office waste management
Office waste reduction tips

How to Reduce Office Waste

An average office worker creates around 2kg of waste every day. As millions of people work in offices across the UK this quickly adds up to huge amounts of rubbish generated just from sitting behind desks. Minimising waste in the office is important to reduce the carbon footprint for many of our working lives.

All sorts of materials get thrown away during daily office activities. These often include paper from printing documents, food scraps and packaging at lunch, and electronic waste such as broken and outdated computers, phones, and equipment. Conducting an audit and creating a strong waste management plan can help reduce office waste.

Find a solution to cut down on the waste your office produces whether you run a small start-up in a city centre or a big office in a business park on the edge of town. Discover ways to cut back on the amount of paper, plastic, food, and other materials thrown away in your workplace with these office waste reduction tips.

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Why is it important to 
reduce office waste?

Reducing office waste is important as they’re a big source of commercial waste. Office environments are relatively easy to control compared to other workplaces as there are few external factors (such as weather or customers). They generate mostly recyclable and recoverable materials that a strong waste management plan can help minimise.

Specific statistics about the number of offices and office workers in the UK aren’t available but up to 45% of waste is produced at work. It’s fair to assume millions of people work in hundreds of thousands of offices across the country every day. This includes offices for law firms, recruitment companies, accounting, and many other industries.

It’s important to reduce office waste and increase recycling as many such workplaces only use a general waste bin for their refuse. Lots of offices do this for convenience and because they assume it’s cheaper just to throw everything in one bin. However, recycling and reducing office waste is much more cost-efficient and better for the environment. Reduce office waste to save money too.

Explore office waste facts and stats

Ways to reduce waste 
in an office

There are many ways to reduce waste in the office whether you run a start-up with just four people or a large call centre employing hundreds of staff. Most offices create similar types of waste, but the volume may vary. Work can always be done towards minimising waste in the office that benefits the environment and saves your business money.

Use these office waste reduction tips to minimise the amount of various types of rubbish created in your workplace:

  • Conduct a waste audit – begin by assessing how much waste and what materials your office produces regularly. This should help you identify key areas where you need to reduce office waste, whether it’s paper, general waste, cardboard, or anything else. From here you can develop a waste management plan with clear goals to minimise rubbish in certain areas.
  • Introduce recycling bins – the results of your waste audit should highlight if you need more recycling bins. If your office only has general waste bins then it should be worth adding dry mixed recycling bins at the least (or even separate cardboard, paper, and plastic recycling bins) to separate rubbish at the source and reduce the amount sent to landfill.
  • Remove personal bins – having a bin under every desk encourages a throwaway culture. Removing personal bins makes people think twice before chucking something away in a general waste bin with easy access. Use bigger bins and recycling ones and place them in a central location.
  • Repair electrical equipment – damaged, broken, and outdated IT equipment are common types of WEEE in offices. Aim to repair rather than replace them immediately if anything breaks (including kitchen appliances like microwaves and kettles). This saves energy, resources, and money.
  • Upscale old furniture – tables, chairs, and desks experience plenty of wear and tear over time. Rather than getting rid of them after a few years (even if you’re refurbishing the office), consider upscaling. Add a fresh coat of paint, or varnish, or change the seating on chairs. It’s cheaper than buying new furniture and avoids creating more wood waste.
  • Create a green team – designate a few individuals to lead the charge for running a sustainable office by building a green team. They can develop a policy for office waste reduction and recycling, run initiatives, and track progress toward any minimising waste goals. This helps form a sustainable office culture.
  • Switch to LED bulbs – using LED bulbs reduces office waste as they last longer so need replacing much less often. They also save on energy, which helps slightly cut running costs.
  • Put up clear signs – improve recycling with signs above each bin detailing common waste items that can go in each one to reduce the risk of contamination. It’s also worth putting up signs explaining the office’s green policy to encourage staff to think about their waste generation.
  • Ditch disposables – get rid of any disposable coffee cups, water cups, cutlery, plates, and coffee stirrers. Provide reusable cups or mugs and cutlery in the kitchen and encourage staff to wash and reuse them. Consider getting some branded mugs and use these for any client meetings to impress current and potential customers.
  • Use cloth tea towels – remove disposable paper towels in the kitchen and bathrooms and replace them with cloth tea towels and hand towels (or electric dryers in washrooms). It significantly cuts down on used paper towels that are disposed of with general waste.
people working in a busy office.

How to reduce paper waste 
in the office

Reducing paper waste in the office is key as it’s one of the main materials thrown away in such an environment. It’s estimated that about 70% of office waste is paper so it should be a priority to reduce paper waste in any office. This includes printing activities, document use, packaging, and more.

Follow these tips for ways to reduce paper waste in the office:

  • Go paperless – it may sound hard but going paperless (or at least cutting down significantly) is possible in an office. Create and enforce a policy to email all internal and external communications where possible to avoid physical letters and printed communications. Ban posters, post-it notes, and leaflets from the office. Get rid of paper kitchen and hand towels, straws, and other easily replaceable items.
  • Store staff policies and documents online – in the modern digital world many files and documents have moved online already. Make sure you store any induction documents, contracts, and other information securely on internal systems, online, or in the cloud rather than printing off lots of documents that get looked at once and then stored away. This saves lots of paper and is often safer.
  • Set printers to automatically print double-sided – plenty of documents still need printing in offices. An easy way to literally halve paper use and waste in an office is to print double-sided. Change printer settings to automatically print double-sided (and in black and white to reduce printer ink use and waste).
  • Reuse envelopes – you can’t stop your office from receiving post, but you can make good use of paper envelopes. Reuse them to store any documents, as scrap paper for note-taking, or even reseal to send out any post of your own.
  • Shred paper and use it to protect packaging – rather than recycling waste paper, you could shred any confidential documents in your office. If you’re sending any more delicate items to clients, use this shredded paper to help protect your deliveries rather than bubble wrap or other protective plastic packaging that’s tricky to recycle.
How to reduce paper waste

How to reduce food waste 
in an office

Around 20% of office waste is food, often from lunch, snacks, and hot drinks throughout the day keeping workers energised. Most staff simply throw away food scraps in a general waste bin. It might not generate as much food waste as restaurants and commercial kitchens but reducing waste food in offices is still important.

Find out how to reduce food waste in the office with these tips:

  • Buy in bulk – milk, tea, coffee, sugar, and margarine should all be bought in bulk to save money and reduce packaging and food waste. Small sachets can be half-used and then chucked away, which may be tricky to recycle due to contamination.
  • Introduce a compost bin – have a separate small bin for food scraps that can be composted rather than sent to landfill or incineration. This is good if your office has a garden or small outside space. Otherwise, you can store compost and donate it to a community cause or allotment.
  • Encourage staff to bring their lunch – office workers who take their own lunch to work avoid the mountains of packaging waste that buying pre-packaged food from supermarkets can create. Bringing their own lunch also ensures good portion control to reduce the risk of waste food. And they’ll have a reusable container to take any leftovers home with just in case.
  • Avoid single-use food or drink containers – when hosting clients or potential customers/investors it can be tempting to use disposable water and coffee cups for guests to instil a good impression. Instead, just use clean mugs, plates, and cutlery from your kitchen. It should show your eco-credentials and impress them more.
  • Plan for office lunches – when hosting a special event or office-wide lunch conduct an accurate headcount and plan carefully to minimise food waste. Underordering may cause problems so if you do overorder food have a plan in place to donate leftovers to a local food bank or charity, so it doesn’t go in the bin.
pouring coffee into a mug from a cafetiere.

How to reduce plastic waste 
in the office

Look through any office bin and you’ll likely find a lot of plastic products. The average office worker throws away 156 plastic drink bottles each year. That’s not the only type of plastic waste that offices generate, as everything from printer cartridges to coffee pods soon adds up over time.

Discover how to reduce plastic waste in the office with these steps:

  • Consider a cafetiere – coffee machines may produce delicious hot beverages, but they also create plastic waste with the used pods that are tricky to recycle. Switch to having cafetieres in the office kitchen with big bags of ground coffee to reduce plastic waste.
  • Ban bottled water – provide glasses and/or reusable cups to encourage the use of water fountains and taps in the office rather than buying bottled water. It’s one of the main sources of plastic waste in offices so an outright ban could work.
  • Use refillable printer cartridges – rather than throwing away printer ink cartridges when they’re empty, find a refillable option that fits your printers. This significantly cuts down on plastic waste and saves money compared to buying new cartridges each time.
  • Buy refillable pens – avoid single-use biros and provide your office staff with branded pens that are refillable. It might not save masses of plastic given most work is probably digital but every little helps.
  • Switch to sustainable suppliers – plastic packaging to protect deliveries to your office creates plenty of plastic waste. This includes bubble wrap, plastic bags, and shrink wrap. For regular suppliers choose those that use paper, card, minimal, and recyclable packaging materials.
How to reduce plastic waste

Read more waste reduction guides

Offices produce all sorts of waste with many steps to minimise it, but they’re not the only workplaces with work to do. Explore more ways to reduce waste across other sectors and for specific materials in our detailed guides.

How to reduce waste guides
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