How to Stay Zero Waste at Work

How to Stay Zero Waste at Work

With more people going back to the office, I felt it was appropriate to talk about ways to stay zero waste at work. If you want to create a zero waste office space, you’re not alone! While I work out of home, I am constantly thinking of ways to make my work space more sustainable and eco-friendly. It can be really difficult to stay waste free during work hours, especially if your job is particularly wasteful.

My mom is a dental assistant and is always telling me how much I’d hate the amount of plastic they go through in one day! If you’re a nurse, you probably see this too and wonder “how can I stay zero waste in an environment like this?!” Truth is, there’s going to be some things out of your control. And sometimes medical waste is necessary. That being said, there are ways we can reduce our waste on the job – and even encourage sustainable changes in our industries! Here’s how to stay zero waste at work (and how to get your office to implement some sustainable changes).

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How to Stay Zero Waste At Work

How to Stay Zero Waste at Work

1. Pack your own lunch

Instead of grabbing a pre-made salad in a plastic container, consider bringing your own lunch to work. And, your own utensils to eat it with.

A lot of work waste happens during lunch hour because of all the pre-packaged lunches and snacks. When you go the grocery store, or farmers market, make sure you consider what you want for lunch that week. Write down the ingredients you’ll need to make it happen. This will save you so much money and also prevent food waste!

Lets face it, if we’re eating out a lot, we’re likely leaving good food in our fridge to spoil. Meal prepping the night before can seriously cut back on this.

If you can, try to avoid bringing your lunch in disposable packaging too. Consider getting a reusable lunch box (this one from Tiny Yellow Bunaglow is adorable). Investing in a stainless steel tiffin, or reusable glassware is a great idea too – you can put an assortment of lunches in these kinds of containers.

Here are some zero waste lunch essentials to take with you:

  • Cloth lunch box – 100% recycled cotton eco lunch bag with velcro closure. Handmade screen print design – of a cute kitty! Large enough to fit a full lunch: 7″W x 10.5″H – 4.5″ flat-gusset. Machine wash cold, hang dry.
  • Reusable water bottle – The One Bottle is the only reusable water bottle that removes 2000 plastic bottles from ocean bound waterways with every purchase. That plastic is recycled into eco bricks and used to create recycled homes for homeless waste collectors in India!
  • Stainless steel tiffin – this tiffin has three separate layers that stack together with a sturdy handle for easy transport. It also has a beautiful vintage look with its floral design. Easy to use, easy to clean. Can be used for picnics, take-out, and school along with work. Great at keeping food separate!
  • Cloth napkin – Soft and durable natural cotton with a pretty flower design (I bought this for my mom years ago and she still loves it/uses it!).
  • Bamboo travel set – Comes with a bamboo knife, fork and spoon and an organic cotton protector to keep them all together. Lightweight, easy to clean and durable.
  • Stainless steel condiment container – The perfect place to store your condiments, sauces or salad dressings! Dishwasher and oven safe. Can fit 1/2 cup capacity.

Need some zero waste lunch ideas? I’ve got you covered! And don’t forget the zero waste snacks.

2. Don’t forget breakfast

Do you have a habit of grabbing a super quick breakfast on the way to work that typically involves over-processed and packaged food? A lot of people are strapped for time in the morning which can lead to a lot of waste.

I recommend trying to meal prep a breakfast for the next morning. You can do this by baking a batch of maple walnut muffins (my fav!), prepping some overnight oats, making chia pudding, granola bars, parfaits and more. You just have to think ahead a bit.

Really have no time to prep your breakfast? Make sure you always have something low waste and grabbable on hand, like fruit. Apples, oranges, bananas and peaches are great grab-and-go options when you’re really strapped for time.

Obviously, slip ups are bound to happen and I always say – never starve yourself. In those situations, try to get something you can easily recycle (packaging in plastics #1 or #2), or compost (paper/cardboard).

As for coffee and tea, make sure to take a travel mug with you and ask the barista to fill it up. That way you won’t need a disposable cup.

3. Save your compostables

In most cases, a lot of work places don’t offer access to composting. If yours does, great! But if not, you need to have a plan for the compostable parts of your lunch.

That’s where the compost jar comes in. I say jar, but it can really be any container of your choosing (Tupperware, upcycled takeout containers, etc.). After eating breakfast and lunch at the office, make sure to put any compostables into this container. That can be anything from banana peels to paper napkins, etc. Here’s a list of what’s compostable for more insight.

If you’re feeling particularly innovative, it would be even cooler to try and get everyone on board with setting up compost bins at work. See if you can get a petition going, and make sure to list the benefits of composting!

A lot of people probably don’t know about composting, nor how to go about getting compost bins. A good way to show your boss it’s a viable option is to conduct a waste audit – this will visually show your boss what’s being tossed out.

4. Keep some reusables in the office

It’s a really good idea to keep some reusable items like dishes, bowls, mugs, utensils and tea strainers in the office. See if you can put these in your office’s lounge area. You can grab some cheap reusables at your local thrift store or in a local buy nothing group.

This is a great way to make sure you can stay waste free if a holiday or birthday pops up. Or any kind of special occasion for that matter. It’s also handy when you want to eat your lunch but on an actual plate.

Better yet, encourage your fellow coworkers to use them as well! Just make sure everyone cleans them after use.

5. Choose sustainable office supplies

After you’ve used up all the office supplies you already have, be sure to switch to more eco-friendly options. After all, it’s never cool to waste what you already have (looking at you plastic pens).

I really love the collection of office supplies EarthHero and Wisdom Supply Co. have. EarthHero has everything from plantable pencils to sugarcane paper notebooks to recycled plastic scissors. It’s pretty impressive.

One of my EarthHero favorites is definitely the refillable natural grass pen. The pen itself is made from locally grown meadow grasses, a naturally renewable material. I use it every day to write notes and log down the day’s to-dos! It can easily be refilled for years of use, which I love.

Wisdom Supply Co. has notebooks, binders, pocket folders, pencil tins and more. They specialize in school and work supplies, so definitely check them out if you’re on the market for something new.

6. Push for nuance

There’s a lot of waste that happens in the workplace, and every industry is different. For example offices tends to use a lot of paper. But paper is made from trees and we all know cutting down trees harms the environment. Deforestation is a serious problem.

But if you work in the medical field, waste can look very different – perhaps in the form of bandages, masks, gloves, etc. And with recent studies stating plastic was found in our lungs, blood, and feces…I think it’s safe to say we’d all like to be using less plastic right now.

That’s why it’s so important to push for nuance in your industry – what are some creative solutions we can create? Is there a way we can create a more circular economy in our workplace? These are all questions worth asking.

Here are a few ideas to present to your boss/coworkers:

  • Get your office to switch to 100% recycled paper. And use less of it – print double sided; have people take notes in their own notebooks; ask for things to be emailed.
  • See if your workplace can switch to renewable energy like solar or wind power.
  • Install recycling + compost bins!
  • Do you have a green team at work? Consider establishing one so you can all brainstorm creative ways to make your workplace more sustainable.
  • Advocate for more healthy, plant-based options in your workplace cafeteria’s and vending machines.
  • Try to get more energy efficient tech, like certified energy star devices, in your workspace.
  • Advocate for toxin-free, eco-friendly cleaning products to be used around the workspace.
  • Are you in the medical field? Here are some ideas for you: Recycle hospital waste whenever possible; Recycling hospital waste wherever possible; Encourage the use of reusable linen rather than disposable linens; Instruct the supplier to minimize the packaging of supply; Direct only required material in medical incinerators; Purchase toxic-free healthcare products.
  • Designate an area of your office to free items for the taking like books, magazines, etc. Extra food? Give it to your co-workers and tell them to take it home. Encourage the sharing economy.
  • Have an appliance at home you no longer need? See if your workplace could use it! My mom donated her coffee machine to work and it’s still kicking – everyone loves using it.
  • Talk to your co-workers about sustainability – a simple conversation can lead to big things!
How to Stay Zero Waste at Work

What do you think of these tips for staying zero waste at work?

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.

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