My friend Suze is waging a one-woman crusade at her university campus; she is encouraging her colleagues to use use the 'real' plates and cutlery provided by their on-site canteen, rather than the disposable alternatives that are also available (for takeaway back to their desk). This may sound like an easy ask (and Suze is a very persuasive person) but she has been met with reluctance because people would have to...wait for it...walk their dirty crockery back to the canteen for the kitchen staff to place in the dishwasher! Imagine!
I remember from my office days just how quickly dirty cups and bowls would accumulate in the sink (beneath the ‘please rinse your cups and place in the dishwasher' sign). Nowhere is convenience more welcome that at work, where the notion of everything being ‘time critical’ can be used as an excuse for using disposable stuff and general laziness (like not walking your dirty plates back or washing them up!).
Companies and eco-crusaders like Suze are now starting to look at how eco friendly their place of work and study is, at a time when plastic pollution and other environmental issues are being brought to the fore. In this fourth in our eco living series, we look at what we can do; as commuters, staff members, students, to making our work life a shade greener.
1. Use a reusable coffee cup for takeaway coffee
So here’s the rub. Disposable coffee cups are one of the very worst offenders when it comes to waste, as they are not recyclable and take hundreds of years to biodegrade in landfill. Reusable coffee cups are now widely available to buy, including from most of the coffee houses, so make this a must-do swap! If you don’t have your own cup, skip the coffee.
2. Bring in a packed lunch
Takeaway food and drink leaves a huge disposable footprint. The best way to avoid this is to bring in your own packed lunch in a reusable lunch box, just like you did in your school days. To earn extra brownie points, wrap snacks and sandwiches in beeswax wrap or cotton sandwich wraps and snack bags, to avoid using clingfilm or foil.
3. Use a container for your takeaway lunch
Let's face it, making a packed lunch every day isn’t always practical or desirable! You may well be lucky enough to have a great canteen or fantastic cafe nearby, or you might have been hunting around for school book bags and PE kits in the morning and run out of time to make lunch.
The waste-free answer to this is to a/ bring in your own plate and cutlery and keep it at work to use in your canteen and/or b/ bring in a reusable food container and cutlery. Cafes are getting far more used to this practice and most won’t mind filling up your container for you (as long as you don’t take a ridiculously huge container and expect them to fill it to the top!).
Yes, you will have to wash it up afterwards. It will take you about two minutes (use the time to brainstorm the next big idea to wow your boss, or run over that presentation you're giving).
4. Think of extras like straws and cutlery
Remember that anything disposable, even paper, uses energy in its manufacture, so the greenest thing you can do is to bring your own and reuse, rather than using new and throwing away;
Take a few cotton napkins to work that you can bring home to wash intermittently (and they can double up as a hanky when needed).
Have a stainless steel straw handy in your draw, for post work drinks.
It’s summertime and you’ll be drinking outdoors? Going to a concert or festival? Take a stainless steel tumbler so that you don't have to use the plastic cups provided. Your cup can be used for hot and cold drinks in the daytime too, as it is vacuum insulated (with space for your stainless steel straw).
You cycle into work (massive green points for this :-))? Take your own natural soap with you - you can pop into a biodegradable soap holder like this one and avoid plastic bottles, as well as synthetic chemicals and palm oil.
5. Give your Secret Santa a green theme this year.
Opt for things like stainless steel straws, natural soap and reusable coffee cups. Or gifts could be homemade - who doesn't love a batch of chocolate brownies? Ban the throwaway tat...
6. Make a New Years Resolution to reduce your plastic (and other) waste
Carry out an audit looking on all of the areas in which you regularly end up with single-use waste. Think about the commute, lunch-time, meetings, trips to the coffee shop and prepare yourself with a kit to cover all eventualities. If you like to do things in a structured manner, you can use an audit sheet like this one or just do it all in your head!
Go one step further and share it with your colleagues so that you...
7. Become the office (chic) eco geek
You’re already setting an example with your reusable kit - your colleague is eyeing up your rather stylish Ecoffee cup and you have been looking a little bit smug in meetings when sipping cold water from your stainless steel tumbler. Take it one step further (no, I’m not going to say start tutting whenever you see a plastic cup) and instigate some office wide initiatives;
- A crockery amnesty - ask everyone to bring in spare cutlery, mugs and crockery from home to kit out your kitchen. Visitors to the office can have their tea in a real mug, and water (tap please) in a real glass. Maybe your boss would consider installing water refill points for visitors.
- Speak to your canteen and/or local coffee house and ask if they will do a discount on BYO cups for you and your colleagues (hopefully they are already doing this for customers).
- Make sure your recycling facilities are up to scratch - talk to your manager/ office manager about installing more recycling bins.
- Talk to your boss/manager about signing up to a scheme with Do Nation. Do Nation help organisations, like business and universities, to run campaigns that encourage staff to make pledges for change across a number of areas (that you can specify) like Fantastic Unplastic or Tin Tin (recycling). It costs as little as £1 per employee, and gives measurable results. Here is Pukka Herbs employee pledge challenge.
- These types of initiatives could help you to achieve significant business goals, like acheiving B-Corporation certification - ‘B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. The B Impact Assessment evaluates how your company’s operations and business model impact your workers, community, environment, and customers.'
There is little doubt that you will have had more than one conversation with your colleagues about environmental issues currently in the press, like - ‘Did you watch the Liz Bonin documentary ‘Drowning in Plastic’?’ ‘Have you seen the orangutan ad on Facebook, about the destruction of their habitat for palm oil?’.
Doing something about these issues, whether just doing your bit or encouraging your colleagues to do the same, will help to build a sense of camaraderie and community within the office. Ultimately, a less wasteful and more active office is a happier place.
‘To do good, you actually have to do something.’
- Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and author of ‘Let Them Go Surfing: The Education Of A Reluctant Businessman
I would love to hear your comments, tips and stories on initiatives that you are running at your workplace or college/university. Please leave a comment below, or on Facebook, and your name will be entered into a prize draw to win one of our Packed Lunch & Commute Kits, up to the value of £35 (you can tailor it to your needs).
You can shop the full range of packed lunch and commute products available to buy at The Wise House here.