Each time we see a turtle wearing a six-pack ring as a statement necklace or a hermit crab living in a plastic bottle cap, we’re reminded of how much our wastefulness impacts the environment. There are a zillion ways to go greener—and just as many zero-waste influencers to make you feel guilty about your choices—but being more sustainable isn’t about being perfect. It’s about building new habits that reduce harm.
Sustainability doesn’t begin and end at home according to the recent global HP Workplace Sustainability Study. Over sixty-one percent of workers say it’s a must for a modern business and report feeling more motivated and engaged when their employer is taking steps to show that social responsibility matters.
“We know that sustainability is contagious,” says Brendan Woodruff, an environmental program specialist at New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “Once people see others doing something sustainable, they’re much more likely to do it themselves.”
Here, ten easy ways to be a better ally to planet earth.
Stop tossing out food. Imagine buying five tacos for lunch and immediately throwing two of them in the trash. That’s what Americans do with their food every day—we don’t eat 40 percent of it. Reduce food waste by transforming yesterday’s leftovers into today’s tacos.
“When you tell folks, ‘We’re having tacos tonight,’ they’re going to be much more excited about leftovers,” says Woodruff. If you’re not into tacos (who are you?), throwing almost anything into a quiche also works.
Switch to bar shampoo. You’ve stopped buying bottled water. Good. The next step in eliminating single-use plastic bottles is by switching to waterless cleansers.
“I’ve switched over to bar shampoo and conditioner, and it works just as well,” says Woodruff. By Humankind, Meow Meow Tweet, and Ethique all offer natural shampoo bars that leave you with soft, amazing-smelling hair and zero bottles to recycle. (Each solid bar from Ethique contains the equivalent of three bottles of liquid shampoo!)
Upgrade to recycled electronics. When buying new devices for your home office space, do your part by upgrading to one made with recycled materials.
The HP Tango printer is made of 30 percent recycled plastic from other electronics. Smart and sustainable, it works remotely from your mobile device, is compatible with Alexa, Google, or Cortana, and you can recycle used ink cartridges for rewards at Staples, Best Buy, and Office Depot.
Don’t blindly “recycle.” If you’re throwing greasy pizza boxes, pump bottles, coffee cups, or floppy plastic bags into the recycling bin and hoping for the best, you might be an “aspirational recycler.”
Rules for what can and can’t be recycled vary by local county or municipality, says Woodruff. Even worse, items like the above can contaminate an entire load of recycling and destine the whole thing to a landfill. To find out what’s acceptable, contact your municipality or contract hauler (read the name on the truck curbside and check their site for details). For more local recycling options, go to berecycled.org.
Do dishes in your sleep. The best time to run your (full) dishwasher is late-night. “Electricity is cheapest when there’s less load on the grid,” says Woodruff. During peak hours, when electricity is in high demand, companies supplement by switching on the dirtiest, least-efficient power stations. “Doing dishes at night actually lowers your carbon emissions,” he says. That, plus its soothing, white noise hum, should lull you to sleep easily.
Speak up if it’s icy. Some workplaces delight in blasting freezing AC all summer long. When office temps match the inside of a mini-fridge, we’re forced to bundle up in the frumpy cardigans that live on the backs of our office chairs—not a good look for anyone.
“If you are able to control it, raise the thermostat to cut down on energy use and expenditures,” says Woodruff. Work at a big company? Inquire with your office manager about whether anything can be modified.
Consider how you’re eating lunch. You deserve better than the plastic clamshell take-away comes in. Zshush things up with a proper table setting—a real bowl, plate, drinking glass, and silverware.
“Leave a full set of dishes and cutlery at your desk for lunches, snacks, or celebrations,” says Woodruff. “If there’s cake down the hall, take your own plate and no waste comes out of it.”
Print mindfully. Paperwork is a fact of life at the office—in fact, half of all small business owners say their business can’t operate without a printer, according to HP’s recent Small Business Today Survey.
When printing, Woodruff says to look for 100 percent post-consumer recycled content paper (HP branded paper is “forest positive”.) Connecting multiple people to the same printer saves energy too, especially if it’s Energy Star rated like the HP OfficeJet Pro, which uses as little as half the energy of color lasers. It saves a lot of trees, with automatic two-sided printing and the ability to digitize paper-based workflows. The 8000 series is made of up to 15 percent plastic from recycled electronics and encourages recycling through the Instant Ink program with prepaid envelopes to return used cartridges.
Swear off sandwich bags. Not every desk lunch can be crammed into a mason jar, which is why sandwich bags are tough to give up—they’re lightweight, sealable, perfectly-sized for snacks, and…disposable. Luckily, there are new, equally Pinterest-worthy reusable options.
“There are well-designed alternatives coming out in lots of colors and patterns, and they function really well,” says Woodruff. The chic, durable baggies from Lunchskins and (Re)Zip are dishwasher-safe; you can even use food-grade silicone ones from Stasher for microwave and sous vide cooking.
Create a giveaway zone. Did a client send you a bouquet of chrysanthemums that’s making you sneeze? Have you somehow collected 17 branded stainless steel water bottles? Wound up with three separate tape dispensers?
“Designate a specific area where staff can exchange office items like binders, notebooks, pens, or light furniture,” says Woodruff. Those flowers won’t get thrown away (sad), everyone gets hydrated, and the person who orders office supplies won’t be swimming in tape dispensers.