Plastic in the office- How to replace, remove, reduce and reuse

Humans are producing over 300 million tons of plastic each year. Of this 300 million, 150 million tons is single-use plastic. This means that it is used for just a few moments but remains on the planet, poisoning our oceans and wildlife, for at least several hundred years. More than 8 million tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans each year – the same mass as 40,000 blue whales. A year. (And this is even more concerning when you consider that, according to the WWF, there are only between 10,000-25,000 actual blue whales in our oceans these days). As for the plastic that doesn’t make its way into the seas, much of it is dumped into landfill where micro-plastics seep into the groundwater to make their way into the water cycle and food chain. Yes, some plastic is recycled, but the amount of recycled plastic doesn’t even make a dent in the vast quantities that will stay littered on our planet for millennia.

Blue Planet II opened many peoples’ eyes to the huge plastic problem that we are facing as a species and many individuals and organisations alike have taken steps to try and prevent the problem from getting worse. So how do you take plastic out of office design? It is easy to put a ban on single-use plastic bottles and straws but when we look around our workplaces, we are surrounded by items made of plastic. From office furniture, to IT equipment how are we supposed to remove plastic from our working lives and what could be the replacement? This blog aims to give you some easy to implement ideas to cut down on plastic in the workplace.

Discourage buying on-the-go lunches

Lots of plastic waste in offices comes in the form of staff lunches – packaging from sandwiches, crisps, ready-made meals etc. You can discourage the culture of ‘on the go lunch’ in one of two ways. The first is to provide your employees with meals on site. This will mean that your company has direct control over the waste that is produced – and you’ll also see a huge increase in employee wellbeing from providing food (but that’s a matter for another day and another blog…). However, it is often not a feasible option to provide meals for your staff – especially for smaller businesses. But you can encourage staff to bring their own lunches by providing them with good facilities to store and reheat their food.

Additionally, having ample and good quality food and preparation facilities will encourage staff to bring their own food rather than heading to the shops at lunchtime and consuming foods that are, inevitably, in single-use packaging. Creating a culture whereby staff eat meals away from their desks will also help discourage hem from grabbing ‘on the go’ meals like shop bought sandwiches, which can easily be eaten from their desks.

Have reusables in kitchens & canteens

Disposable plastic cutlery, plates and cups are one of the top single-use plastic offenders. A single-use plastic utensil is useful for minutes and yet will stay in our environment for centuries. It’s much better to opt for reusable, washable utensils that can be used again and again. Make sure you provide staff with enough utensils to be able to make and eat their lunch conveniently as well as ensuring you provide the facilities to wash them after use.

Cut down on tea and coffee plastic

Making tea and coffee in the office is one of the biggest plastic generating activities and there are steps you can take to minimise this, which will add up to a massive reduction in plastic waste over time.

Firstly, switch back to the milkman. Try to source milk delivered in reusable (and returnable) glass bottles. Additionally, sugar often comes in plastic pots. You can easily switch this out for sugar that comes in paper packets.

Did you know that most tea bags have plastic in them? Loose leaf tea is a plastic free option but there are also plastic-free tea brands if you do your research – such as Pukka. Thinking about coffee, Steampunk Coffee Roasters provides freshly roasted coffee beans in plastic free packaging.

Create an office tuck shop

Yes, we’re still thinking about food. Creating your own office tuck shop is an excellent way to influence what snacks your staff are eating – and what packaging is being left behind. Having your own tuck shop makes it easy to replace bottles with cans and plastic-wrapped sweets and crisps with home-baked goods or a fruit bowl.

Install a water cooler

Single-use plastic water bottles are among the most common items we find washed up on beaches. Globally we get through a million plastic bottles a minute – a statistic that is both mind-boggling and devastating, especially given that in many countries today the tap water is safe, free and more regulated than the bottled water industry. Put a ban on single-use water bottles in the office. Completely. Install a water-cooler (without the little plastic cups!) where staff can refill their own water bottles. To keep this option completely plastic free, opt for a water cooler that is plumbed directly into the mains water supply rather than the plastic water vessels.  

Re-useable mugs and water bottles

This goes hand in hand with the water coolers. Providing staff with re-usable coffee mugs and water bottles can really support your efforts to stamp out single-use plastic cups and bottles in the office. Company branded mugs and bottles make a nice addition to your welcome pack for new employees and you might even want to extend this and provide biodegradable or refillable pens and notebooks too. Giving reusables as gifts (both at work and in your personal life) is a great way to encourage eco habits among people who may not have got around to buying key reusable items for themselves yet and would appreciate a little nudge to help them reduce their reliance on single-use plastic. Alternatively, you could wait to gift team members with reusables individually when it’s their birthday or to recognise good work.

Carry out a waste audit

Having an understanding of what your office is throwing away is a great place to start in reducing plastic waste (and all waste for that matter). For example, if you find that you have a lot of single-use plastic bottles in your waste then you could implement strategies to provide access to fresh, cool drinking water for your employees. By doing this regularly, you can easily build a picture of the plastics your company is regularly throwing away and come up with tailored strategies for your workplace.

Work with suppliers

It’s not just staff that you can work with to reduce waste in your office. Do your suppliers offer alternative products to reduce plastic waste? Or is it even just possible to send deliveries with less plastic packaging? As the client, you have more sway than you realise – especially with the current media hype surrounding plastic where people are taking to social media to shame companies who are using excessive and pointless plastic packaging. When thinking about reducing the amount of plastic that your organisation uses, it’s important that you are not disheartened or overwhelmed by the scale of what you currently use. It’s unlikely that you will be able to cut out plastic from your operations entirely but there are many creative steps your organisation can take to replace, remove, reduce and reuse plastic. Slowly cutting away at your plastic usage over time will make a difference and all these little steps will contribute to making a big difference.

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