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Your checklist to becoming a zero waste business

Frivolous plastic disposal is causing unthinkable damage to wildlife, ecosystems and even our food chains. It’s an epidemic that will continue to proliferate until we consciously and collectively start to change our behaviour.

Ultimately, if we use less, we will waste less.

Recent public initiatives have highlighted the growing prevalence of this environmental emergency. High-profile supermarkets across the world are implementing waste solutions in a bid to reduce their plastic consumption and encourage action from their consumers. And with big brands such as PepsiCo, Unilever, and Waitrose vowing to rethink their supply chains and reliance on plastic, the pressure is on businesses to follow suit.

While it is, admittedly, almost impossible to go completely plastic free, there are avenues we can take to reduce the amount of plastic we generate.

Over the last 20 years, the amount of litter we produce has increased by 100%, and plastic litter has increased by 180%.

The average employee in the workplace produces 2.9lbs of waste during an 8-hour working day, and the average workplace contributes over 200 million tonnes of harmful emissions and waste to the UK every year. So naturally, the workplace is a good place to start.

Tara Aldwin of Foxley Kingham Accountants is a member of Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce and a Trustee for the Marine Conservation Society. She is passionate about the safety and sustainability of our seas and marine life and reducing our impact by actively demonstrating a more responsible way of living and conducting business. We spoke to her as part of our plastic reduction series. Here, she talks us through her tips on how to reduce your business’ impact on the environment.

  1. Conduct a waste audit

Assess your supply chain and look at how your products are being delivered. Are they arriving unnecessarily wrapped in plastic, individually bagged, or padded with foam peanuts? Most of the time, this extra packaging is unnecessary.  

If you order in bulk from your supplier; tea, coffee and other office essentials, tick the ‘no bags’ option.

If you have a water cooler, consider having this plumbed into the mains rather than relying on regular litre bottle replacements. Does it come with stacks of plastic cups? Cut them out and get staff to use glasses or their own reusable bottles instead.

Where possible, try to eradicate the following materials from your supply chain:

  • Plastic cups
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Plastic straws
  • Bubble wrap
  • Foam peanuts
  • Plastic bags

Your easy wins are simpler than you think and can promote long-term cost savings. Take a look around the office and see where you make reductions.

A waste audit essentially heightens your awareness of opportunities to save waste in all areas of the business.

   2. Try to #GoPlasticFree

Think you could go plastic-free for a day, week, or even a month? That’s the #GoPlasticFree challenge that has been set by the Marine Conservation Society (MSC), and Tara reckons you won’t be able to do it. But if it’s a challenge that you probably won’t be able to do – why bother?

It is hoped that merely attempting the challenge will heighten awareness among participants to the sheer amount of plastic we consume on a daily basis.

Tara says, “When we become more aware of when and where we’re using plastic, we can look for alternatives. Small steps make big changes.”

The #GoPlasticFree challenge has attracted thousands of budding environmentalists as well as ambitious recyclers, but it can be employed collectively as a business too.

By cutting out plastic water bottles, coffee cups, plastic bags, and any single-use plastic, you’re already on your way to helping clean up the environment. One individual opting for a reusable water bottle rather than buying a new one every lunchtime equates to a reduction of approximately 260 bottles a year, plus reusable cups and bottles are an excellent opportunity for branding!

 3. Align your CSR

If you have CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives or goals, these could be aligned with your mission to become a zero-waste business. This might see your teams participate in environmentally responsible activities such as beach cleans.

The MCS holds organised beach cleans across the country. These are an excellent opportunity to gather your team members for a CSR activity; a team-building day outside the office.

Wherever you are in the UK, you’re not far from a beach (though from Bedfordshire it’s a bit of a drive…), and you could even set up your own excursion. Remember items such as:

  • rubber gloves
  • rubbish pickers or tongs
  • rubbish bags
  • a beach map

You can even order your equipment from the MCS here.

Aside from being a great CSR opportunity, a beach clean is a free day out by the ocean; an opportunity for team-building, fresh air, exercise, caring for the environment, and a break from the workplace – do we need to give you any more reasons?

 4. Clean up your business cards

Business cards sometimes can’t be avoided. And they have their uses. They’re a handy, portable and convenient way of exchanging contact details at networking events, or when you spot a business opportunity.

But be honest with yourself. Do they really need that lamination or plastic coating? When we collect business cards, they might hang around in our wallets, on our desk or in our desk drawers for a few months before they are tossed. If we genuinely want to speak to that person again we would have a) already done it or b) saved their contact details. They are in many cases, a ‘throw-away’ item, so consider this when placing your next order.

According to Tara, “If you can’t rip it in half, it’s not recyclable.”

 5. Encourage a circular mindset

By encouraging your staff to adopt a more circular mindset, their behaviour is likely to overlap into their home life and will encourage family members to follow suit.

Opportunities to reuse should be taken wherever possible. But employees need the resources in place to enable this type of behaviour. For example, adequate lunch facilities and food storage to encourage workers to bring in their own lunches, and freshwater supplies so reusable bottles can be refilled. Some employers encourage their staff by providing reusable coffee cups and water bottles which not only reduce wasteful behaviour, but make for a nice boost to morale.

 6. Incentivise

In the UK, only 50% of all used plastic bottles are recycled. Norway, however, has reached a 90% recycle rate, thanks to their deposit scheme. Buyers pay a small deposit on every plastic bottle they buy, for which they receive either cash or a food coupon when they return the bottle to a recycling spot.

Evidently, incentivising to recycle can be hugely effective. While incentivising on a larger scale is something the UK’s brand giants need to look at, SMEs can take heed by implementing incentive schemes to encourage employees to recycle more. Some examples might be to offer additional annual leave, vouchers, bonus schemes or other rewards to the employee who recycles the most each month, by weighing or keeping a tally. The incentives don’t always need to be financial.

As soon as you start demonstrating a responsibility towards the environment you will reap the business benefits.

If you or your employees want to start living with a more environmentally-conscious mindset, there are some small changes you can implement now that will help reduce the amount of plastic waste you generate. Take a look at these workplace recycling tips for further information and to help you on your journey.

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