Knowing how to reduce waste at your business is an important part of your sustainability efforts, but it can be a challenge. It’s one of the top issues that I find all businesses struggling with, regardless of how much they’re already doing to be sustainable.
As a society, we send ridiculous amounts of waste to the landfill. All of this waste represents misspent resources – both natural and financial. We’re using natural resources to create products that ultimately become garbage. And, of course, it costs us money to buy those products that ultimately end up in the landfill.
How do we stop this?
To start, we can think about the three R’s of recycling: reduce, reuse, recycle. We’ve heard these repeated many times, but let’s take a closer look at how they can be applied to help us reduce waste at work.
Step 1: Reduce Waste
Start by eliminating waste at the source. The best way to do this is to do a waste audit.
Take a look at what is in your garbage, recycling, and compost bins. Ask yourself, “Is there something that we can do to avoid using or purchasing that product?”
For example, if you find that there is packaging waste, can you either work with your vendors to eliminate that or purchase items in bulk? If the waste is a result of your manufacturing, can you further streamline your operations to minimize or eliminate that waste?
One restaurant that I worked with was already recycling and composting quite a bit when they noticed that plastic straws made up a significant part of their waste stream. They then took two concrete steps to change this.
First, they stopped automatically handing out straws and instead posted small signs on every table letting customers know that straws were available upon request.
Second, they researched the use of paper straws that can be composted and made the switch. Using fewer straws allowed them to absorb the slightly higher cost of the compostable straws. By paying attention, they were able to make changes and reduce the waste that they were sending to the landfill.
Step 2: Reuse All That You Can
After you’ve reduced all that you can, look at what remains and identify items that can be reused. An important part of this might involve purchasing reusable items rather than disposable ones, which is an obvious way to reduce your waste stream.
It can cost a bit more upfront, but it will save you money in the long run because you won’t need to keep purchasing disposable items over and over again. An example of this would be paper cups, paper plates, and plastic utensils in the employee kitchen – just replace them with real plates and silverware.
One business that I’ve worked with decided to install two new dishwashers when they switched to reusables, knowing that people would be more receptive to the change with the dishwashers. Since they picked Energy Star-certified, high efficiency dishwashers, they weren’t using too much water or energy, and they would significantly reduce their waste stream.
If it’s not something that you can reuse, you can also donate it so that someone else can use it.
A common example of this would be packaging peanuts or bubble wrap. If you are receiving these with your orders, rather than throwing them out, find out if another business can use them. A business that is shipping out items for clients could probably put those to use.
Step 3: Recycle All That You Can
If you can’t reduce or reuse an item, then the last option is to recycle it. Most commonly recycled items such as paper, glass, and plastics are really easy to recycle through your hauling service.
To make your office recycling effective, though, you’ll need to make sure that you’re providing enough proper bins and signage so that your employees can easily recycle items and provide ongoing training to your employees.
Even here in the Bay Area, it can still be a challenge to get people to properly sort items, so the signage and training are important. This is a great area for your green team to work on, since it can actively engage employees.
Note that recycling also includes recycling food waste, or composting, so you should also have that service set up as well.
Beyond recycling the standard items, you might have some items that are a bit harder to recycle. In those cases, you might need to do more research to find out who can recycle those items for you.
Conduct a waste audit to see what is in your waste stream.
Depending upon your business, this can be as simple as taking a look into your garbage dumpster to see what’s there. Or, you might contact your hauler to see if they can help you with this.