Reducing waste in an office: a step away from landfills
By Mylene Turban
Last July kept us all busy with the different Plastic Free July events, which happened around us! We all learned a lot from them, and we are usually shocked by the numbers we can read in articles or hear in documentaries. We want to take action, and not be part anymore of the consumerist society that surrounds us. However, for most of us, we work at least 5 days a week and we often think we don’t have the time to change our ways of consuming or share what we learned with others.
But what if you start bringing your sustainable values at work, especially if it is where you spend most of your time?
In my journey with Transition Bondi, I raised my awareness of the importance of composting. Indeed up to 50% of Australian household waste is compostable and if not composted, goes to landfills, where it breaks down into harmful greenhouse gas (CO2 and CH4). I started collecting organic food waste at home and set up a compost bin in my flatshare garden. I was proud of it and all my flatmates adhered to the concept.
However, I was every day confronted with a bin full of waste in my office, reflecting the lack of waste management and care that people also have out of the office. So I spent 2 weeks understanding the source of waste in the office, analyzing what solutions I could bring to reduce the general waste stream, and at least try to recycle what I can. The best is of course to not produce waste at all, but remember each action matters!
I proposed a new waste policy, which has been approved and implemented in the company’s management system. It will lead later to sustainability policy, with more actions for energy and water-saving for example.
The plan is simple, I set up 4 waste streams, locate them in the office, add signboards for each stream and finally send an email to all the employees to motivate them to respect the new waste policy. This is the email I sent and which could inspire you to use for your own company or household.
I recently discussed with a few of you about reducing the carbon footprint of our office. Indeed, I am still hoping that we all care about reducing our impact on climate change, not only by working for a renewable energy company but also by adopting sustainable daily habits. And that starts at the office (for some of us currently and all of us in the future).
The first step is to reorganize our waste collection by sorting them more wisely. The goal is to reduce the general bin, into which we put all sorts of waste. For that, there are 4 new waste streams you can use:
- Compost bin: The grey box next to the sink will be happy to collect the coffee ground, fruits or vegetable scraps, shredded paper or cardboard (not coated). I will bring it to a local compost bin. If you don’t already do it at home, it can inspire you to start! You don’t need to have a compost bin but just to bring it to an existing one (check your council website or this website: Link 1). Composting creates a circular chain since you reuse your food products waste to grow other products or to nourish back the soil. When you put them in the normal bin, they go straight to the landfill, where they decompose into methane (methane is roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than CO2) and nitrous oxide.
- Paper recycling: Next to the printer you can place your printed paper that you don’t need anymore in the cardboard box. It can then be shredded and composted as well, but also reuse for taking notes or even for your children to draw! Of course the best way to avoid creating paper waste is to print wisely.
- Soft plastic recycling: On the bottom left closet under the sink, you can throw your soft plastic in the collecting bag. It includes plastic bags, plastic packaging, cling, or plastic wrapping. Soft plastics have low rates of recycling and can’t be placed in most kerbside recycling bins. This means most soft plastics end up in landfills or as litter, where over time they ‘break up’ into smaller plastic pieces that can cause environmental pollution, harm wildlife, and enter the food chain. Once the bag is full we can bring it to a RedCycle bin at Coles or Woolworths. Same as above waste, the best is to not produce them but at least they can be reused to build benches for example (Link)
- General recycling: Next to the soft plastic recycling, you can throw away general recyclable waste that includes Plastic bottles and jars, Plastic takeaway containers, Glass bottles and jars, Aluminium and steel cans, Clean foil trays, Cardboard, Paper, Milk/juice cartons, Pizza boxes. This bin doesn’t need any bin bag and can be brought down directly to the yellow bin. However, be aware that only 2% of recyclable waste is really recycled into a new product while 40% end up in landfills and more littering in the ocean or a country in development. Simple steps you can take to reduce “recyclable” waste:
- Refuse single-use plastic cutlery (especially if you come and eat at the office)
- Bring a cotton grocery bag with you when you go shopping
- Refuse coffee cup lid if you don’t need to
- Easy one: eat ice cream in a cone instead of a cup (without a spoon of course )
Congratulations if you read my email until this point! I really hope that our general bin will decrease in the coming months! For that, we need to use those different sorting bins instead of our personal one at our desk (it is good to stand up often in the day anyway). And I hope it can inspire you to do the same at home if you don’t already do it.”
I hope my experience will inspire you and show you that there is no small action. Always remember that “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” (Ryunosuke Satoro).
And if you have a similar idea or another innovative way of leading people into a transition towards a more sustainable life, let us know and we would love to share your story :)!
What an inspiration Mylene, to take up the ideas from Plastic Free July, and magnify them from the home space, to the office. I hope many workers will be moved to take that step up!