Many office buildings prioritize green but not the sustainable kind. Whether you work at a vibrant startup or old-school corporation, chances are that come 5 p.m., your office trash cans are stuffed with stacks of paper and empty takeout lunch containers. The stress and jam-packed schedules of a workday can derail any sustainable, low-waste routine, but it doesn't have to be that way.
Last week, environmentalist and plant wiz Summer Rayne Oakes stopped by mindbodygreen's Brooklyn HQ to chat with our staff about how to craft the ultimate green office. Together, we came up with some quick, simple strategies for cutting down on waste and emissions that we can't wait to put into practice. Want to join us? Here are a few simple ways to show the planet some love from your desk and make all of your co-workers want to do the same:
1. Make sure everyone knows the rules of recycling.
Recycling regulations vary widely depending on where you are, so it's worth quickly brushing up on the rules in the area around your office. (A quick Google search should get you all the info you need!) Here are a few universal rules that you should know too:
- No matter where you are in the country, takeout containers that have wax coating are usually not recyclable. Think: Chinese food cartons and coffee cups.
- If you're throwing a food container in the recycling, be sure to clean it first. If things like yogurt cartons, drinks, and takeout boxes still have food in them, it can seriously mess with the sorting process.
- Those numbers at the bottom of the item mean something, and you should stay low whenever possible. "The higher the number, the less you're able to create with that plastic," explained Oakes. New York recycling accepts plastics up to No. 7, but a lot of communities don't go that high.
- Make sure your recycling ends up in a plastic garbage bag. If it's in a black bag, it might go to landfill.
Recycling rules can be a little confusing, especially when a lot of mail is involved, like in offices. For instance, envelopes with a plastic window can usually be recycled, but envelopes that have plastic cushioning wrap can't. To make sure everyone is on the same page, consider making a little sign to go over the recycling bin clarifying what exactly to throw in. Oakes is also all about the tough love approach, joking, "I think it helps to kindly call people out when they recycle the wrong way."
2. Get a desk plant that clears the air.
Oakes' NYC apartment is alive with over 500 houseplants, so, needless to say, she had some valuable suggestions for toxin-busting greens. For plants that clear the air in an office, she pointed to the ones featured in the 1989 NASA Clean Air Study. While certainly overdue for a follow-up, this report identified a handful of plants that filter formaldehyde, benzene, and other VOCs out of the air and into their root systems, making them great for offices that have a lot of people coming in and going out. Here are a few to look into for your desk:
- Snake plant
- Peace lily
- Spider plant
Get your co-workers on board with adding more greenery, too, as NASA suggests placing one air-cleaning plant per every 100 square feet. Note: Since these plants actually pull dust out of the air, you'll want to wipe down their leaves occasionally!
3. Bring your own lunch or set up a meal-share lunch program.
Cut down on takeout containers by packing your own lunch in reusable containers or getting a few co-workers together to start a lunch club where every day a different person brings in a big batch of food for the group. Home cooking is usually the healthier choice, too, so it'll help you avoid that dreaded afternoon slump. Here are a few easy, seasonal batch-cooking ideas to get you started.
4. Organize in-office swaps.
Talk to your office about setting up a designated area where employees can leave items they don't use anymore. (Think books, home knickknacks, well-intentioned-but-unwanted Christmas gifts, etc.) You can also consider organizing a fashion swap to keep old clothing out of the landfill. Pick a day for everyone to bring in gently worn clothes they're not into anymore, set aside a room to display them, and have employees drop in to score some new finds. Bring anything that's left over and still in good shape to a charity or secondhand shop.
5. Make sustainable switches.
This one is especially important if you have a kitchen in your office. Set out reusable rags instead of paper towels, metal straws over single-use plastic ones, and reusable cutlery and plates over toss-away versions. If everyone in the office gets in the habit of avoiding single-use items, it will add up in the long run.
6. Consider composting food scraps.
Office buildings—especially those in big cities—usually aren't equipped to deal with food waste, so you may need to get a little creative if you want to go the composting route. "It was different growing up in the country, where I could take the compost out to the backyard and be done with it. Now, we have to worry about fruit flies and pests," explained Oakes. One of the best solutions she's found? Bokashi—a composting system that ferments trash using a blend of microorganisms. It's not super difficult to do (just put organic food in, sprinkle with the microorganisms, and press out the oxygen, and it doesn't get as smelly), but you really need to make sure that air stays out of the bucket so it doesn't start to smell. The resulting compost is super nutrient-rich and easy to use right away. "If you put the bokashi outdoors, a day or two days later it will be fully integrated into the soil. It's such a nutritive substance, but it doesn't attract pets and vermin," she said. Either find an employee who could use it in their garden, ask for volunteers to bring the compost to a drop-off location each week, or look into services like Vokashi, which will pick up the compost for you if your office is in NYC or Westchester County.
Now that you've got your office covered, here's how to be more sustainable at home.
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