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12 ways your office can help tackle the plastic problem

Simple things you can start doing in your office today to reduce plastic waste

Reduce plastic use and waste within the workplace

Plastic. It’s a hot topic right now. Kick-started in the mainstream media by the BBC’s Blue Planet 2, hardly a week goes by now without another headline image showing our oceans and beaches being overrun with plastic debris.

It’s never good to see resources being wasted – let alone something that can be widely recycled. It’s worse when you see the damage that our waste can cause to ecosystems and wildlife.

But there’s good news. This focus on plastic is having an impact. 

Legislation has been passed in England (and is planned for Scotland) banning the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products, and the Scottish Government plans to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic cotton buds.

At a local level, Glasgow City Council will no longer provide plastic drinking straws in its museums, sports centres, offices, schools or city chambers (people who ask for one, will receive an eco-friendly alternative instead). This small change alone will prevent tens of thousands of plastic straws going to landfill every year.

Interestingly, it was campaigning by local primary school children that inspired Glasgow City Council to switch to more eco-friendly options. And these changing consumer attitudes are not being lost on businesses either.  

Iceland has led the big retailers by committing to eliminate plastic packaging from all its own-brand products. Other retailers are now making similar pledges, such as Selfridges, which has stopped selling single-use plastic bottles of carbonated drinks. 

The actions of big businesses are major steps along the way to tackling the plastic problem. But it’s not just the national brands that can make a difference. If you’re passionate about reducing the plastic waste that your business creates, there are lots of things you can do to make an impact too. 

We came up with 12 simple things you can start doing in your office today… 


1. Conduct a waste audit

A better understanding of what actually gets thrown away in your office is a great starting point to reducing plastic waste (and all waste for that matter). 

Knowing the typical types and volumes of waste your office is generating provides a focus for your waste reduction efforts and can help you identify the best course of action to take. For example, if you find there are a lot of single-use plastic water bottles in your bins, you could make plans to provide easier access to drinking water in the office.

Conducting a waste audit doesn’t have to be difficult either – but it can be a little dirty, so you might want to don your rubber gloves. Simply empty out your bins and record the contents. More than likely, you’ll see immediate opportunities. By doing this regularly, and taking notes and photographs each time, you will build up a picture to show you first-hand just what types and volumes of plastics your business is generating and that you can tackle.


2. Run a competition to reduce plastic waste  

When you do your waste audit regularly, you should share results with staff, rewarding them for progress and highlighting any problem areas they can help overcome next. Sharing the photographs you’ve taken – on your noticeboards, via email or on your intranet – is a great way to illustrate issues and keep people motivated.

You might even want to set up bins in different departments and create a bit of friendly competition – rewarding the teams that make the biggest reduction in the amount of plastic waste they generate each month. Feel free to use our 10 ideas on using rewards to engage staff. 


3. Enable staff to bring in homemade lunches

A lot of plastic waste in offices comes from staff lunches. You know the type of thing – packaging for sandwiches, pasta dishes and ready-made meals. This can be tackled by providing your staff with facilities to store and reheat food. 

Good food storage and preparation facilities will encourage more staff to bring in homemade lunches rather than going to the local shops at lunchtime and bringing back lunches that are invariably in single-use plastic packaging. Let staff know about nifty re-usable sandwich wrappers which unlike clingfilm can be used time and time again. 


4. Set up an office tuck shop 

Setting up a tuck shop is a great way to influence what snacks, are eaten in your office – and what packaging gets left behind. When setting up your tuck shop and restocking supplies, you can replace plastic bottles with cans, and plastic packaged sweets and crisps with healthy home-baked goods or a fruit bowl. 


5. Install a water cooler 

Ditch single-use water bottles completely. Install a water cooler so staff can fill drinking glasses and re-useable bottles with drinking water. Rather than opt for the refillable large water vessels choose to plumb into the mains water supply. You may even want to put an office ban on single-use water bottles when you set up your water cooler. 

Of course, the simplest thing to do is to have an accessible tap – we have the luxury of delicious fresh water – on tap.  


6. Provide staff with re-usable mugs and bottles  

Providing staff with re-usable coffee mugs and water bottles can really support your efforts to stamp out single-use plastic cups and bottles in the office. Company branded mugs and bottles make a nice addition to your welcome pack for new employees and you might even want to extend this and provide biodegradable or refillable pens and notebooks too. And for organisations where commuting to meetings is part of the every day and soup is often part of the lunch menu, re-usable travel mugs as part of the kitchen itinerary will prove useful. 

In Morgan Stanley’s Glasgow office, disposable cups were removed from its kitchenettes and each member of staff was provided with a re-usable mug. Disposable water cups were also replaced with re-usable bottles. These initiatives not only reduced plastic waste, but actually reduced the company’s waste management and purchasing costs.

John McGrory, General Manager of Morgan Stanley Glasgow, with a re-usable mug and water bottle given to office staff

7. Challenge old routines

We all have ‘our way’ of doing things, but sometimes it can be good to take a step back and ask if there are ways of getting the same result without producing the same waste. Here’s a simple example. We worked with Bardyke Chemicals who were ordering raw materials in dry form in plastic bags. 

By switching from dry materials in bags to deliveries of liquid product they eliminated 20 tonnes of plastic bags from the business waste and (combined with other efficiencies) saved £2,000 a year. Simple, effective and cost efficient.  OK, this example is small and isn’t going to change the world overnight, but if you take this approach too, you might just find you can change routines for the better. 


8. Create a central supplies library

How often do you find that new supplies are bought for one project or one member of staff – when those materials exist in your business already? Think about rulers, hole-punches, plastic folders, poly-pockets, desk tidies, calculators and so on – many of which are probably gathering dust in the back of a cupboard or desk drawer.

Set up a central stationery library so that staff can share resources instead. This will not only save you money on procurement costs, but also prevent more plastic coming into the office when it is not needed. You could extend this to include re-usable shopping bags (an office ‘bag for life’), food storage tubs, and other items that can be easily shared.


9. Include procurement staff on your green team

Your procurement staff have a huge influence over the amount of plastic being brought into your office. Are they still buying plastic pockets over re-usable paper folders? Are your tea bags plastic-free yet? Yes, there’s plastic in many tea bags. 

As well as working with your procurement colleagues to set up a central supplies library, we recommend that you include a member of procurement staff in your green team. This will help them build their knowledge, enthusiasm and ability to make plastic-free purchases. 

(What? Don’t a have green team yet? You’re missing out – here’s all you need to set up a green team in your office.)


10. Work with suppliers

As well as encouraging staff to make plastic-free choices, work with your suppliers too. 

Can they supply alternative products that reduce plastic waste? Or even just make deliveries with less wrapping and packaging to reduce waste? For catering suppliers, why not ask them to provide food on re-usable trays and provide jugs of water rather than single-use bottles for example?

This free guide will give you a range of useful techniques for assessing the environmental impact of the goods and services you purchase. Practical steps are also provided that can be taken to improve the sustainability of your supply chain, enabling you to identify opportunities for making environmental improvements.


11. Encourage good recycling

Ok, so this one is not about generating less plastic waste. Even with the best effort, there are going to be times when you do have plastic waste in your office. That’s life. But when that does happen, the key is to make sure staff are encouraged to recycle all appropriate materials. You’ll find a range of free recycling posters here to help you do just that.


12. Make a Pledge

If you’re serious about becoming a plastic-free office, and are going to implement some of these ideas, we recommend that you turn your actions into a Resource Efficiency Pledge.

The Resource Efficiency Pledge is a national scheme backed by the Scottish Government. It lets you join hundreds of Scottish businesses that have already made the Pledge and shown their commitment to taking action on improving resource efficiency. 

Making your Pledge is a great way to galvanize your management team’s commitment to going plastic free, while getting public recognition for your efforts. You can make your Resource Efficiency Pledge here.


So, there you have it, 12 ways to become a plastic-free office. That’s a wrap – a plastic-free wrap of course.

Now you’ve gone plastic free, what’s next? Want to cut your energy bills down to size? Or see how you can use less water? If you would like to find out what you can do to save in your business, our friendly advisers are here to help. You can reach them on 0808 808 2268. 



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