How to cut waste at work 

On average each person on the planet generates over 250kg of waste each year, with the biggest waste creators, typically in high income countries, creating an incredible 120 tonnes of waste over their lifetime. 

Most of this waste is food and other materials that can be recycled such as paper cardboard, metal, glass, and some plastics. However, recycling rates remain low. Even in the USA it’s only just above 30%, and its less than 10% of worldwide plastic.  

All of this waste creates two challenges. Firstly, how it can be disposed of in a safe way which does not lead to large scale local pollution and secondly, it’s a big greenhouse gas emitter. It’s estimated that waste is responsible for 1.6 gigatonnes (that’s 1,600,000,000 tonnes) of carbon emissions every year, or 5% of all emissions. Food waste alone accounts for nearly 50% of these emissions as when it breaks down in landfill it releases methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas. 

However, the positive news is that many companies, and employees, understand the importance of making a change and have started to look for ways to make waste at work more sustainable.

Waste is the fourth largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so cutting waste 
is good for the planet

What role can an individual play in reducing waste at work? 

We all have a role to play and waste at work is an area where many people can make a quick difference. Here are some tips and examples of how to do that as an employee: 

Build your knowledge 

An important first step is to learn more so you understand the “why” behind the importance of cutting waste at work. Waste has a double environmental impact. The first from wasting the energy and materials that went into producing something which is not used and then secondly from the emissions of waste disposal.   

You can also dig deeper into the practical actions you can take, for example learning about recycling at work. Recycling can help reduce waste, conserve resources, and protect the environment but to recycle properly at work it’s important to know what, and where, an item can be recycled. With over 80% of people in some countries unintentionally contaminating their recycling waste, it’s important to get it right.  

Separate different types of materials, such as paper, plastic, metal, and glass into the right bins and don’t “wish cycle” which is where you throw something away in the hope it can be recycled. Ask facilities or your sustainability team for an at work recycling guide. And don’t forget recycling at work can also include reusing items, such as office supplies or packaging instead of throwing them away. 

Over 80% of people in some countries are unintentionally contaminating their recycling waste, which could result in it going to landfill

Try a week cutting back on waste 

A good way to build more sustainable waste habits is to start with a week trying to cut back on certain types of waste. You could try any of the following:  

  • Go a week at work without using any single use plastic. Single use plastic is everywhere – from plastic bags to drinks bottles and food wrappers to cutlery – the average person can get through hundreds of single use plastic items each year. Kick the habit by saying ‘no’ to different types of single use plastic for a week, to help you build a habit of reducing the amount that you use. 
  • Try getting rid of all waste at work. Take on zero waste practices for a week including using reusable containers, avoiding disposable items, avoiding food waste and recycling everything you can. Starting with a week will help you build a habit of cutting back on waste which not only helps the environment but also supports your company’s sustainability goals. 
  • Food waste is one of the main contributors to the greenhouse gases emitted by landfill, so try to avoid food waste for a week at work. This should include every meal, snack, drink and, where relevant, meetings that have food provided. Growing food requires land and water, it also produces carbon emissions and uses chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Throwing out edible food means all of those resources go to waste.  
  • Don’t forget e-waste: This is the electronic waste that an office might produce, such as computers, smartphones, printers, and batteries. These items can contain hazardous substances and valuable materials, which need to be handled properly and safely. This waste stream usually goes to a certified e-waste recycler or take-back program, where it is reused or recycled. 

Go paperless 

 The paperless office was introduced many years ago, but most office workers still use thousands of sheets of paper every year.  

You can start by creating a checklist to help cut back on paper use and save costs. This is a practical way to achieve small wins for your environmental impact and carbon emissions. Paper production and consumption contributes to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste generation. By following a checklist, you can identify and eliminate unnecessary paper use, and adopt more efficient and digital alternatives. Examples include printing double sided, setting narrow margins, proof reading on screen, or not taking spare copies to meetings. Every day offers an opportunity for saving.  

Each piece of paper is small but in the US alone 68 million tonnes of paper waste is generated every year with 17 million tonnes of that going to landfill. Just 10 sheets of paper need 1 litre of water to make, so you’ll be conserving water as you cut back on carbon and save costs. 

Conduct a rubbish bin audit  

Perhaps not the most appealing activity, but you could conduct a rubbish bin audit to see what’s in your bin to think about what can be recycled, reused or was just straight forward unnecessary waste. By conducting a rubbish bin audit, you can understand your waste stream and find opportunities to reduce it. It does not have to be a messy process. You can reach your conclusion just by having a poke around rather than emptying the bin for a fuller look.  

Create a waste at work checklist 

A good way to get started is with a waste at work checklist which will help provide ideas to reduce waste and save costs. Brainstorm ideas to reduce waste, there are lots of things you can do, including avoiding plastic, reducing paper, cutting back on food waste, recycling e-waste and many more. Every day at work offers an opportunity to make a difference. 

Generate ideas 

Get together as a team to brainstorm practical solutions for cutting back on waste. Here are a few ways to get ideas flowing: 

  • Build a green innovation wall. This is a visual and interactive way to showcase and generate ideas that can improve the environmental performance of your team. It can help you to create a culture of collaborative innovation, where everyone can contribute to solving sustainability challenges and creating positive impact. Once you build the green innovation wall at work, which can be physical or digital, share it with colleagues to generate and shares ideas to be more sustainable.  
  • Run a waste “start, stop, continue” session with your team. This is a feedback tool that helps you and your team improve your performance and collaboration by generating three lists: what to start doing, what to stop doing, and what to continue doing. By focusing on waste you can use this session to come up with ideas to cut waste and recycle more and remind your team of the great things you are doing already which you should keep at. 

Recycle everything at work 

Many people recycle at home but don’t take those same practices into work. Recycling means that materials can be used again and again which saves energy, means that new materials don’t need to be dug up and reduces carbon emissions. Go for a week at work recycling everything you can, and not forgetting e-waste. Once you’ve built the habit you’ll be the sort of person who always puts things in the right bins to save waste in the workplace. 

Whilst individuals and companies are different, we share the same climate goals. Don’t let the fact that you cannot do everything stop you from doing something and we hope this article has provided you with new ideas to do something new today! 

If you have been inspired to take some steps to cut waste, then you can sign up to Giki Zero to find more steps and discover your carbon footprint. Or get in touch to talk about how we can help engage your colleagues on cutting back waste at work.