8 Ways To Reduce Single Use Waste In The Workplace

While disposables such as gloves and masks help create safe spaces, there are many ways to keep our workplaces clean without resorting to single-use waste.
  • During the pandemic, disposable gloves and masks are ending up on streets, beaches, and in rivers and waterways.
  • While these disposables help create safe spaces, there are many ways to keep our workplaces clean without resorting to single-use waste.
  • Digital nomad Robert Kropp has seen first-hand how coworking spaces around the world are working to reduce pollution during the pandemic.

Although there is a need for businesses to provide safe spaces, there are many options for providing quality and safe spaces and services without only needing to resort to single use materials and processes.

Single use containers and other products have been an issue for years. These products take resources and energy to create and require years to decompose or are burned. The result ends up polluting our air, waterways, oceans, and filling our landfills. 

It is already being reported by Opération mer propre (Operation clean sea) in France that the gloves and masks from the Coronavirus pandemic are already being seen in rivers and oceans.

I have seen plenty of these just laying on the side of streets in cities across the United States and Europe. Much of the current products are produced to be single use or used briefly and then thrown away after a few uses.

Note: The reversion back to more single use waste was an understandable step to demonstrate to people that businesses and spaces are safe, to reduce the risk of infection, and to reduce overall liability. It is likely that members of all types of workspaces will need to work with operators and employers to change how spaces are utilized in order to provide the safest and most clean environments for all people. 

Having been through multiple rounds of quarantine and physical distancing in Spain, Germany and in the US these past few months, I have had the experience of witnessing many different variations of cities, restaurants and workspaces that remained open during the pandemic and those now reopening after being closed for months. Although these locations were in different stages of unlocking, one common theme was the use of single use products almost everywhere.

Whether these products are plastic or even more recyclable and sustainable materials, waste is still resource intensive and often costs much more over time in comparison to reusable options.

8 Ways to Reduce Workplace Waste During the Pandemic

For those workspaces that wish to have less of an environmental and waste impact while being cautious about spreading sickness, here are a few suggestions.

1.     Employers and operators can offer members or employees their own mugs, welcome back kits, plates, cutlery, etc., which shouldn’t be shared for the time being.

2.     Look for gloves, filters, and masks that are washable, reusable, or recyclable. More research is being done, however cloth masks with filters added to them are an option in many cases. In addition, there are more affordable glove options for cleaning or working with food that are completely biodegradable.

If reusable or recyclable alternatives are unavailable or there is a specific need for using single use products, develop relationships with companies looking to reuse this waste in your local area and look for ways to not just throw them away.

Many recycling companies and municipalities have stopped recycling much of anything since the market for certain recyclables has changed significantly over the past years. What resulted is that much of what ends up in recycling actually gets burned or buried instead of being recycled into new products. 

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3.     Workspaces can partner with nearby restaurants to make group orders. The restaurant can then place food directly in reusable / returnable bowls ready for delivery. In my experience, we ordered food this way from a local cafeteria style restaurant in Barcelona. They asked us to put a deposit down for the bowl which we could get back. On each delivery, the previous bowls were retrieved and replaced with new bowls with food that we chose.

Reusable options are becoming more important as even more environmentally friendly products still create unnecessary waste especially as more and more food is only available via takeout.

4.     If you bring food to an office, pack a lunch box with an ice pack, reusable cutlery, a plate, etc. By eliminating the need for a fridge or even additional containers or cutlery, we can reduce the number of touch points needed, waste generated, and keep your food in its own space until you are ready to eat.

5.     Straws and stirrers are not necessary for most people and are generally just provided due to habit when you order certain drinks. There are plenty of alternatives if you need something like this.

6.     Does your workplace have a café? In general, sanitation and sterilization will be harder to maintain in open environments like a café. Implement delivery within the office to bring properly cleaned and sanitized plates, bowls, cups etc directly to someone with their food or drink.

7.     Have one place for dirty dishes to be placed for cleaning and sterilization. Don’t make this the sink. Once a washing machine is full, have another space for dirty dishes to be placed.

8.     Instead of providing wipes for workers to clean a space, having a member of staff in charge of cleaning shared desk spaces will eliminate the need for the expense (and waste) of single use wipes. In my experience, if asked, most workers would stay in one workspace for much of the day. This might require new processes if a meeting room, phone box, or other specific use spaces are needed outside of a desk. In addition, staff will generally have a better process for cleaning and wiping down seats, tables, etc. It would be useful to have some way to mark a workspace in an office as needing cleaning and that it shouldn’t be used until then. I have seen this currently implemented in some restaurants and workspaces.

There are many options to being more sustainable and generally reducing unneeded waste in our workspaces and in our lives. This can lead to a faster return to the ‘new normal’, cost savings, greater sterilization, and ultimately less byproducts in our water, air, and grounds. It just requires us all to think about what impact we make. 

Closing Note: I am not a doctor or cleaning professional. These are some ideas and actual examples of things that can be done that I have witnessed. It is important to take the steps needed for your specific workspace and to work with people on the ground to make sure the appropriate and legally required precautions are being made. 

What do you think? What other options have you seen being implemented as an appropriate alternative to typical waste within a workspace? Reach out to me at [email protected] to discuss workspaces, technology, and sustainability.

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