A Guide to Office Waste: Facts, Figures & Tips for Reduction

By Jennifer Sy

Offices are responsible for generating a significant amount of waste each year, and the growing concerns regarding climate change and depletion of resources make it more crucial than ever for companies to prioritize waste reduction and eco-friendly workplace practices. 

Creating an eco-friendly workplace isn’t just about reducing waste and energy consumption. It’s also about promoting healthy and sustainable practices that benefit both the environment and employees’ well-being. 

As Jess Grelle, SVP of Innovation at Safe & Fair puts it, ‘By providing employees with healthy, clean-ingredient foods, a business can further the reduction of its carbon footprint, by supporting sustainable farming practices, and reducing pesticide and chemical use.’

Global Office Waste Statistics

North America is reportedly the largest generator of waste per capita, followed by Europe and Asia. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the average American citizen accounts for approximately 4.4 pounds of waste each and every day. 

According to a study by the United Nations, business waste accounts for approximately 20% of the world’s waste, with offices being a significant contributor. 

A typical office worker will generate around 2 pounds of office waste each day, including materials such as paper, plastic, and food waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that paper and paperboard alone account for about 25% of landfill waste and 33% of municipal waste (waste collected and treated by the town or city it’s generated in). In addition, both the production and disposal of paper products take significant amounts of energy and water, contributing to the climate change and water scarcity issues many regions face.

Electronic waste (e-waste) is another big contributor to overall office waste. Offices generate e-waste through the disposal of electronic equipment, such as computers, printers, and cell phones. In 2020, 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was generated globally, and this figure is expected to reach over 74 million metric tons by 2030. E-waste contains toxic chemicals that can pollute the environment and are harmful to our health, so it’s essential that we do all we can to reduce this waste. 

Office Waste Facts: West side of Manhattan viewed from the top of Hudson Commons
Midtown Manhattan in New York City is the largest central business district in the world, comprising over 350 million square feet of office space.
Credit: Rhododendrites – Own work
A Guide to Office Waste

Tips for Running a Zero-Waste Office and Eco-Friendly Workplace

Go digital

One of the most effective ways to reduce office waste is to go digital. Making the switch to digital practices means using online forms, and digital documents and finding digital solutions for any other regular tasks that usually require the use of paper. These changes not only reduce the environmental impact of business operations, but also save money on printing and storage costs. 

In addition, digitalisation improves productivity by facilitating more rapid interdepartmental communication and teamwork. By adopting digital methods, security and data protection can also be enhanced, with sensitive data being encrypted and safe from physical loss or damage. If you’re a firm trying to cut costs and boost productivity, going digital is the way to go.

Use recyclable products 

When purchasing office supplies, choose products that are recyclable or made from recycled materials, such as paper, toner cartridges, and other office products. When sticking to recyclable products, offices are helping to conserve natural resources, and reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Recycling reduces the quantity of office waste that winds up in landfills, where it can sit for hundreds of years without decomposing. The need for materials such as wood pulp and plastic can be lowered and a circular economy can be reinforced if businesses make the switch to using items manufactured from recycled materials. Recycled paper, envelopes, and even biodegradable pens and pencils are just some of the eco-friendly options available from today’s office supply retailers. 

Reduce energy use

Make sure that all electronics and other equipment are switched off when not in use. This can include computers, printers, and lights. Also, install energy-efficient bulbs and upgrade to energy-efficient equipment wherever possible. 

Saving money on energy costs is a welcome bonus to conserving resources and cutting down on gas emissions. Motivate your staff to reduce their carbon footprint by taking simple steps like turning off the lights and equipment when they leave a room and never leaving electronics in standby mode. Solar panels and wind turbines are two renewable energy sources that could also be considered for powering your business. 

Banish single-use items

An office can considerably reduce the amount of waste it generates by switching from single-use items and plastics, to reusable ones. Single-use coffee cups, water bottles, and plastic utensils can be easily replaced with reusable alternatives, saving money and more. 

Businesses can drastically cut the quantity of rubbish that pollutes our oceans and landfills by banning all single-use goods from the workplace. To further reduce the need for single-use packaging, businesses can provide refillable water stations and bulk dispensers for snacks and other food items.

Compost food waste

To reduce the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills, offices can use compost bins or set up a composting program. Composting food waste helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve natural resources, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. 

Composting eliminates food waste and provides eco-friendly gardening materials. Offices can compost fruit and vegetable leftovers, coffee grounds, eggshells and more, providing nutrient-rich soil for plants and vegetables. These practices can improve workplace sustainability and encourage employees towards healthier living. Businesses can also donate leftover food to local food banks or community organizations to reduce waste and help those in need.

Donate old electronics

To reduce the amount of electronic office waste that ends up in landfills, businesses can donate old electronics, such as computers and printers, to organizations that refurbish and reuse them. 

Many devices include valuable metals and other components that can be reused and repurposed, saving resources and decreasing waste. Businesses can also assist in bridging their community’s digital divide by giving outdated equipment to nonprofits that restore and repurpose them.

Switch to rechargeable batteries

Using rechargeable batteries reduces electrical waste and landfill accumulation caused by single-use batteries. Over time, organizations can save money by switching to rechargeable batteries instead of constantly replacing used ones. The fact that renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, may be used to charge various types of rechargeable batteries further decreases the need for reliance on nonrenewable energy sources.

Use green cleaning products

Offices should switch to green cleaning products that are made from natural, biodegradable ingredients. This change can help to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals that are released into the environment, while also creating a healthier workplace for staff.

Check the prices of different cleaning companies and compare them to make sure you are getting the best value for your money. It’s important to find a company that provides high-quality cleaning services at a reasonable price that fits within your budget. By considering both the products used and the price, you can make an informed decision about which cleaning company to hire for your office.

Buy in bulk

Purchasing in bulk reduces waste and conserves resources. By buying office supplies in bulk, businesses can save money on purchases and transportation and reduce packaging waste. Bulk products are often made from sustainable resources and have a lower environmental impact, so buying in quantity can also promote green activities. Buying in bulk can also streamline office supply management, minimizing the need for frequent ordering and store visits.

Embrace remote-working practices

Offices can further reduce their carbon footprint by encouraging flexible work arrangements, such as remote working and hybrid office use. The less that people are traveling to and from the office, the less transportation emissions are being pumped into the environment. 

Remote-working not only reduces carbon footprint, but can also help to boost employee satisfaction and productivity. Businesses often see a reduction in employee stress and improved well-being through offering flexible work arrangements like remote working and hybrid offices.  Additionally, remote working reduces office space demand, energy use, and carbon footprint.

Install energy-efficient equipment

Energy-efficient equipment, such as computers and printers, not only saves money on electricity bills, but also helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Offices should upgrade to energy-efficient equipment as they can, and certainly whenever an item needs replacing anyway. 

As part of a responsible purchasing plan, workplaces should prioritize the acquisition and, where necessary, update to energy-efficient equipment. Power-saving features, such as automated shutdown and standby mode, are another option for companies looking to cut back on energy use.

Final Thoughts on Reducing Office Waste

Offices play a significant role in the generation of waste, and it’s essential that businesses take steps to reduce their contribution to the global issue of waste and other environmental challenges. 

In addition to minimizing waste, businesses should also commit to taking other eco-friendly measures. By adopting sustainable procurement practices, cutting energy use, and encouraging an eco-friendly culture in the workplace, every business can become part of the vital solution to protecting and preserving our environment and its precious resources.

By working together, we can create a more sustainable and healthy world for ourselves and future generations. Running a zero-waste office and eco-friendly workplace is a crucial step towards a sustainable future, and it’s essential for every office to make a conscious effort to minimize its waste output and contribute to a better world.