COVID-19 is changing the very nature of employee engagement and workplace culture, including the culture of sustainability within businesses. Working from home during the pandemic has had positive impacts on the environment, but as lockdown measures ease and offices reopen, carbon emissions are on the rise. The Sustainable Working Blog Series will provide guidance on how to cultivate sustainability-conscious behaviours in both the home office and the workplace across three core areas of sustainability: energy, waste and transportation. Our second post in this series focuses on reducing waste in your home office using the 5R’s, and how you can continue to apply these waste reduction habits as you return to your office building post COVID-19.
Reducing vs Diverting Waste
There are two ways individuals and businesses can reduce the amount of waste to landfills and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through waste reduction, and waste diversion. Waste reduction focuses on reducing the overall waste created in the first place. Waste diversion is the process of stopping waste from reaching the landfills by using it for different purposes. Below you will find helpful tips in the form of the 5R’s to both reduce and divert your waste at home and in the office.
A great way to begin understanding ways to reduce or divert waste is to assess how much waste you create. Reep Green Solutions annually hosts a Zero Waste Challenge during the month of October, and especially this week (Oct 19th-25th) people are encouraged to fit all the waste that they would normally send to landfill (exclude your compost and recycling) into a one litre mason jar. This helps visualize an individual’s true impact. Share your progress over the week and see how others are doing by checking out @ReepGreen on social media and using #ZeroWasteChallenge.
If you want to take it one step further, you can calculate how much your waste contributes to your personal overall GHG emissions using Project Neutral, a free online tool to help you calculate your emission footprint. If you’re an organization in Waterloo Region, and are interested in learning more about the potential to reduce and divert waste from landfills, reach out to us at the Regional Sustainability Initiative. We can work together to set waste reduction and diversion goals, identify aligned projects and establish a public waste diversion target for your organization to measure your successes and celebrate your progress.
How to Reduce and Divert Waste Using the 5R’s
Refuse unnecessary purchases in the first place – instead, can you borrow, rent or repair existing items? Check out the KW Library of Things where you can borrow infrequently used items like garden equipment, kitchen appliances and camping gear.
Refuse non-environmentally friendly products via procurement decisions. Staff who make purchases can refuse products that will end up in landfill or come with unnecessary packaging and equipment. They can avoid making unnecessary purchases and request returnable containers from suppliers.
Reduce the waste you generated by purchasing smart. Avoid items with excessive packaging or products with a short lifespan like gift wrap. Purchases high-quality goods for frequently used items like pens; this small investment ensures a longer product life and fewer purchases. Identify the single-use plastics in your life. Can you swap them out with more earth-friendly alternatives that don’t pose the risk of harming our environment through improper disposal, or living in a landfill for decades?
Many of the alternatives on this list are available at locally-owned shops in Waterloo Region, on local online marketplaces, or at thrift stores!
Reduce unnecessary waste creation by examining what workplace policies can be altered to conserve resources. Can you make double-sided printing default on all printers? Can you develop a culture of printing only what is necessary and collect paper that has been used on one side for notepaper?
Commonly used cleaning supplies and kitchen items (such as sugar and creamer) can be purchased in bulk, instead of in individual packages, and stored in large containers. To cut down on office supply use, a single staff member can have the key to the supply closet and can help steward the use of office supplies, or your organization can post signage encouraging reuse of items and have a bin for swapping out common items like pens.
Help others reuse your items by donating them or by researching ways to reuse items you’d normally throw away. Goods like old binders, file folders, envelopes, paper clips, pens and pencils, rubber bands, and interoffice mail folders can all be used over and over again instead of throwing them away after a single use.
Reuse common office items like coffee mugs. Have employees bring old dishes, mugs and utensils to stock the office kitchen so that the need for single use products is reduced. Encouraging a ‘bring your own’ mentality contributes to a culture of sustainability.
Consider creating a mini ‘reuse’ counter for common tasks like shipping/mailing. Can you reuse shredded paper for packaging? Can you incorporate repurposed waste items throughout the office, like cleaned-out old cans to hold pens?
Make recycling simple in your home office by having two bins by your work station – one for recycling and one for garbage.
Check out the Region of Waterloo website for resources on recycling home office waste and learn how to properly dispose of common office items, from electronics to stationary to office furniture.
Recycle common office products (e.g. shipping supplies like boxes and packaging, paper) by establishing a process for collecting cardboard boxes, mixed paper products and plastics/alumni/glass.
Encourage your staff to participate in events like Carbon Cleanse so they can share their progress and see what unique initiatives other WRSI members have implemented. You can also explore initiatives like Terracycle’s Zero Waste Box to help dispose of normally non-recyclable items.
Rot organic compounds by placing small green bins in your bathroom for household items that can be composted municipally like hair, tissue paper, nail clippings, and wrapped pet waste.
Each municipality has guidelines on what goes where and you can check out the Waste Whiz App to find out easily.
Rot organic waste from office meals and snacks as well as events by introducing a green bin program in your workplace.