recycled paper of course!), you will half the amount of sheets required.
Also learn the art of kindly declining any freebies that don’t align with your lifestyle, and don’t feel obligated to accept printouts, company branded plastic trinkets, and birthday treats simply because they are free.
Reduce the impact of electronic devices
PCs, printers, laptops, and other office tools use lots of energy, which translates to high electricity bills and emissions. When possible, switch everything that is not in use OFF. Install a smart power strip at your workstation or speak to your boss or to the IT departments and raise awareness about the benefits of switching off lights and un-plugging everything that does not need to be left on over evenings, weekends and holidays.
Other ways electronic devices can create unnecessary waste by consuming energy is through our digital footprint, so think before you email and make sure you clean your inbox of all those unnecessary emails that are occupying space in some server somewhere in the world. (Find out more about your digital footprint here)
Be an Advocate
Whether your office already has a sufficient number of recycling bins, or whether you need more and are waiting for your boss or your head of department to take care of it, make sure everyone knows exactly what is what, for example, get signage that clearly states what goes in each bin, (if you can it’s always best to include pictures). Also, try to chat to the janitorial staff to ask how they empty those bins to make sure everything stays separated.
Keep in mind that although the incentive to be more waste free starts out as being environmental, a way to encourage businesses to pay more attention to certain office spaces, is by performing a waste audit to show who’s in charge how much is being unnecessarily thrown out. This could really help your cause as businesses usually pay for trash pick up whereas recycling pick up is normally free. This means that by proofing how much trash you can divert from landfill, you are showing how much money you are potentially saving the company.
After you’ve got everyone’s attention by showing how cutting down on waste could be a financially profitable move, get the ball rolling even more by advocate more changes that could also have a big impact. For example you could suggest swapping paper towels for electric hand dryers, or you could encourage healthier modes of transportation, by having your company install a bike storage, or having an electric vehicle chargers placed somewhere on the premises.
Related: Create a greener and waste-free office space