How can I make my office zero waste?

    It has been a few years since we were all forced to work from home due to the pandemic, and some of us are still there. Or maybe you were already fortunate enough to work from home all along.

    When we were in someone else’s space, it was easy to think of waste removal and reduction as someone else’s problem. But if you are working in your own home, your actions alone have an impact on the reduction of waste being produced during the average workday. 

    There are many things that can be done in the office and at your home office to reduce waste.

    Start with the 6 Rs

    Anytime I tackle a new Zero Waste project I start with the 6Rs and try to apply as many of them as possible.

    As a refresher, the 6 Rs:

    Refuse

    Reduce

    Reuse

    Recycle

    Rot

    Repair

    Some of us require more “stuff” in order to get our jobs done. 

    “Stuff” that is part of our jobs, and “stuff” that makes us more comfortable while doing our jobs.

    But that does not mean that extra waste needs to be created.

    Some of the biggest sources of waste in a home office.

    Paper

    Plastics

    Food Scraps

    E-Waste – inks and toners

    Obsolete or broken technology

    Paper

    Paper is the simplest area to tackle.

    1- think before you print- is a paper copy really necessary?

    2- print on the front and back of each sheet of paper

    3- recycle paper once it is no longer needed

    4- some types of paper can even be composted (glossy and colored papers can contain chemicals and heavy metals that you want to keep out of your compost)

    Plastics

    Plastics are everywhere. When I used to work in an office I would buy lunch about twice a week, and eat it at my desk or in a conference room. It always came in a plastic container with plastic utensils. Most of the containers were not recyclable and neither were the plastic utensils.

    (In fact our office did not separate recyclables from the trash at all. So I often found myself taking my recyclables home to add to my home recycle bins.) 

    Single shot coffee makers are popular in offices and in homes. A large percentage of these pods are never recycled. However, some of these pods can be recycled. Check to see what materials your pods are made from. With a little effort, they can be safely recycled.

    As a bonus, coffee grounds are a great addition to your compost pile!

    Food Waste

    The average office worker will tell you that the biggest issue with food in the office is the smell. I used to have to be careful where I threw out my orange peels or people would complain. I would regularly see people throw out half eaten meals or leftover treats from birthday parties or entire trays of leftovers when the fridge was cleaned out on Friday afternoons. I cringe now when I think of all the food waste that is now in landfills.  

    It would take such little effort to set up proper recycling and food waste trash in an office in accordance with local municipal garbage efforts.

    E-waste

    E-waste includes items such as toner for a printer, or an old laptop that is no longer working.

    A lot of items in this category can be tricky to recycle because they contain hazardous materials. Fortunately, with just a little effort, you can find recycling programs for a lot of these items. 

    Toner Cartridges – Office supplies stores like Staples and Office Max will take back the use cartridges for recycling. Some manufacturer will also allow you to return the used cartridges to them via mail for recycling.

    Old Hardware- Computer hardware usually lasts less than 10 years, sometimes less than 5, before it is no longer working or made obsolete. In my area, some municipalities will accept these items for recycling and proper disposal. Unfortunately not all components of these items can be recycled, but they do all contain some level of hazardous materials and need to be disposed of properly. 

    Production of Electronics

    Unfortunately all these steps that you can take to reduce waste in the office, do not take into account the waste that is created during the production of these items. Production of the average computer or smart device can use components manufactured by a dozen companies in just as many countries. 

    These devices are far from being Zero Waste, but are still vital to our work and family lives. The only steps that we can take as consumers is to use our spending dollars, and our voting powers to support companies and initiatives that are trying to be more sustainable in this space.

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