how to reduce single use plastic at work
Posted on / in Sustainability

How to Reduce Single-Use Plastic at Work

Reducing Single-Use Plastic at Work

It can be disheartening to tackle a plastic-free challenge at home or in your own environment only to go to work and find the work kitchen filled with coffee pods, plastic-wrapped food and a bin filled with food scraps and things that could be recycled. But it’s encouraging to know that even small changes from one individual can make a difference. So, where do you begin?

how to reduce single use plastic at workConduct a Bin Audit

Conduct a bin audit to discover all the ‘waste’ that could be avoided, recycled or composted. Bin audits are a great way to learn about the waste being produced and to address any confusion about the disposal of certain items. For example, if your coworkers are placing paper in the bin, you can encourage them to recycle items like this by having a list of items that are recyclable in your area. If there is an overwhelming amount of food scraps, perhaps you could start a compost or contribute to someone else’s (yes, that exists! Check out this website: sharewaste.com to find a compost or community garden near you). 

Plastic Free July shares how to conduct a bin audit:

 

Getting Set up

  • If you’re at work gather together a team of colleagues who are keen to conduct a bin audit. It’s a much quicker and more fruitful process if conducted with a few people. 
  • Pick a day not long after your bins have just been emptied (you don’t want to rummage through week-old waste). Make sure that you’ve given sufficient time for the bins to collect waste, but not too long that it’s started to go putrid.
  • Find a location that’s sheltered, has good airflow and is easy to clean. Make sure that the waste won’t blow away in the wind, too.
  • Source a tarpaulin from a friend, neighbour, or colleague.
  • Optional: gather some buckets and scales to calculate the volume and weight of the waste you audit.
  • Draw a table so you can keep a record of the waste you find. You may find you just need two columns: Category of waste and weight/volume. However, it’s always handy to prompt yourself to write the date, who helped with the audit, and what type of bin you were auditing (compost, general waste, recycling).
  • Find some gloves (preferably washable) so that your hands stay clean.

 

On the day

  • Gather your rubbish bin/s. Separate them by type (this may be: compost, recycling, general waste but it depends on the separation system in your home or workplace).
  • Start with one type of rubbish and empty it all onto the tarpaulin.
  • Separate the rubbish into piles. For example, you may separate the general waste bin into: batteries, paper, food, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, soft plastic, cans, cardboard, glass.
  • Estimate the volume or percentage of waste in each pile (or accurately weigh if you have scales) and write this in your table.
  • If you have other bins, repeat this process with them, then clean up.

 

Taking the next steps

Once you’ve audited your bin, there’s a lot of useful information that can come from it. Start by taking note of the “low hanging fruit”; in other words, things that you can change quickly and still make a big impact.

Focus on those one or two items and figure out how you can improve. It might be eliminating a certain item or product that ends up in your waste a lot or sourcing a local recycling centre for items that can’t go in the regular recycling bins.

Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based) goals to reduce each item found in your bin audit. Reflect on these goals on a regular basis, and conduct a bin audit every 6 or 12 months to track your progress.

Ensure everyone is aware of what should go into what bin. This may require labelling on the bins, placing signs nearby with explanations, and running an information session.

 

The Impact

  • Reduce waste that needs collecting and reduce transport and air pollution
  • Engage with family members or employees on their waste, helping them to share specific behaviours they can change.

how to reduce single use plastic at workTackle your workplace kitchen

Your workplace kitchen is likely home to various single-use plastics, so it’s a good area to focus on if you’re wanting to create a positive impact. Plastic Free July provides a guide on how it’s best to do just that…

 

What you can do

Choose to refuse single-use plastics in your workplace’s kitchen.

 

How you can do it

To begin with, do an inventory of all the single-use plastic items found in your workplace’s kitchen. You may be surprised by just how many there are! These include plastic cutlery, plastic plates, bowls and cups, bin bags, biscuit packets, teabags, and water bottles. Keep this list for future reference – in a few weeks/months it may serve as a reminder of all the impact you’ve had.

After your list is complete, start by choosing one item and thinking of an easy alternative. There’s plenty of information on the Plastic Free July website about reusable alternatives, or a friend, colleague or family member may have ideas.

Try and avoid replacing single-use plastics for single-use cardboard, bamboo or “compostable plastic”. Instead, swap items for reusable alternatives, such as ceramic mugs, stainless steel cutlery and glass cups.

Once you’ve got everyone used to one change, start the conversation about picking another item. Through this method, you can slowly make your way towards a plastic free kitchen at work!

 

Taking the next steps

If you want to drive change in your workplace kitchen even further, there are a few things you can do.

One great idea is adding a compost bin to your kitchen. Make sure you create a roster to ensure it’s emptied on a regular basis (and not always by you!). Some workplaces have staff take food waste home for their own composting, and some set up a compost bin outside of the office if there’s room.

You can also set up a collection point to help colleagues separate soft plastics (bread bags, plastic bags, biscuit wrappers) and periodically take them to a soft plastics recycling location.

 

The impact

  • Reduce hundreds or even thousands of single-use plastic items by making simple switches in the kitchen.
  • Reduce pressure on recycling systems.
  • Reduce unnecessary waste and save precious resources.

how to reduce single use plastic at workEngaging co-workers


Work together with your colleagues to make a difference by encouraging them to join in on your plastic-free efforts. Plastic Free July gives advice on how we can encourage others at work.

What you can do

Get the people you work with involved with Plastic Free July (or any month for that matter).

How you can do it

Work can be a great place to get people involved in leading a plastic-free life. The people you see every day often become your tribe; people you workshop problems with and help keep on track during trying times. What better challenge to embrace together than reducing plastic pollution?

The best, simplest place to start is by telling people about the Plastic Free Challenge and inviting them to join the challenge with you. You don’t have to send an all-staff email; just start small with a few co-workers and watch it build from there.

Many workplaces begin by having a plastic-free morning tea or bake-off, to raise awareness and start the conversation. Food is a fantastic way to draw a community together, and help you get the ball rolling.

When beginning these conversations around plastic pollution, keep it positive. Focus on the solutions and not on the problems – people are much happier to join in that way. You can also check out our case studies for more in-depth information on how others have succeeded in getting their workplaces to reduce single-use plastics.


Taking the next steps

Once a few colleagues have become engaged, you may be able to build on that momentum. You can get more people on board by sharing “easy wins” that they can incorporate, such as bringing a reusable coffee cup to the cafe each morning and transporting their lunch in reusable containers rather than plastic wrap.

You can also reach out to local not for profits who are tackling the issue of plastic pollution, and invite them to share their story with your workplace. This can be an inspiring and engaging way of learning more about the problem and the solutions.

DIY Come and Try workshops can also be a lot of fun. By hosting a class on how to make beeswax wraps, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc., people can feel inspired to buy less and DIY more.

The impact



Many of your co-workers will bring these new skills home, encouraging friends and family members to get on board. That means impacts will reach beyond the office.

When workers reduce their own plastics at work, it’s a small step to start looking at alternatives to the plastics that the organisation buys. For example, your company may be able to eliminate disposable cups, avoid individually wrapped mints, and provide cups and containers to workers or clients.

how to reduce single use plastic at workWorkplace procurement


You might not have ever questioned or thought about it, but you’d be surprised at how much single-use plastic your workplace obtains and how easy it can be to minimise that waste. Small changes = big impact!

What you can do

Investigate your workplace’s procurement practices and reduce the amount of single-use plastics used.

How you can do it

Start off by finding your workplace’s procurement procedure. This may be a simple document that outlines the basics, such as which providers to use and how much can be spent before certain procedures must be followed. It could be more complex, highlighting the ethical requirements of suppliers.

After learning more about the procedures in place, gather together key procurement people in a meeting. Try and ensure someone with decision-making authority is on the team, or at least aware of the initiative.

With the team, explore amending the procurement procedure to include some of the following:

  • Do we really need to procure this single-use plastic item?
  • Can it be procured without single-use plastic packaging?
  • Can the same item be made from recycled content, thus closing the loop?
  • Can packaging be reduced by buying in bulk?


If your workplace has a sustainability officer, add:

  • Can we do more by checking with the sustainability officer before purchasing


When putting together the list to discuss, consider simple items that your workplace obtains on a regular basis and discuss whether you can reduce packaging. This could include:

  • switching to loose-leaf tea and coffee in a plunger (or a machine that grinds beans itself) in the kitchen.
  • sourcing stationery not made of plastic or wrapped in plastic (eg. wooden pencils rather than plastic clicker pencils, and cardboard or refillable pens rather than plastic pens).

 

 

Taking the next steps

With the procurement team on board, you can discuss with them whether or not sourcing new suppliers is possible. Perhaps there’s a supplier you can use that’s more aware of the dangers of plastic packaging and makes a conscious effort to reduce packaging.

The Impact

  • For every one bin-full of waste generated, 70 bin-fulls was generated upstream in making it. That means it’s exceptionally important to reduce waste through good procurement practices.
  • Practical sustainability initiatives help staff to live their values and make workplaces more rewarding to work in.

Making your office a more eco-friendly environment can be done in a few simple steps as the tips from Plastic Free July have shown. The benefits are abundant, the changes will have a lasting effect on your brand image and workplace environment. To introduce these changes and encourage other colleagues to get involved, the change needs to be driven by inspiration and solutions, radiating positivity to evoke action. You don’t want to dump statistics and negative news on them, people know that single-use plastic is bad for the environment, what they need to know is how simple it can be to create a positive change. 

 

Have you tried to reduce single-use plastic in your workplace? Or are you now going to try with these tips?

Learn more about reducing single-use plastics in other areas of life with our blog post on 19 Ways to Promote Sustainability at School.

 

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