“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, designed or removed from production.”
[Pete Seeger, Social Activist]
As sustainability centres around reducing our impact on the environment, there are many things we can do to make sure that our day-to-day practices support this. Recycling can mean all sorts of things but in essence we are talking about making sure we reduce waste, way before it has got to the stage of being put into the correct compartment of the bin. The aim is to avoid the bin altogether.
True recycling is a completely circular concept in reality. Before we make the buying decision for anything, from a few apples to a new car, we should consider its whole lifespan and how that plays out. Looking at a single use plastic water bottle is a good example of this. Before we buy a bottle of water to satisfy an immediate need to drink, we should look ahead and envisage the water bottle’s lifespan. It goes from the vendor; to having a single use by the consumer; then to the bin. If that was to be replaced by a reusable drinks bottle, it goes from the vendor; to having multiple uses by the consumer; and ultimately to the bin once it has worn out. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s better than the first option. If you consider the circular concept for recyclable paper cups, it’s still a single use product, also destined for the bin. It can be recycled, but that costs money and the process has an environmental impact, so it isn’t the best solution.
Lots of the ‘bin-avoidance’ ideas we’ve researched would work in our lives, not just at work:
Drinking vessels: consider asking everyone to bring all the mugs they aren’t using at home to work. Buying company mugs for repeated use is a more elegant solution but repurposing the mugs people have at the back of their cupboards is even better.
Do a workplace audit: ask a recycling ambassador to log every point within the business where recycling can be implemented or avoided altogether. Provide resusable cutlery and crockery for example – avoiding paper plates and cardboard sandwich boxes. Put drinking glasses next to the water cooler. Ask for ideas for this.
Reduce unnecessary print: this is a well-established mantra but according to statistics it’s not always observed. A survey undertaken by Kyocera suggests that the average office worker uses 45 pieces of paper per day - of which two thirds is waste.
Buy recycled paper: perpetuate the recycling circle by buying paper that has been manufactured using previously recycled paper.
Make a scrap box: designate a place for used paper than can be used again – perfect for making notes or rough sketches.
Fix things: we are increasingly comfortable with replacing broken items, especially when the cost to mend doesn’t always make sense. However it is worth factoring in the environmental cost as well, particularly if the replace/repair decision isn’t clear.
Create a re-use station: make a space for any unused or unwanted items to be stored. This can include absolutely anything sensible – from pieces of furniture to stationery items. This should be the office’s first port of call before anything new is purchased. Why buy new folders or a filing cabinet if there are some waiting to be used?
Incentives: make it easy for people to recycle in your workplace. Provide the right kinds of bins for different items of rubbish. If the system is clear and easy to work with, you’ll have more success. This means labelling bins and reminding your teams of their role. For example, put designated printer cartridge bins next to all the printers.
Communicate better: if people understand the concept of minimising waste, they are more likely to be supportive. Once you appreciate why you shouldn’t buy things that will end up in the bin almost immediately, you’re closer to achieving your workplace goals. Ask for feedback and try to implement suggestions where possible.
As our team at Just Audit works from home it’s likely we’ll approach things differently to those of you working in large offices. However the principles are the same wherever you are. Let us know if you have any good ideas, we’d love to hear them.