Did you know that every year, we produce 400 million tons of plastic worldwide? That is nearly the weight of the entire human population! And it’s estimated that every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in oceans – and single use plastic makes up roughly 50% of this amount. Around the world, over 36% of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers, with the remaining 85% ending up in landfills. The big problem with plastic waste is that we just don’t know how long it will take to break down. Researchers believe that it may take up to 500 years, but others think it may not fully break down – only break up into smaller pieces.
Packaging, single-use items such as plastic bags and straws, and food packaging are among the most significant sources of plastic waste in Australia. Several Australian states have implemented bans on single-use plastics to reduce the impact of plastic waste on the environment. The ban applies to conventional, degradable, and compostable plastics. The Australian government recognises the importance of reducing plastic waste and has established the National Packaging Targets to achieve 100% recyclable, compostable, or reusable packaging by 2025.
What is single-use plastic?
Single-use plastics are items that are made to be used once or maybe twice and then thrown away. These are items that we use every day, for as little as five or ten minutes at a time, and then discard. Items like bottles, straws, shopping bags, coffee cups, and takeaway containers are everywhere in our offices as well as our homes. While cheap and convenient, single-use items are also doing immense environmental damage right under our noses.
Don’t worry – it’s not difficult to do our bit for the environment. Most of these single-use items can be swapped out for reusable or recyclable alternatives! It’s up to us to make a difference.
How can I reduce single-use plastic in my office?
1. Change up your office culture
The first step is to educate and inform your team. People don’t alter their behaviour if they don’t know better. Make sure that they are aware of what single-use plastics are, and what alternatives are available. You could hold a training day, or an ongoing program. Communication is key to changing your office culture.
2. Provide support and incentives to get involved
Once your team is informed, you may be surprised at how much they will want to get involved. Make sure that your staff feel supported. It helps to feel that you are all working together. Provide incentives so that people will stay committed and come up with new smart ways to help. Some local councils offer programs for businesses – have a look if there are any local incentives that your workplace could be a part of. Working together, we can make all the difference!
3. Do a ‘Green Audit’
You might not be aware of exactly what items in your office are single-use. Conduct a green audit and find out! Identify items which are single-use, like office supplies, food packaging, cutlery and straws. Replace them with alternatives, and dispose of the rest thoughtfully (recycle)!
4. Plastic-free cleaning supplies
Cleaning supplies are essential to keeping a clean and healthy environment, but many cleaning products contain harmful chemicals and are packaged in plastic, which is harmful to the environment. Take a look at your current inventory cleaning supplies and determine which ones are packaged in plastic. Look for biodegradable or recyclable packaging alternatives. To reduce the amount of packaging required, consider using concentrated products that can be diluted with water. Instead of purchasing new bottles, look for refillable cleaning products such as spray bottles or dispensers that can be refilled with concentrated cleaning solutions.
5. Reusable lunch options
Many people choose the single-use option because other options are not available. But the alternatives are actually not a very expensive investment. Many offices provide cups, plates, bowls, metal cutlery and metal straws so that staff don’t have to use plastic ones. Some also provide office reusable containers for the staff to use. If you have an on-site café, get them involved too. You could even provide company branded refillable water bottles. If you have a water cooler, use reusable cups or recyclable paper cups instead of disposable plastic cups. This will make it much easier for your team to avoid single use plastics.
6. Let’s talk coffee cups
Did you know that one of the biggest culprits of plastic pollution is hidden (literally) right under our noses? We all love our morning cup of coffee to start the day, but takeaway coffee cups come with a plastic lid – and not only that, they are actually lined with invisible plastic inside! And Australians throw away a shocking 2.7 million disposable coffee cups every day! We would never suggest that you go without your coffee – but it’s easy to provide reusable coffee mugs, or even ‘keep cups’, for your team. Have a look at your office coffee machine, and if it is a single-use coffee pod machine, either switch machines or use recyclable pods!
7. Responsibly source your office supplies
Let’s be honest, single-use plastic is everywhere in an office! It’s important to look in places like your office packaging, stationery packaging, cleaning supplies, and printers. It can be something as small as the plastic packaging on your printing paper, or the printer cartridge itself. Many companies offer greener alternatives, like this range of eco-friendly office solutions.
8. Recycling bins
We have all heard of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Of course, it would take a very dedicated person to completely avoid plastics – plastic is unfortunately a fact of modern life. That’s why it is so important to ‘close the loop’ and recycle any plastic that you use. It is critical for employees to understand which items are recyclable and the impacts of putting waste in the wrong bin, which can result in an entire load being rejected by the processing plant. Check out your local council program or look for an outside organisation. Many supply companies let you return used items back to the business for re-use and recycling. Implement or improve the waste-stream in your office by providing clearly labelled and colour-coded recycling bins, with clear instructions on what can be recycled and what can’t be.
Reducing single-use plastics in your office isn’t complicated. With these easy tips you can get your team involved in making a difference. Working together, we can all do our bit to save the environment!
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