I spend about 40+ hours a week at my job. And I learned very quickly that I could easily create waste in my work space because it wasn’t really set up to be waste-free; constant office gatherings and potlucks, eating out at one of the local establishments, meeting with clients…each event had it’s own waste bi-product. I decided to make the effort to set up my work space so that it fit with my zero waste lifestyle and I’m so happy I did.
I feel like I should give you some context and explain a bit about my work space. I work in a professional office setting, in a renovated warehouse located in an “up and coming” area of St Paul, Minnesota (it’s actually a rundown industrial neighborhood with a loud train track, but “up and coming” makes it sound cooler). I work in a small satellite office that is very laid back, though not always open minded or forward thinking.
Here are my tips to zero wasting your office space.
Conduct a trash audit
Just like at home, the first thing I did to zero waste my office space was to look through my trash to see what I was throwing away (watch my YouTube video of me doing this in my home here). And once I realized I was throwing away things like plastic silverware from take-out and apple cores, I worked backward and figured out how to eliminate those waste streams. I make it sound easy, right? Well, it was!
Bring your own food
Ordering food to your office or eating out often creates waste. Commonly food is wrapped or packaged in some kind of to-go container, accompanied by packets of sauces, napkins, etc. If you pack your own food you will eliminate even the possibility of waste. My husband often laughs at me because when I leave for work I’m carrying a large tote filled with food that he thinks should last me a week…it’s usually stuffed with a mason jar of overnight oats, one or two pieces of fruit, a container with leftovers for lunch, and snacks like cut up veggies. And yes, I eat all of this in about 9 hours. But I avoid having to eat out and literally have no waste!
Give up that Keurig
K-Cups are small individual plastic cups that are packed with coffee that are used in a Keurig machine. And a lot of small and medium sized offices in the USA use a Keurig instead of an old school drip coffee machine. These K-Cups get thrown into the trash after one use, creating a lot of waste (especially if you have a large office). I’ve heard of one brand that is making K-Cups in compostable packaging, but most offices I know aren’t purchasing this brand. I’ve found that the best way to avoid waste when your office uses a Keurig is give up K-Cups all together. Because the Keruig machine is about the only way to brew coffee in my office, I purchased a refillable K-Cup from Target and I absolutely love it! I fill my K-Cup with my own ground coffee and it works perfectly with the machine. After the grounds have cooled, I empty them into my office compost bin and then rinse it out and leave it out to dry. It’s awesome!
Start an office compost system
Composting your food scraps is one of the most sustainable things that you can do (read more about composting and how to do it here). Starting a composting system at your work can be as easy as re-using an old ice cream bucket to collect food scraps in. At the end of each week (or when it’s full), bring the bucket home to your personal backyard system or to a city or community organic collection system. Make sure to provide proper signage so people know what can go in the compost bin. And you can get more elaborate from here, even going as far as to construct a compost bin on-site if your work is cool with that.
Be the zero waste nerd at office meetings. lunches, and potlucks
It is common to see everyone at the office potluck using disposable plates, cups, and forks. Instead of lecturing people, or being upset that we are creating so much waste as an office, I have tried to lead by example and have brought my own reusable items to the office potluck. Every time I get in the food line with my reusable plate someone says, “That’s a great idea, I should have done that”. And I take a minute or two to talk to them about the benefits of creating less waste. My hope is that bringing reusable items will catch on and eventually the disposables will no longer need to be purchased.
Green your commute
Start peddling, walking, running, carpooling, or take public transportation to your office. You will feel better about yourself and will be doing something great for the environment. Can’t do it? I challenge you to think that you CAN and make it a reality for yourself, even if it’s just one day a week. You got this.
Start at the top for zero waste changes
I have found that many zero waste office decisions need to come from the top down in order for your fellow employees to buy-in. If you can get the support of upper management to switch from styrofoam to compostable cups, or to sponsor a bike to work week, then you are more likely to have success with your co-workers. My advice is to pitch ideas to your boss/upper management and let them communicate with the necessary people to make it happen. That way, even if someone isn’t happy about the new compostable cups, they most likely will respect the boss’s decision and change with the times.
What zero waste changes have you implemented in your office space?