Towards Zero Waste in the Workplace

Why is waste reduction important?

Emissions from waste make up a large portion of an organisation’s carbon footprint, because the life of any product far exceeds the time it spends in your office. If workplaces are to be serious about reducing their greenhouse gas emissions they must consider the ecological footprint of a product from ‘cradle to grave’.

The good news: almost all office products such as desks, computers, batteries, lights and general waste can either be recycled OR have specific waste disposal requirements to ensure they cause minimal environmental damage.

Reusing or recycling office products is extremely easy in the workplace because you can set up collection points for various items and educates your workplace at the same time.

Here’s four steps to reduce your workplace waste:

1. Understand HOW MUCH waste is produced – do an audit
2. Set a TARGET for improving
4. Give FEEDBACK to your colleagues


Understand your office’s current waste practices:

The only way to minimise workplace waste is to understand the office’s current waste practices. Before implementing waste reduction measures find out the following:

  • How often are the bins collected and which company your waste/recycling contract is with?
  • Are we recycling any general waste such as paper, cardboard, plastics and metal cans? If YES then is there a system in place to educate other staff members about what to recycle and where?
  • What happens to old computers, fax machines, photocopiers or televisions? Are they going to landfill or is someone taking responsibility for them?
  • When ink cartridges, batteries and lights are replaced what happens to the old ones?
  • If your workplace holds events internally or for the general public, is it ‘waste wise’?
  • Can products, furniture or other office equipment be re-used by other organisations
  • Who are the local recycling companies for:– paper/cardboard
    – comingled materials
    – construction/demolition waste
    – specialist event recycling
    – timber
    – metal
    – IT equipment and e-waste

You can find out how much waste your workplace produces by conducting a waste audit. There are 3 levels of waste audits:

  1. Level 1 desk top audit where you review the workplace’s waste/recycling invoices. This will tell you what bins are being collected (general waste, recycling) and how often.
  2. Level 2 visual assessment where you estimate the quantities and waste type (e.g. general waste) in each bin, and record how often these are collected
  3. Level 3 physical audit where waste materials are sorted into categories and weighed. This is best done by professionals

Once you understand your offices current waste practices you can start to reduce the workplace’s environmental impact.

Minimise Waste: Waste-textbox2

Green Purchasing

  • GREENTAGConsider a product’s life-cycle (i.e. from production to disposal) and try to purchase items that use recycled materials.
  • Only purchase items that can be recycled once no longer useful
  • Purchase products that have minimal packaging
  • Purchase locally made products and engage with local businesses
  • Look for the Green Tag when buying new products (click on the image to download the Green Tag guide)
  • Buy energy and water efficient products

Recycling and reusing office equipment

When your workplace has finished with certain items you can donate it to another business, community group or organisation.

If a piece of equipment or furniture is at the end of its useful life, most products can be recycled and used to create new products. Set up collection points for:

  • Electrical items such as computers, monitors and televisions can be recycled as E-Waste at Shoal Bay Waste Disposal Site. Read about Australia’s E-Waste Product Stewardship Scheme
  • Ink cartridges can be recycled at Cartridge World, Office Works, Harvey Norman, Tandy or Dick Smith Electronics
  • Batteries can be recycled at Battery World
  • Smoke detectors can be taken back to where you purchased them
  • Mobile phones can be taken back to the store you purchased them from, or Australia Post.

Recycling general waste

  • recycle example 2Just like in your home, most office waste can be recycled in a yellow lidded bin. In the yellow bin you can put:
    – 1-7 plastics
    – Paper/cardboard
    – Metal cans
    Make sure items have been rinsed with water and the lids have been taken off bottles/jars
  • If there is no yellow lidded bin contact the local recycling services to organise one
  • Set up categorised recycling bins in your kitchen (see image). You can put pictures of what can go in each bin on the outside informing your colleagues what goes where
    TIP: Place bins in easily accessible and logical locations. For example compost bins in the kitchen, paper recycling bins near printers and photocopiers and can/bottle recycling in the kitchen.
  • Under office desks have 1 bin for paper waste only, and all other waste to go to the kitchen waste bin. Inform the cleaner that the bins under office desks are to go into the yellow lidded recycling bin
  • Ask the cleaners to not use plastic bin liners in the bins unless the bin is for collecting ‘landfill’ waste (for example the kitchen bin)

Reduce Paper Use

  • Set the printer to print double sided. This can be done on individual computers and can be adjusted in the printing properties as required.
  • Have 1 tray in the printer filled with used paper (i.e. has been printed on one side already) for internal documents.
  • Become a paperless office by making all workplace documents electronic, and use Australian Forestry Certified (AFC) paper.
  • Use recycled toilet paper
  • Instead of using paper towels in the bathroom use washable towels or energy efficient hand driers (see image on the right)

Workplace Composting & Gardening

  • polystyrene gardening (3)Set up a Bokashi composting bin in the kitchen and encourage staff to put all of their food waste into it. You can put in fruit and vegetables, prepared foods, cooked and uncooked meats and fish, cheese, eggs, bread, coffee grinds, tea bags, wilted flowers and tissues. Cover the waste with a layer of Bokashi Mix and then continue filling the bin until it is full and then it can be buried in the garden.
  • Start up a small workplace herb/vegetable garden in planter boxes (or polystyrene boxes) and encourage staff to pick from it. Using old polystyrene boxes as planet boxes will not take up much space.