I went to Africa a few years ago. We rode a truck from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania out into the Masai Mara. As we entered a small town on the edge of the National Park, we were greeted by the Masai locals - a beautiful race of people. The warm, orange sun crept slowly toward the horizon and the local kids cast long shadows as they herded their goats back to their village. And, drifting along in the warm breeze between the kids, the livestock and the acacia trees were hundreds of bright white plastic bags, empty water bottles, coke cans, crisp packets, cigarette packets, Mars bar wrappers, containers, newspapers and toilet rolls.
In amongst so much natural beauty, there was SO. MUCH. MESS. “What are you doing?” I wanted to shout out to the Masai. And then, I realised that we are no different over here. In Australia we produce 50 million tonnes of waste every year. Of that 50 million tonnes, 12.5 million tonnes is being produced by Australian workplaces. That’s about around 23 wheelie bins per worker per year! So in an office of eight people we are wheeling out 184 bins of waste. In fact, the only difference between the Masai and us is a garbage bin. We clean our waste away so it’s out of sight and OUT. OF. MIND. But the thing is, it’s not gone. Just forgotten.
This got me thinking, I can’t fix Africa, but what can I do in my patch? Well, I've decided to set us a challenge: To reduce our office landfill-bound waste to one small shopping bag a week by Christmas. Yes, that’s right: from two 50-litre bags to one small shopping back per week. We’re looking at reducing our waste by about 75%. It’s huge.
Here are the three things I think we could focus on to start:
Freckle's strata don’t provide recycling facilities so I’m going to create a bag so I can take our recycling home with me once every week or two. This means I’m going to care a great deal about how much paper we use. I’ll also pull together a poster that shows us which plastics can be recycled so it makes it easy for us to get it right.
2. Eat or repeat.
Like Mum always said: “There are starving people in Africa.” It’s true, but there are two million starving people in Australia as well. I believe the key here is: Don’t buy more than you need, and if you do, store it properly so you don’t have to throw it out after one day. Obviously, some bits of food we can’t eat, so I’ll be ‘repeating’ them. Yes, I’m saying we should start our very own Freckle worm farm.
3. Multi-use. Reuse, Repurpose, Upcycle.
If we make something, let’s aim to keep it in the system for as long as possible. This goes for projects we do for clients as well. And once that something has become useless, let’s try to find another use for it.
I also think we could make a real effort to print double-sided. I know we do already, but it’s worth noting that for every 100 reams of paper printed double sided, we can save about one cubic metre of landfill, a tonne of greenhouse gas, and a couple of trees. Not to mention a 50% dollar saving for the business.
Finally, let’s not use it in the first place. Plastic bags are a good start. So, for our garbage let’s start using bags that are already in the system, instead of buying new ones. I know, plastic bags are bad, but practicality and hygiene in a work environment means that we have to be smart about it. And, of course, coffee cups … I ran some numbers. If eight of us have one takeaway coffee a day, that’s 1,440 cups a year – more than 20kg of waste. Hands up, who needs a reusable cup? How about we order them this week?
Let’s do this together. Over the coming months, I’m sure we can all come up with ways we can make our 83sqm a more pleasant place to be.
There are plenty of resources out there to help. One worth having a look at is Business Recycling. It is run by Planet Ark and NSW EPA and provides loads of information to help businesses reduce their impact on waste generation.
Just because we can’t see rubbish, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Rather than figuring out new ways to deal with our waste, how about we stop creating it in the first place?
What are your top tips for reducing waste in the workplace?
Want to know more? Here are some fantastic resources about waste and what we can do about it: