7 Ways to Go Zero Waste at the Office

 Photo by  Breather  on  Unsplash

Photo by Breather on Unsplash

You live in the real world, and it's not always easy to stick to your high principles when you're on your grind from 9 to 5.  It's easy to say yes to takeout lunch containers and disposable coffee cups when you're running from meeting to meeting.  As with everything, a little bit of planning and preparation go a long way, and it is actually possible to avoid all the trash pitfalls the corporate workday can throw your way.  

1. Invest in a reusable coffee cup.

As a former New Yorker and corporate employee, I fully understand and appreciate the importance of that morning cup of joe.  I used to have 2-3 cups of coffee a day, all of them in disposable cups with plastic lids.  When I think back on the amount of coffee cups I sent to landfill in my 8 years of working in New York, I get a little upset. 

One of the easiest things you can do to divert loads of trash from landfill is to invest in a reusable cup.  Your coffee will taste just as good (arguably better) and depending on the cafe you frequent, you may even get a discount.  Yeah, you've gotta wash it and remember to bring it with you, but that tiny bit of effort is worth it for the amount of garbage you'll save.

2. Make your reusable water bottle your best friend.

I remember days in my old job where my schedule was so jam-packed that I didn't even have time to stop in the kitchen for a cup of water.  If I did have time, my only option was a paper cup.  If I didn't have time, I often found myself in conference rooms with trays of bottled water available for the meeting attendants - and they were the teeny tiny little bottles of water, the worst of all water bottle offenders.  

If I had had the foresight to fill up my own reusable bottle in the morning and bring it with me wherever I went, I wouldn't have been so constantly parched, and I wouldn't have had to resort to disposable cups or bottles. 

There are loads of beautiful water bottles on the market.  Get yourself one that suits your style, and use it daily.  I'd much rather drink out of a glass or stainless steel bottle than a flimsy plastic one, wouldn't you?  

3. Have a lunch plan. 

Pack your own lunch.

The easiest way to avoid disposables at lunch time is to bring your own lunch from home in a reusable container, and use real (non-plastic) cutlery and a reusable (non-paper) napkin.  But there will always be days when your schedule is too packed to have room for food prep the night before, and you must buy your lunch during the workday.  

Eat in, or strategize your takeaway.


If you have the time to sit down and have a proper meal somewhere, on a real plate with real cutlery, go for it.  If time requires you to do takeaway, look for restaurants with compostable takeaway containers (and then compost them afterwards!), and bring your own cutlery and napkin. 

Bring your own container.

Alternatively, ask your favorite takeout joint if they'd be willing to let you bring your own container and have them fill it with your salad or sandwich.  Often times explaining what your aim is can go a long way towards getting cooperation from others ("I'm trying to cut down on how much trash I throw away").  Bring your own tote bag so that you can refuse plastic takeaway bags. 

Save your compost.

If you unwittingly find yourself in possession of a paper napkin (it happens to the most prepared among us sometimes!), hang on to it and compost or recycle it when you get home.  And it's always a good idea to have an empty food container with you just in case you find yourself with lunch leftovers you don't want to go to waste or a fruit peel you'd like to add to your home compost bin.  

4. Skip the paper towels.

You may be lucky enough to work in an office that has electric hand dryers in the bathrooms.  If not, you may be faced with paper towels as your only option.  If you use, say, two paper towels every time you wash your hands during the day, paper towel waste adds up very quickly.  I'm going to suggest something bold and controversial: 

Either let your hands air-dry, or bring your own towel.  If you bring your own lunch napkin to work with you, it can pull double duty as a hand towel.  But your hands will also dry just find on their own.  I promise.

5. Think twice before you print.

When I look back on the amount of paper I used in my career as a fashion designer, I want to cry.  Every sketch for every style was done on its own piece of paper, and there were hundreds of sketches per season, and multiple versions of each sketch.  Had I expressed my concern to my superiors about how much paper we were burning through, we may have been able to come up with a creative solution that used less paper, but I never did that.  Instead I threw out hundreds of sheets of paper every single season. 

Conserve and recycle paper.

Monitor how much paper you're using.  In this day and age of digital technology, there are a lot of ways around using paper.  Use the tools at your disposal. Think twice before printing, and try to print double sided when you must.  Talk to your building facilities manager about recycling the paper that gets thrown out, or buying recycled copy paper.  

6. Go paperless on your commute. 

Do you take public transportation to work?  In many cities, you can now use apps to buy train tickets or contactless cards to pay for bus and tram fares.  Use electronic ticketing options when possible, or buy a pass that gets you multiple rides on one ticket.  

7. Go easy on yourself. 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get tripped up and end up relying on disposables.  We live in a disposable world, and avoiding trash is a constant battle, never more difficult than when we're just trying to get through the day.  Don't beat yourself up when things don't go the way you'd like them to.  Assess, reflect, and plan better next time.  Change is a process, so be patient with yourself!

In what other ways could you arm yourself against waste during the workday? Leave me a note in the comments!

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7 ways to go zero waste at the office