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6 Ways to Live Sustainably at Work

I don’t know about your work day, but mine typically goes by in a flash. I’m a nurse that does a lot of care coordination & telephonic triaging, so my phone is more often than not, ringing off the hook, papers are being flung onto my desk, & emails are coming in at rapid fire. Amidst the chaos, I would always reach for convenience, whether that be food or drink, office products, etc.

When writing this post, I had the opportunity to self-reflect & look back to the the start of my “zero waste/sustainability” journey, which was only a few short months ago. What I found was that for people, myself included, embarking on their “zero waste/ sustainability journey,” there is a plethora of information that can be a bit overwhelming at first. Many people don’t really know where to start & I think the knee-jerk reaction is to begin looking at your lifestyle at home to address more sustainable habits & zero waste products. But, arguably, we spend more time at work than we do at our homes (I know I do anyway). So, shouldn’t we be looking into what we can do on an individual level to reduce waste in the workplace?

I know that, personally, I have needed to re-prioritize how I live at work because I was the take-out container queen! And, office/stationary supplies, don’t even get me started! I LOVE everything & anything office supply related. I have a Pinterest board completely dedicated to cute office supplies & for me, going to Staples was like Christmas morning! While this is still my truth, I have had to adjust how I buy products & what I look for when doing so. Luckily with this handy list of tips, you can be empowered to live more sustainably at work by making small adjustments in your daily routine.

#1) Bring Your Lunch

I know this seems pretty obvious, but there’s a lot more to bringing your own lunch than meets the eye. If you’re using a plastic grocery bag to carry your plastic containers filled with food into work & then using plastic, single-use utensils at lunchtime, it kind of defeats the purpose. Instead, if you’re able, purchase a cotton, linen, or waxed canvas lunch bag. Or, if you’re the crafty type & have a sewing machine, even make one yourself (click here for a tutorial)! I haven’t tried my hand at making one yet, but I have it on my to-do list!

Another important piece of contents in your lunch bag is what you use to pack & store your food. I purchased these silicone sandwich bags & have really enjoyed using them. They are leak-proof, easy to clean, BPA-free, & have an air tight seal to keep things fresh while allowing me to eliminate my reliance on single use plastic sandwich bags. If you’re bringing something like trail mix or crackers, you can definitely use a small little cotton/ linen bag to store those in your lunch case. For things that need to be heated up, I swear by glass containers. I have this set that I got as a gift for my bridal shower & I absolutely love them! They are extremely easy to clean, safe to heat food in, & don’t involve harmful plastics. Lastly, the use of stainless steel bento boxes & containers have been growing in popularity. I haven’t yet purchased one but I would really like to try them out. There are many different varieties, but I am leaning toward purchasing ones that have dividers for separate foods, like this one

#2) Swap Single Use Utensils for Reusable Utensils

Single use plastic spoons, forks, knives, & straws, especially in an office setting, can be difficult to break away from. Typically, when you order to-go/take out lunches, they are automatically included in your meal kit, which makes you feel like you need to use them! But, fight the urge to use those plastic utensils & buy a small wooden utensil kit to keep in at your desk, in your work bag, or in your purse. I purchased two of these kits, one to keep in my purse & another to leave at my desk. That way if I buy a drink or food on the go, I can just tell the cashier to skip the utensils & I use my own. The nice part about this particular kit is that it’s not wrapped in plastic packaging, it just comes in a little cardboard box. Most of these types of kits come with reusable straws (metal or bamboo). This particular one comes with a bamboo straw, but I also bought a separate metal straw kit like this one.

#3) Bring Your Own Coffee Mug, Thermos, and Water Bottle

I was a frequent drinker of diet sodas & as we all know, most of those drinks come in a can or bottle. I would cringe a little every time I shamefully went to the cafeteria or convenience store to pick up a plastic bottle of diet soda or seltzer (I would make sure to recycle, but I still felt a little guilty every time I bought one). Over the past few months I have tried to train myself to forego the plastic bottles & stick with my reusable travel mug. I really like the dual purpose mugs for hot & cold beverages, like this one, because once I’m finished with my morning coffee I can just rinse it out, pop my metal straw in it, & fill it with water! That way I’m not bringing a million different mugs & bottles to work. When I purchase things like travel mugs, I try to find fun patterns & cool designs, because that it gives me incentive & makes me look forward to using it. I also keep a coffee mug that I enjoy using/has special meaning (my aunt makes beautiful pottery & made me a bunch of coffee mugs as a wedding present) at work & a little reusable K-pod in case I need an afternoon pick me up that I can just refill with ground coffee beans.

Speaking of coffee, I drink at least one cup every morning. It’s like a little warm hug to start out your day. Your best bet to reduce waste is to brew your own coffee or tea at home. When it comes to coffee, I have been looking high & low for a more sustainably packaged brand of coffee to purchase from either online or at the grocery store. Most coffee is either packaged in straight-up plastic or it’ll be packaged in a paper bag with a plastic liner, which kind of defeats the purpose of the paper bag. I thought I found some at TJ Maxx, but it was too good to be true. The bag was definitely paper without a plastic liner, but it was a bit sketchy because there was literally no brand name, no contact information/distribution information, ingredient list, or anything… so I didn’t really feel confident in buying that. I have been doing some research & found a company called Ethical Bean, who make fair-trade certified, organic coffee that comes in compostable & recyclable packaging. They have an incentive program that encourages you to save 12 of your empty bags, send them in to the company, where they will ship them to a recycling program called Terracycle (you can read more about the process here. And tea drinkers, I swear I haven’t left you out! Using loose leaf at home & work creates much less waste than buying tea bags. Brewing loose leaf is fairly easy & you can either use a stainless steel tea infuser or an organic cotton reusable tea bag.

#4) Buy Sustainable Office Supplies

As I said before, & will gladly shout from the mountain tops if asked to, I LOVE office supplies. But, to my dismay, my cute highlighters that I loved so much & my precious pens & mechanical pencils are all made of plastic & most printed notebooks are printed with harmful petroleum-based ink (which is an interesting fact I found out when researching for this blog post). To help you weed out sustainable office supplies, I have compiled a list of some office supplies essentials that happen to be cute AND sustainable:

  • Pencils – Definitely opt for wooden pencils, but also look into the packaging & materials used to craft the pencil. My favorite brand so far as been Sprout! They come in regular graphite or colored pencils (they are made from 100% natural graphite or clay), they’re made from sustainable PEFC- / FSC-certified cedar wood, & when you’re finished with them turn them upside down & plant them in a pot! The little biodegradable capsule on the end of the pencil is filled with the seeds (both flowers & herbs) of your choice! You can purchase some here!

  • Highlighters – After doing some digging, I found out that certain companies make highlighter pencils! And if that’s not the coolest idea for a product I don’t know what is. The nice thing about these highlighters is that they work just like traditional highlighters, except they don’t bleed through paper, they won’t run dry, & they won’t end up in the trash!

  • Notebooks – I follow a fair amount of zero waste/sustainability blogs, & across the board the most popular sustainable notebook choice has been the Decomposition Notebook. They are a small company that prints their notebooks on 100% post-consumer-waste recycled paper & they print their text/lines with soy ink instead of petroleum based ink. Plus, with tons of cute designs, there is bound to be one that will appeal to most everyone. My personal favorite is the bees & honeycombs

  • Pens – I was a bit intimidated when doing research on sustainable pen products because most zero waste blogs were recommending fountain pens, which seem to be a bit complicated & have a pretty big learning curve. However, for the pen novice (such as myself), another option that I found was the Zebra pen. They use post-consumer waste such as cell phones, battery cases, car headlights, & compact disc cases to make some of their writing instruments. The go-to for me is the Zebra F-301. They write smoothly, are easy to use, made of stainless steel, & are refillable!

  • Tape – I don’t use tape too often in my workplace, but when I did it was typically the clear, plastic-type tape. Thankfully, the switch from plastic to paper tape is pretty easy. I feel like paper tape is a lot like a mullet, you can be business in the front with basic white paper type & then you can be party in the back with fun designs & colors!

#5) Buy Sustainable Office Supplies

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I know there are some instances where not printing things is not an option, but luckily with it being very much a digital age most things can be taken care of on digital notepads, emails, or technology-related communications.

#6) Carpool, Use Public Transportation, or Walk/Bike to Work

I know that this list item is not possible for most people, but if you get along with your co-workers & most of you live in the same area, car-pooling is always a great way to use resources more sustainably. My husband & I work within 5-10 minutes of each other & we have similar work hours, so on most days, we carpool to save wear & tear on our cars, to save money, & to save gas. When I used to live closer to work, there was a free bus service that had drop-offs in many locations, one of which was the medical center where I work. I loved using it because I didn’t have to fight traffic in the morning, find a parking spot at work, pay for gas, drive in the winter weather (New England winters are pretty treacherous, let me tell you), & overall it was sustainable option. And, finally, if you’re lucky enough to live really close to work, walking or biking is always a great option for exercise & to save energy/fuel.

#6) Mindfulness at Work

To finish off, I thought I would be clever & let your mindfulness work while you practice mindfulness AT work…. sorry. Prior to starting this blog & trying to be more conscious about products I bought & habits I practiced, mindfulness was definitely something that was not in my vocabulary. I think this lifestyle change has helped me to see not just an object but the “afterlife” of that object – whether that be in a landfill somewhere, in a compost heap, or in a recycling facility.

Are there some signature practices/habits that you have developed that have helped you to create less waste & live more sustainably at work? What challenges have you faced on a day to day basis when it comes to workplace sustainability? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!!

Until next time…