Trimming my waste: Week 29 (zero-waste office) | the ReFab Diaries

Goals - Week 29: 
  1. Walk the walk at work and at home
  2. Share good ideas for reducing office waste
  3. Appreciate working with people who share my values.

When I'm not on this blog, I have a full-time job at a creative agency in Chicago. I'm very lucky to work with (and for) people who either share my concerns around waste or are willing to adapt to accommodate them. It's one thing for one person to try to go zero-waste. It's a much better thing to change the habits of 37 people.

In the lead up to a recent office remodel, our company "Green Team" was asked to make recommendations for how we could reduce our office waste and overall energy consumption. We took a hard look at our behavior patterns and also held a "Rad Collab", where we asked most of the office to brainstorm actions we could take to reduce the amount of waste we produce. We then presented leadership with a very long wishlist.

Most of our solutions are tied very closely to an awareness of our behaviors. They may not all apply to every office (beer isn't popular everywhere!) but I'm guessing many of them will apply.

1. Reduce single-use plastic.

"Disposable" plastic straws, stirrers and silverware plague offices. We've tried to eliminate them; my favorite switch being these stainless steel stirrers. It took a minute for people to get used to them. But they did it. 

2. Use real silverware.

We always had real silverware in the kitchen. But not enough for occasions when we all ate together (staff meetings, reviews etc). So we ordered enough. And now we never put out plastic knives and forks. 

3. Real, cloth dishtowels! 

We still use paper towels and napkins (see the tip on composting below), but the presence of real towels does make a difference. One of our Green Team members takes them home every Friday and throws them in the laundry. 

4. Lots of real plates and glasses.

Similarly, we now have enough flatware, glasses, tea and coffee cups to remove the need for plastic disposables.

5. Energy efficient appliances to cope with all the non-disposable stuff.

As all this was planned, it was obvious that we'd need to deal with many more dishes. So now we have two dishwashers. Good, energy-efficient models. They also help with the reusable lunch containers many of us bring in every day.

6. Beer on tap - bye bye packaging.

We bought beer every Friday. Lots of bottles and cans resulting in overflowing recycling bins. The solution: local beer on tap. We no longer deal with packaging - the empty kegs are picked up as part of the delivery rotation. 

7. Sparkling water on tap - no more cans or bottles!

We also noticed an office-wide addiction to canned, sparkling water. So our new water cooler provides sparkling water too. Can I get a hell yeah??? No more cans. Between these two changes, the reduction in our packaging waste is marked.

8. Clear waste separating.

We have a spacious waste station. And we created graphic signs to make it as simple as possible for people to understand what can be recycled, and what can't. And then we introduced composting. 

9.  Office composting

We pay a local, women-owned firm to collect our compost once a week. We compost the expected things like tea bags and eggshells. But because it's industrial composting, we can now also divert greasy paper (think pizza boxes), paper towel and napkin waste from the landfill. We also fill these buckets with coffee grounds and the filter paper the machine uses. And the compostable salad containers people bring into the office from nearby delis and salad bars. 

Composting is probably the most radical step we've taken and we're still learning. But I could not be more proud. 

10. Reloved furniture

We didn't ask for this but were so excited when it arrived. A large kitchen table, handmade from salvaged wood by the husband of one our owners. And mismatched chairs that were all salvaged and handpainted by another partner's significant other.

11. Paper recycling. 

A no-brainer but easy to get lazy about it. So we have large recycling bins in the copy/printer room. And smaller boxes at every desk. 

12. Motion-sensor lighting

We installed motion-sensor lighting wherever lights are most often left on unnecessarily.

13. Dual-flush toilets

As part of the bathroom remodel, the toilets were retrofit with dual-flush handles - a significant water saver.

14. Hand dryers 

And finally, we bid the paper hand towels goodbye and installed dryers. They're really loud. And yes, they use energy. But less energy (and water) than it takes to make, package and transport the paper that we used to dry our hands on. 

I think this is just the beginning. I'd like us to switch to a green energy provider. And make more of an effort to look at work on screens versus printing documents. Any tips and tricks from your offices that you'd like to share?? 

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