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Sustainable Waste Management in the Office: Some Tips on How to Approach Waste Management

Businesses should be making steps toward positive environmental change. Not only is it important for the planet, but customers also care about the environment and climate change, and they understand that recycling isn’t enough. Customers are, where possible, choosing reusing, repurposing, and regenerating, and they want to be able to see the same effort in the companies they buy from and work with.

So what can you do about it?

You’re already recycling printer paper and encouraging your employees to bring in their own lunch– what else is there? We have a few suggestions.

Here, we’ll propose two different approaches on how to improve your business’s environmental impact and increase your appeal to a more eco-conscious demographic.

1. Improving Waste Management in your Office

Let’s face it, people make waste! And when you’re focusing on your business it can be hard to spare a thought for the carbon footprint of your waste basket. So what do you do? Well, if you’re going to be making waste, you might as well make it the best waste there is.

Compostable Waste

A lot of people don’t have a choice in where their “lunch-al-desko” comes from or where the resulting garbage goes. Those that can pack a lunch in their own Tupperware have their part done, and a corner-shop salad in a compostable cardboard box feels great! But if there’s nowhere to responsibly dispose of organic waste or compostable containers, the positive impact is rendered null. Things like this give can people pause, and it has a negative impact on how much they feel they can make change.

In the scenario above, the main issue is a lack of space for compostable items. Composting is one of the latest ways people have been working to reduce their environmental impact on their own time, without needing to cut out waste altogether. A lot of food and beverage companies, especially those in cities and metropolitan areas, are turning to compostable or biodegradable packaging.

This move is undoubtedly in the right direction, but there are a few things to understand first before jumping on the brown bin bandwagon.

Compostable versus Biodegradable: what's the difference?

First, compostable and biodegradable are not the same thing. “Biodegradable” means that something will break down eventually, meaning that it could take hundreds of years before it biodegrades. “Compostable” means that it’s been certified to break down within 6 months. However, that 6 month certification includes the caveat that the item is placed in commercial composting conditions to break down.

Which leads us to the second thing you need to know about compostable waste – there are a lot of variations of compostable materials, and some materials will only break down under commercial composting conditions. That means that your average kitchen-counter compost bin won’t cut it. For example, many business that are switching to plastic-free and compost friendly models are turning to PLA (Polylactic acid) materials, which is a plant-based plastic. While PLA is a great option because it is sourced from a renewable resource, because it is still a plastic it won’t break down the way that standard organic matter would.

We don’t believe that you should have to look up what kind of compostable the eco-friendly coffee cup from your favourite café is; we think you should be able to compost with confidence. The best way to make composting an effective part of your eco-office strategy is to set up compost bins alongside both your general waste and recycling bins, and also partner with a local commercial composting service to pick up and break down your compostable waste.

If you’re a smaller business or you’re looking to get really hands-on with your environmental impact, you should look into vermicomposting or using a compost tumbler. These options require a good bit of research to do them right, but the benefits are awesome. Vermicomposting involves using worms to eat through organic waste and leave behind nutrient-rich soil and a tumbler is a large, dark cylinder with a handle where the combination of turning over organic waste keeps it from settling and dark material keeps the interior warm and supports bacteria and fungi growth to do the breaking down in place of worms. The idea of worms and spinning a big drum just to get rid of some cardboard and old salad may sound too arduous a task, but making steps towards a healthier planet takes effort and commitment.

If you’re happy to commit to eco-conscious changes, but you don’t think improving your waste is your solution, consider reducing your ability to create waste! Finding ways to utilize the waste you make is a great way to take care of your impact on the environment, but what about making less waste?

We think it can be agreed upon that one of the largest waste groups to come out of businesses and offices is paper waste. Paper waste doesn’t just mean scraps of printer paper, it includes ink cartridges, staples, paper clips, Post-It notes, and any receipts that didn’t make their way to your expenses file. Going through every folder and binder to make sure each piece of paper is recycled properly and every paper clip is retrieved for reuse can be a hassle, and it doesn’t exactly make you feel like you’re doing the most you can for the environment or your business. This brings us to our second proposed approach to improving your environmental impact:

2. Reducing Waste in Your Office

There’s a lot to be said for simply making less waste! It may sound like a big challenge but it only takes a few adjustments to day-to-day business operations to get started.

Paper, so much paper

The largest impact on your paper waste that your business can make is to stop using paper– go digital! After experiencing working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot that can be done online and without the use of paper. Odds are that you already use email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and/or other online communication platforms to get in touch with your teams and employees, meetings and presentations have been online for over a year. Now is the perfect time to commit to being digital and leave paper behind.

You already know how to work digitally, now you just have to ensure that your office/business is on the same page. Some things to consider before going digital: budget and office space. Going fully digital can come with a price tag if you aren’t already a computer-based business. If you are already computer-based and you’re looking to finally cut paper out of your business completely, look into moving your filing and information storage onto a cloud-based platform. If your business requires invoices either coming in or going out, make digital copies a company policy.

Reusing electronics

Businesses that have a more paper-focused system and who are considering going fully digital will probably take a look at the cost of filling an office with new electronics and balk. But an easy solution comes in the form of refurbished electronics. Office and electronics supply stores have refurbished electronics of every kind, some only a little over a year old. If refurbished computers don’t suit you, you might consider the cost benefit over time. Moving to the digital sphere means leaving ink cartridges and printer paper jams behind, and with a commitment to making your electronics last you don’t have to think about replacing machines for years.

Let’s say you’ve decided to leave paper behind. What should you do with the paper you already have? What about your big office printer? The best thing you can do is use up whatever you have left. The upside of paper waste is that it’s usually been used up, so it hasn’t been wasted, despite its name. To make the most of the last of your paper, adjust your printer to print double sided sheets and (where you can) opt for a lower quality print setting. Once you’ve used up all of your ink and your printer is left jobless, reach out to your local office supply store (maybe the one you picked up your refurbished equipment from!) about their electronic recycling programs.

I’m Looking to Start Small

Big moves toward sustainability and eco-consciousness like vermicomposting and giving up paper are great steps toward healing our environment, but in a lot of cases it’s best to start small. Some of the suggestions made here can be taken in small doses; make double-sided printing company policy and encourage a gradual move to cloud-based storage over time. They can also be adjusted! Maybe now isn’t the time for purchasing a compost tumbler, but you may want to incorporate clear signage and information about what can and cannot go into the general, recycling, and compost bins in your office. It doesn’t matter if the steps you take are small, once you’ve taken several steps you’ve already made a huge difference.


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