Hands Raised with Recyclables Horizontal

Mountains of Plastic

Tips to Reduce Plastic Waste at Work

If you manage a business, it is likely that plastic use and the resulting waste by your company, employees, and customers is an issue. Good waste management plans not only involve an effective recycling program, but also cutting down and simplifying your company’s plastic footprint ahead of anything else.

Good intentions are great, but how to accomplish them are another matter. Experts on plastics, waste and recycling weigh in on winning the war on plastic waste.

Recycling Bottle at Work

1. Reduce, reuse, recycle
We seem to be really good at adopting recycling programs, but not so good at reducing what we produce or purchase in the first place. According to Trewin Restorick, co-founder and CEO of environmental charity Hubbub, businesses can have a huge impact by designing with less packaging or choosing more efficiently packaged products.

Solutions: A shift in procurement practices in favor of reusable products or those made with recycled materials further reduces plastic waste.

Recycling is not going to fully resolve our love of plastic containers. This is where education and encouraging a culture of reduction comes in. Encourage use of reusable cups rather than disposable cups of plastic containers. Employees can also make choices in the products they choose, not purchasing those that are overpacked in plastic and choosing to carry lunch items in reusable containers.

2. Stop providing bottled water
Recycling is not going to fully resolve our love of plastic containers. This is where education and encouraging a culture of reduction comes in. Encourage use of reusable cups rather than disposable cups of plastic containers. Employees can also make choices in the products they choose, not purchasing those that are overpacked in plastic and choosing to carry lunch items in reusable containers.

Solutions: Here are three suggestions to reduce or eliminate plastic water bottle use at work.

+ Provide or encourage reusable water bottles. A good reusable water bottle costs about $10 (or less purchased in bulk), saving hundreds in bottled water and keeping plastic out of the waste stream. Reusable ceramic mugs work just as well for water as coffee. For meetings or serving customers, choose biodegradable cups.

+ Install a refillable water cooler. A water dispenser bottle is reusable and can last for decades. You can exchange empty cooler bottles locally or use a service.

+ Provide a filtered water pitcher. One water pitcher filter can effectively replace as much as 300 standard 16.9-ounce bottles using ordinary tap water. This is a great way for smaller businesses to provide great tasting water for little cost.

Refilling a Reusable Water Bottle
Recycling Bin at the Office

3. Businesses Still Need a Recycling Program
You may have heard that China is not accepting America’s waste. This is not entirely true, and businesses should continue to recycle. China is still accepting recyclables, they are just being much pickier. In the past, China would accept dirty loads of comingled plastics and other materials and clean it using low-wage workers. With a glut of available recyclable materials and improved wages, the country has been tightening the standards of what is will accept since 2012. After President Trump’s trade tariffs, China retaliated, and one area was further tightening of what recyclables would be accepted.

Closing off this channel is forcing a major shift in the recycling industry, requiring a cleaner waste stream. To make a cleaner product, costs will be incurred, and those costs will be passed along to consumers.

Contaminated loads―those that are dirty or contain items that cannot be recycled―cost recyclers money. A bit of food mixed in with recyclables is not just an inconvenience, says Julie Ketchum, director of government affairs for Waste Management, the largest recycler in Minnesota. “It can destroy the value of a whole load,” she said.

Solutions: Businesses can help by ensuring what is tossed is rinsed, separated and actually recyclable. Place specific signs listing what can go in a plastic, glass, aluminum or paper bin. The best place to establish a recycling center is near a community kitchen sink where materials can be washed.

There are also opportunities for new business. Wayne Gjerde, who reviews recycling markets for the State of Minnesota, said the industry shift is also forcing America to develop markets for recyclables, reducing reliance on China.

4. Work with the Waste Industry
Companies must think through the whole production, recycle and reuse cycle. As you would with any other business decisions, gather the advice of experts.

Solutions: Companies must think through the whole production, recycle and reuse cycle. As you would with any other business decisions, gather the advice of experts.

5. Shift the economics
What would happen if your business rewarded environmentally friendly solutions? Companies such as Starbucks are exploring the impact of shifting the economics of plastic and paper takeaway cups to the consumer. The company launched a trial in London, charging customers an extra 6 cents for a takeaway cup. Results have had a surprising side benefit. Reusable cup use has jumped 150 percent in stores participating in the trial. This is a success not only in reducing disposable cup use, but has also encouraged reuse before recycling.

Solutions: Companies can choose vendors that provide recyclable materials over those that don’t. If bottled beverages are part of your corporate culture, consider raising the cost or making eco-friendly alternatives free.

It takes less energy and greenhouse gasses to recycle than to harvest raw material and make new products. By cutting plastic water bottles out of the office, being eco-minded in procurement and production processes and recycling, businesses can be effective in reducing plastics in our waste stream.

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