7 Steps Toward Creating a Zero Waste Office

CC BY 2.0. blupics

Go beyond organizing and eliminate all sources of trash in your home office.

Out of all the rooms in a house, the office is arguably the most difficult to imagine converting to zero waste. An office contains so much stuff — endless piles of paper, containers of pens and markers, loose paper clips, erasers, and tape dispensers, much of it single-use only and non-recyclable. How does one even begin to organize, let alone minimize waste, in a home office?

Zero waste expert Bea Johnson of San Francisco, author of Zero Waste Home, has weighed in on this question. In a blog post on how to create a zero waste home office and in a new five-minute YouTube video on where to find zero waste school and office supplies, Johnson provides excellent information that could revolutionize the way your home office operates. Combined with my own thoughts, here are some guidelines for getting started.

1. Visit the thrift store.

You’d be surprised at how many second-hand office supplies are available, from paper to pens to binders. Although you will, in theory, have to dispose of these items eventually, it’s still better to use something that’s already been created than to generate yet more consumption.

2. Buy reusable items.

It’s possible to buy cardboard and aluminum binders with removable metal binder clip in the center. This allows you to separate them for eventual recycling, or to attach the spine to a replacement cover, purchased from the manufacturer.

Buy refillable pens and pencils. Johnson recommends a traditional fountain pen or this refillable ballpoint point, as well as a metal lead holder as pencil replacement. She exhorts people to stay away from the scourge that is cheap free company pens.

3. Buy recyclable or compostable items.

I don’t yet have a metal lead holder, but I look for eraser-less pencils — just the plain wooden variety with nothing on top — because I know they can decompose. Also, I was surprised to learn about highlighter pencils, which seem like a brilliant alternative to plastic ones. (You can get refillable, too.)

Make your notepads and notebooks using leftover paper held together with binder rings or a metal paper clip. You can even compost shredded paper, which is much better than mixing with other recyclable paper — a nightmare for collectors who have to sort it.

Make sure you buy recycled paper that comes wrapped in paper, not plastic.

4. Share equipment whenever possible.

I don’t own a printer, even though it would be convenient at times. Instead, I print at the library and pay a few cents per sheet. This eliminates the temptation to print far more things than I actually need, and it uses equipment that already exists and is kept for public use. I save tons of money by not having to buy paper, ink, toner, etc. The same applies to scanning and photocopying.

5. Make shipping greener.

Use lick-on stamps if possible, so you don’t end up with disposable backing. Use paper tape, cardboard, and newspaper to package items. Avoid Styrofoam and plastic bubble-wrap mailers.

6. Banish unnecessary paper.

Contact all sources of junk mail and ask to be removed from mailing lists. Refuse phone books, as most numbers are available online. Switch from paper to electronic billing. Ask schools to send home fewer papers and no duplicates, if you have more than one kid. Change over to electronic newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

7. Odds and ends

Use paper clips instead of staples. They can be purchased by weight in a reusable bag at Staples. Buy an all-natural eraser. Use a solar-powered calculator. If you’re purchasing a backpack for school supplies, Johnson recommends JanSport, which has a lifetime unconditional warranty. See what's available at The Green Office, if you're looking for something specific.

Please share any of your own tips in the comments below.