Planning Ahead: Zero Waste at the Office

Planning ahead for a zero waste day at the office

On my walk home from work yesterday: clink, clink, clink went the stainless steel container holding my lunch remnants against the glass mason jar holding my compost scraps. With those in tow, plus my usual handkerchief, water bottle, and a cloth produce bag holding the onion bought on my post-work grocery run, I was pretty much toting a full zero waste kit home yesterday. 

Because I walk to work, I try to keep the amount of gear I bring to a minimum - although as the above story attests, I don't always succeed. Below, a peek into the types of things I bring each day or keep stowed at my desk so that I can keep my time at the office mostly zero waste. Though your workday might look different from mine (I work a pretty typical 9 to 5 in front of a computer), hopefully these are a helpful framework for thinking through workplace zero wasting regardless!

-Bring your standard zero waste tools. A handkerchief. Eating utensils, if you'll need to bring your own. A small container for carrying home your compost, like the jar pictured above (I also sometimes use a Stasher bag or even just my empty lunch tin). It goes without saying, probably, but whatever you carry with you on a daily basis as part of your zero waste routine should probably come with you to work, too.

-Stock loose leaf tea. My office, like many, has tea on hand for the taking. But individually-wrapped tea packages aren't recyclable, and I've found that keeping a tea strainer and a jar or two of loose leaf tea at my desk helps me avoid the need to grab a packaged tea bag. Plus, I can empty the tea leaves I've used each day into my compost jar to take them home to compost. If loose leaf tea is hard to come by near you, here are a few other ideas for making your tea habit zero waste.

-Plan ahead for coffee shop dates. Just yesterday I had to turn down a coworker's offer to buy me an iced tea because I didn't have my reusable thermos on me. Noooooo! Don't let that happen to you. Keep a thermos at your desk and never have to go beverage-less. (If you're new to the bring-your-own thermos life, you can find my tips on grabbing zero waste coffee and tea on the go here!)

-Pack a zero waste lunch. Needs nothin' more than a reusable container and maybe a cloth bag to hold a piece of fruit. Though I can attest that packing a lunch isn't always simple (why does it always seem to happen for me at 10:30 at night?), certainly keeping a packed lunch zero waste isn't so challenging. You can find a few more ideas on how to do it, right here. And, if your office serves lunch occasionally (lunch and learns! hot lunch! etc.), don't forget your entry ticket to the Bring Your Plate Club.

-Cut out paper towels. If your office uses paper towels instead of hand dryers in the bathroom, consider carrying a clean handkerchief in your pocket that you can use to dry your hands and open the bathroom door. I'm very much a "shake my hands dry and open the door with the hem of my shirt" kind of girl myself, but the handkerchief method sounds much more dignified.

-Automate it. Can you keep an extra thermos at work for unexpected coffee dates? An extra empty jar in your desk for compost, snacks, a grocery run, or whatever else comes up? A water bottle at work, if you don't have access to a reusable cup? Anything you don't need to remember to bring each day anew is a thing you stand a better chance of actually using on a daily basis. Plus, that means fewer things to carry each day, thank goodness.

What do you do that I missed, above? Other challenges specific to your office we should tackle? Share, please!

PS. More ideas on planning ahead to stay zero waste, here.