How to reduce workplace waste

The world generates over 2 billion tonnes of waste annually, with over one third of that waste not managed environmentally. 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%, less than 10% of worldwide plastic.

Moreover, the waste problem is not just about disposal. Many products are purchased which are either not needed or not used to their full potential and this creates a double waste impact. Firstly, the wasted materials and carbon emissions from production, and then a second effect from the disposal of waste when it’s not needed.

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

Waste forms part of a company’s scope 3 emissions and is an area where employees need to be involved to support any company sustainability targets. To support this, we recently undertook a research project to find out what companies are doing to bridge the gap between sustainability strategies and employee action and the current best practices used by market leaders to close the gap.

Here are some real-world examples of actions taken by companies to tackle waste emissions, encourage sustainable habits, and reduce waste at work.

Eliminate single-use plastic in the workplace

Eliminate single-use plastic in the office and switch to reusable or plastic-free items. An initiative to eliminate single-use plastic in the workplace is a commitment to phase out plastics used once before they are thrown away or recycled. These typically include plastic cutlery, cups, straws, and packaging materials. The goal is to replace these with more sustainable alternatives or to eliminate the need for them, reducing the company’s environmental impact and fostering a culture of sustainability among employees.

To cut back, you need to give employees better alternatives. Set up water dispensers around the workplace and provide employees with reusable water bottles, cups, or glasses. 

Make a commitment to be a zero-waste company  

The world needs to move from linear production to circular. Thinking about waste in your value chain is key. Set a target and a date to become a zero-waste company, and inform stakeholders.

Complete a simple checklist to cut IT equipment waste 

A simple checklist can help quickly identify areas where e-waste can be reduced. Complete the quick checklist and note down areas for improvement. How many of the following do you have policies in place for: 

  • Repair don’t replace 
  • Purchase refurbished 
  • Recycle and reuse devices 
  • Choose long-lasting devices 
  • Choose suppliers that offer a take-back process for their products 
  • Minimise power consumption 

You can add further checklist items that are relevant to your business.  

Run an e-waste collection campaign 

E-waste is a growing problem, with 50 million tonnes of e-waste going to landfills, even though 100% of it has materials that can be reused or recycled. One idea is involve your employees by running a campaign to collect unused IT equipment from the office for recycling. This results in a significant amount of e-waste recycled, but it will also emphasise the importance of recycling and reducing your company’s carbon footprint from IT equipment. 

More than 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated every year. But 100% of it can be reused or recycled.

Educate about recycling to improve recycling rates  

Educating staff about recycling can help to improve recycling rates. Put in place a programme to raise awareness and grow recycling knowledge. Recycling helps to cut carbon footprints and reduces the need for virgin materials dug out of the ground. Combine a recycling scheme with basic training to ensure employees know how to recycle correctly.

A part of this is providing sufficient bins and labelling. Often low recycling rates are due to poor labelling or sufficient, well-placed bins. So providing employees with bins marked for different types of waste, such as recycling, composting, and landfill can help to increase recycling rates.

Set an e-waste recycle or reuse target 

Set a target to reuse or recycle as much e-waste as possible, ideally 100%. This will cover e-waste from electronic equipment including, laptops, workstations, printers, monitors, and phones. 

Partner with certified e-waste recyclers or take-back programs, and dispose of your e-waste properly and safely 

Form partnerships with certified e-waste recyclers or participate in manufacturer take-back programs to ensure proper and safe disposal.

Every year, the people in the US throw out 140 million phones, which causes pollution as the metals contaminate soil and also contain millions of dollars worth of valuable materials including gold, silver, and copper. More than 50 million tonnes of e-waste is created every year, but nearly 100% of it could be for recycling and reuse. 

Reduce food waste in operations 

Set a date and target for how much you want to reduce food waste in operations. Food waste, a material contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, has a double impact. The wasted greenhouse gases from producing the food and the methane released as the food breaks down if sent to landfill. You can also support plant-based diets at work (and for customers if you supply meals) to further reduce the emissions from goods purchased and any food waste left over.

On average 40% of food is thrown away simply because we don’t use it in time

Conduct a waste audit 

Conducting a waste audit is a first step and means analysing the amount and types of waste your company generates and identifying the sources and causes of waste generation. A waste audit can help you understand your current waste management and find opportunities to improve them. 

Educate and engage on waste at work 

Raising awareness and educating employees about waste management at work involves creating a structured program to inform and engage staff on the environmental impacts of waste. The goal is to instil a culture of waste reduction, proper segregation, and recycling.  

Donate, sell, or recycle surplus or obsolete office equipment and furniture, and buy second-hand or refurbished items if possible 

This step involves a sustainable approach to managing office assets by donating, selling, or recycling surplus or obsolete office equipment and furniture. It also encompasses the practice of purchasing second-hand or refurbished items when possible. This approach not only extends the life cycle of products but also reduces waste and the demand for new resources. 

Push for paperless 

Cut back on paper use to save money, save the trees that need to make the paper, and save the cost and carbon from disposing of paper. This can start with a simple action plan: 

  • Assess Current Paper Usage: Conduct an audit to understand the extent and areas of paper usage within the company. Identify processes that rely heavily on paper. 
  • Implement Digital Solutions: Transition to digital platforms for document management, communication, and record-keeping. Encourage the use of digital tools for meetings, presentations, and note-taking. 
  • Set Reduction Targets and Policies: Establish clear targets for paper reduction and implement company policies to support these goals. This might include default double-sided printing, limits on printer usage, and encouraging digital signatures. 
  • Employee Training and Awareness: Educate employees about the environmental impact of paper use and train them in digital alternatives. Foster a culture that values sustainability and responsible resource use. 
Paper emits more than 100 times more carbon than plastic when it goes to landfill

What are the next steps?

Employees need to be involved for companies to hit their sustainability targets, but it can sometimes be challenging to shift mindsets and effectively engage them. To address this challenge, we have created a guide that looks at how to engage employees to reduce waste at work, as well as commuting, energy usage at work, sustainable business travel, and working from home. It includes:

  • Why employees are key to meeting Net Zero targets
  • Areas of sustainability you can focus on
  • Practical suggestions and steps you can implement today
  • How to raise awareness and engage employees to get involved

If you’re ready to start raising awareness about sustainability at work, inspiring employees, and bringing teams together to support your sustainability goals then get in touch.

How to align your team with your sustainability goals guide

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