Zero Wasting Your Office, If Only a Tiny Bit

Zero waste workspace

Earlier this week, we chatted about ways to be more zero waste at work. Buuuuut, even if you do all those things yourself, chances are there will still be major sources of waste at your office that might drive you slightly - or majorly - crazy. Turning a blind eye is one way to cope, attempting to coax tiny changes is another. In case you, in the words of my favorite podcast, are someone who isn't "ready to give up or go insane," I've compiled a few ideas for places to start. Of course, not all of these will work in every office - but hopefully some are worth considering for yours. Here goes:

-Request reusables. This can be as small as asking your office manager to stock reusable snack bowls or forks in lieu of disposables, or as big as requesting that a water cooler replace plastic water bottles (or a SPARKLING water cooler replace cans of La Croix - we have one and it's incredible).

-Bring your own. Where reusable plates and utensils aren't a workable solution, a culture of BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) can start with you. Bring your plate, bring your napkin, bring your fork, bring your handkerchief, bring your water bottle, and see where it goes. Many people I know keep a small set of dishes at their desk to use, wash, and stow again. Maybe you'll start a trend, but at the very least you'll be making less trash yourself. (Here's some exciting proof that this can work!).

-Gather recyclables. If your work at a business that makes waste that can't be recycled in the traditional recycling stream but could be set aside for reuse through Terracycle or another program, consider taking responsibility for recycling said objects - or at least a few of them - and setting up a designated spot for your coworkers to corral them for future recycling. For example, my office offers battery recycling. A colleague of mine also works at a restaurant and set up a jar to collect wine corks for recycling. You could also set up a Terracycle pen recycling dropbox, or simply a space for coworkers to deposit failed print jobs for scrap paper.

-Set up composting. 'Nuff said. Definitely not possible for every workplace, but something to explore if you think yours would be open to it. To start finding a compost pick-up service near you, you can check out my list here.

Zero waste home office

-Look for sustainable defaults. If you look for them, there are probably some easy zero waste wins that you can set up once and reap the benefits from for years. For many offices, switching to double-sided printing can be a great default, as can a water cooler in lieu of water bottles or hand dryers instead of paper towels. Bonus: with little maintenance required to keep these going, they'll have an impact on your office even if you change jobs down the line.

-Build a sharing economy. One of the beautiful things about my office is that people are generous about offering up items they no longer need to others. In a building of 300 people, it's pretty likely you'll find a taker for that almost-full bottle of lotion you don't need anymore, the package of lightbulbs you opened before realizing they were the wrong kind, or the cake you baked that you just can't finish yourself. We have a few ways to exchange gently used items and uneaten food - simply leaving it on the kitchen counter with a note that says "free!", sending out an email, or posting the item on a list that lives on an internal website. My coworkers bring in CSA produce that they won't get to, last month someone offered to share their sourdough starter with me (praise!), and I've left stationery, candy, and more in the kitchen for anyone to take.

-Chat up zero waste. I am pretty terrible about following through on this one, despite my night job of founding an org dedicated to helping Chicago move toward zero waste. Something about talking to my coworkers about my efforts to live sustainably can feel daunting. I think I'm wary of sounding judgmental, or maybe just wary of sounding a little weird. Either way, if you can get over the hump and share why you do what you do, it could make such a difference.

-Consider non-zero waste avenues to sustainability. How can your office better support bike or walk commuters? Is there a shower that needs to be de-gunked so that it can get back in rotation, or could you request a bike rack for people to be able to lock their bikes up during the day? Can you support local, sustainability-minded restaurants when you order catering, or make sure any leftovers go home with employees or get donated instead of being thrown away?

-And, a few other ideas: Host a volunteer day like this one, a documentary screening, or a sustainability speaker (if you're in Chicago, we'd love to come talk to your office!). Plan a fun challenge to get people involved in any of the above. Do like my office manager did recently and send out an email gently reminding people what should go in the recycling bin, or make a sign to hang near the trash, recycling, or compost.

Etc., etc. - there are so many ways to tackle sustainability at an office, and I'd love to hear what ideas you've come up with! What have been your biggest challenges or wins? How does your workplace look different than mine does, and what would you love to change about it to make it more zero waste? Let's do it together, folks.

Pictured here is where I work when I work at home, aka my dining room table. Conveniently already zero waste friendly because it's in my home!