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A Distaste for Office Waste

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For the month of June, Life Lived Curiously will become Life Lived Consciously in honor of fighting climate change and taking responsibility for our actions as human inhabitants of this planet. Stay tuned for researched articles about sustainability, the environment, and so much more!

A Distaste for Office Waste

If you work in an office, you’re probably familiar with the amount of waste that’s produced. From paper and pens, to broken electronics and empty toners, it all adds up. Office waste is a preventable issue and with a little effort and commitment, eliminating it can actually save businesses money.

When we think about the waste we produce every day, usually we ignore the resources we are required to use at work. We ignore that waste because we know there’s probably nothing we can do to eliminate it.

So…have you ever really stopped to think about how much waste occurs in offices? In your office (if you work in one, of course)?

From my experience, I’ve noticed that office waste streams consist mainly of the following:

  1. Paper and cardboard
  2. Food receptacles and ware

Paper and Cardboard Office Waste

Problems

According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. That seems like a lot, but let’s do the math…

At my current job, I probably use 150-200 sheets of paper every single day. That equals somewhere between 39,000 and 52,000 sheets of paper per year. For a “paperless” office, that’s a lot of paper!

The worst part is that about a quarter of that paper is tossed without even being used. Due to risk of violating HIPAA, any paper that has personal or medical information about a patient cannot be reused. I understand and respect this policy. However, it certainly adds to the paper waste in medical offices. Any document or form that gets printed twice or in err must be discarded immediately. I imagine the same goes in accounting or financial offices.

So… all of this paper is used, and then what happens to it? Medical offices usually have secure shredding bins they put everything into. Does the office shred it themselves? If so, do they recycle the shredded paper? Or if they use a company, does that shredding company recycle the paper after they shred it? That’s an important factor to consider when choosing a disposal method for paper.

According to the EPA, paper and cardboard products make up 13.3% of landfills in the US. I bet offices around the country contribute most of that 13.3%. Many offices don’t even have recycle bins for non-secure papers! I’ve worked at a couple places that didn’t participate in recycling on any level.

Solutions

What are some possible improvements to the office paper problem?

– Pieces of paper without confidential or sensitive information can be reused and printed on the blank side.

– Employees can put forth a conscious effort to make double-sided copies if a project is more than one page.

– Medical or customer-oriented offices can make an effort to provide online or electronic options of filling out any paperwork needed.

– There is no realistic solution to absolutely eliminate all paper use, so having recycle bins at every desk should be a huge priority.

Food Receptacles and Ware Office Waste

Problems

Food and coffee are big parts of office culture. What time will your coworkers take their lunch? Did anyone bring in snacks or treats? I haven’t had my coffee yet, I NEED my coffee before I talk to anyone. Where should you order or go pick food up from? What will the free lunch be at the meeting on Tuesday?

Food gives office employees reason to get excited and also provides socialization in the break room. (Whatever I’m eating at lunch is the best part of my work day – every day). But, eating at the office also creates a lot of waste.

Think about it – no one has time or wants to wash a plate and any silverware they use. Not after lunch, and definitely not if someone brings in cake for a midday treat.

Plastic silverware, plates, and cups are big contributors to office waste around the USA.

So, offices usually stay stocked up on paper plates and plastic silverware for those occasions. They might even have paper or plastic plates and silverware available for employees to use every day on their lunch break.

Depending on how many employees there are, that might involve hundreds of forks and plates every week – all being used one time and then thrown out.

Additionally, consider the coffee situation in offices now a days. Keurig’s are king for office coffee. This means increased daily plastic consumption and waste. Some employees have 3-4 cups of coffee every day. Not only is that a lot of one-use plastic (for some very mediocre coffee, let’s be real), but it’s expensive to maintain.

Solutions

I think some solutions here are pretty obvious. Break rooms should be stocked with real silverware instead of plastic. Having real plates and bowls would be a plus, too! I know there’s probably concern with people washing their own dishes, but I don’t have a solution for that, sorry.

Use drip coffee instead of Keurigs. If your office won’t switch back to drip coffee, get yourself some of these reusable k-cup pods!

My boyfriend and I have had these for over a year now (I have a Keurig that I used to use). They are extremely cheap, and you can reuse them every day. They are certainly a little more work, but it’s worth the amount of waste you save, in my eyes. Plus, you have more discretion over what kind of coffee you drink every day.

All you need is some regular ground coffee, and you’re good to go. Fill the reusable pod up, put the top on, and use the Keurig as normal.

In conclusion, office waste can be easily reduced with a little effort and dedication. With a plan and easy access to recycling and reusable supplies, every office can do their part to protect the environment.

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