9 Easy ways to reduce plastic pollution at work

KeepCup reusable coffee cups of varying size

Curb your work’s reliance on single-use plastic with these nine easy-to-action steps

12 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every single year.

That’s the bad news – the good news is that, if we all make small changes to our lifestyle, we can easily cut this number down. But hey, you already know that or you wouldn’t be here! And we’re very happy that you are.

Here are nine ways you can reduce plastic pollution at your place of work. Some are quick fixes, some will take a little longer to implement – but they are all 100% actionable and 100% valuable.

So, let’s get started:

1. Promote reusable coffee cups

Lots of people like to grab a takeaway coffee on their way into work, or in an on-site cafe or canteen. Unfortunately, takeaway cups aren’t recyclable as they’re lined with a thin layer of plastic. So, what can you do?

If you have an on-site cafe, speak to them about offering a discount to people who bring their own reusable cup. And lead by example – if you show up with your fancy new KeepCup, you can be sure people will follow suit!

Reusable coffee cups

When reusable cups look this good, why would you choose a takeaway one?

2. Get a filtered water tap and a SodaStream

Here in the UK, the tap water is perfectly drinkable. There’s really no need for plastic water coolers, or to buy bottles of water. Some people do prefer the taste of filtered water though, so it might be worth looking into installing a filtered water tap in the kitchen instead.

If you have a lot of fizzy drink fans in the office, why not consider buying a SodaStream? It’s a cool office perk, and you’ll cut down on the number of staff buying plastic bottles. Win-win!

3. Drink plastic-free hot drinks

It’s fair to say that we Brits are pretty passionate about tea. In fact, reports suggest we drink up to 165 million cups of the stuff every single day. That’s over two and a half cups per person!

But most people don’t realise that tea bags actually contain plastic. Pyramid herbal tea bags are the worst offenders, but classic black tea bags contain some, too. Sure, it’s only a small amount – but it soon adds up!

Big brands like PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea have pledged to rid their tea bags of plastic by the end of 2019. In the meantime, Pukka and Teapigs are two plastic-free brands to stock up on, as are the Aldi ‘Specially Selected’ and the Waitrose ‘Duchy’ ranges.

We may be a nation of tea drinkers, but coffee is catching up. In terms of plastic, coffee can be a great choice. The problem is the ‘coffee pods’ which are used by some machines. They’re plastic and cannot be recycled. That man who invented them says he actually regrets doing so – it’s a multi-billion pound industry, and the environmental impact has been severe. Instead, opt for a machine that goes straight from bean to cup.

4. Set up an ‘inconvenience’ store

This is a concept coined by Friends of the Earth and we absolutely love it. The idea is that your office bulk buys household supplies such as eco detergents and loo roll, then staff can fill up a (reusable) bottle or container, and donate a suitable amount.

Happy #PlasticFreeFriday! At @friends_earth office we’re going #plasticfree with our “inconvenience store” , stocking tasty treats, lunch essentials and kitchen/bathroom refills. Could your workplace do the same?! #FridayFeeling pic.twitter.com/8Auu6I0CKG

— Friends of the Earth (@friends_earth) February 23, 2018

You could even start doing this with snacks, drinks, cereal… the possibilities are endless! You’ll just need to appoint a ‘shop manager’ to handle the organisation.

5. Do more online

Trying to keep physical documents to a minimum is a great way to save paper, but doing more online will reduce the amount of plastic you consume too. Stationary, paper, printer cartridges… most of these things are either made of plastic or will arrive in plastic. You’re also much less likely to lose or spill tea over documents when they’re online!

6. Stock up on crockery and cutlery

One simple way to cut plastic use in the office is to make sure there’s always plenty of crockery and cutlery on hand. That way people will be less inclined to take the plastic ones offered with their lunch. And make sure you swap your plastic straws for some paper or glass ones for iced coffee season or Friday drinks.

7. Reduce packaging

This is a big change, but one that will have a big impact to match. If your business supplies products, find ways to reduce or even eliminate the plastic packaging that you use. If you have to use plastic, make sure it is recyclable. Of course, this won’t happen overnight, but it’s something you should be working towards. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their plastic consumption too – cutting back will be good for business, as well as for the environment.

If you don’t supply any products, that doesn’t mean you’re powerless against plastic packaging. When you notice your suppliers using it excessively, call them out on it. With a combined effort, they’ll soon feel motivated to change their ways.

Read more: Business Recycling: How to Manage Your Commercial Waste Responsibly

8. Have tote bags on hand

We’re all familiar with the lunchtime – ‘just popping to Tesco’s to get a meal deal and while I’m here I might as well get a few bits for dinner and ooh is that reduced?’ – situation. And it inevitably ends with having to buy plastic shopping bags as you check out. Solve this problem by keeping a stack of reusable tote bags around the office that people can borrow when they pop out for lunch. And if they’re branded, it’s a nice bit of exposure at the same time.

9. Make landfill the last resort

Even if you cut back on single-use plastic in the office, some is always inevitable. The best thing you can do is make sure that as little of this as possible ends up going to landfill. Put your recycling bins in a prominent position, and make sure they’re well-labelled. Put signs up reminding people to wash and dry any recyclable plastic containers before throwing them away.

Of course, getting everything in the right bins is only the start – you also need to make sure it’s properly disposed of. Check out our roundup of the best waste management companies for the job.

Turtle swimming in the ocean

Happy sea turtle salutes your commitment to making this world a better place

What’s next?

We hope this article has left you motivated to instigate some positive change in your place of work! And if you have any top tips that we’ve missed, be sure to get in touch and let us know.

Written by:
Rob Binns
Rob writes mainly about the payments industry, but also brings to the table industry-specific knowledge of CRM software, business loans, fulfilment, and invoice finance. When not exasperating his editor with bad puns, he can be found relaxing in a sunny (socially-distanced) corner, with a beer and a battered copy of Dostoevsky.
Reviewed by:
Heleana Neil, Business Services editor
Heleana Neil specialises in Business Services, managing the strategy and production of content for SMBs, helping businesses with the challenges and opportunities they face today. Covering everything from payroll to payment processing, Heleana uses her expertise to help business owners make better, informed decisions and grow their companies.