7 Ways To Reduce Plastic Consumption in Your Workplace

7 Ways To Reduce Plastic Consumption in Your Workplace


Small changes can make a big IMPACT.

Plastics are everywhere – in our landfills, our streets, our waterways, our foods and in our bodies. They are nearly universal materials in our economy, businesses, and social practices. Plastics production and consumption marks a cultural revolution that has had both positive and negative impacts. On the one hand, the lightness, durability, versatility, and cost effectiveness of plastics democratized consumption, allowing people of modest means to become consumers of what are now considered to be everyday products, like combs and toothbrushes. According to Scientific American’s historical account, plastics held the promise of a new material that enabled and oriented the middle class.

On the other hand, excessive use of plastics in production and packaging has presented environmental and health challenges unlike anything else in consumption history. Particularly alarming is the amount of plastics that end up in our oceans and waterways. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean. This is on top of the 150 million metric tons of plastics estimated already to be circulating in marine waters. Whether it’s water bottles, plastic bags, straws, fishing nets, or mismanaged plastic waste, that’s the equivalent of dumping a full garbage truck of plastics into the ocean every minute every day for an entire year!

Approximately 150 million metric tons of plastics are circulating in marine waters. Photo Credit: Stephane Bidouze.

Plastics have been found in 100% of sea turtles and more than 60% of sea birds, which often mistake plastics for food. Since plastics never fully decompose – they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces – they have also been found in the fish we consume. In the last decade alone, the proportion of fish consuming plastics more than doubled across all species. Plastics in the fish we eat has been linked to health problems in humans.

It’s no wonder we’ve seen growing awareness and so many #PlasticFree campaigns over the last several years.

So what can we do about it?

Since most adults spend the majority of their lives at work, leaders in businesses, nonprofit organizations, and in the public sector have an incredible opportunity to step up and contribute to the solution.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Educate About the Issue.

Businesses in particular have an unmatched platform to connect plastic free choices with the values and aspirations of their employees and customers. By helping educate employees and customers about the problem, and then to further provide solutions, business leaders and managers can engage and inspire others to reduce their plastics consumption. Incorporating signage into your workplace or service center is a great way to communicate the issues with employees and customers, while reinforcing your organization’s values. The Plastic Free July campaign has a number of posters to get you started.

2. Find Some Easy Wins.

The truth is, the plastics problem is larger than any individual person or organization. Plastics are woven into our systems and structures, and going completely plastic free is nearly impossible for most people. A great way to get people engaged is to ask them what single-use plastics they could eliminate. Staff often enjoy challenging each other, so incorporating an employee challenge like “BYO Bottle to Work” can make plastics reduction fun. Consider providing your employees with a reusable water container or coffee tumbler to take with them to work and elsewhere – it’s a great advertising opportunity also! Just be mindful of the businesses that you’re purchasing these containers from. Here’s one eco-conscious company that allows you to customize drink containers for relatively cheap – they support sustainability research and ocean conservation too!

3. Make Changes In The Workplace.

Easy wins are fantastic for motivation, but some workplace changes are also necessary to support plastics reduction. Consider eliminating plastics straws or coffee K-cups in the office. Provide reusable utensils and dishware in break rooms and reusable take-out containers when going out to lunch. Replace plastic water bottles with water coolers. Or better yet, install a hydration station. Some of my own research found that the installation of hydration stations in workplaces and schools led to an increase in the use of reusable water containers and a decrease in the purchase of single-use bottled water. My research also indicates that people are more likely to use reusable water containers if they have access to hydration stations compared to traditional water fountains. Hydration stations are viewed as a cleaner option since people do not have to touch anything when filling their container. Interestingly, hydration stations actually encourage people to drink more water also, which may lead to better workplace productivity!

4. Reconsider Your Supplier Relationships.

Ask your suppliers about plastic-free or reduced plastics options for items you purchase for the office and if they don’t offer them, consider switching to a supplier that does. Earth Hero and Dolphin Blue offer two affordable options. Buy in bulk whenever possible to reduce packaging for your office supplies. This will usually allow you to purchase them at a discount as well.

5. Modify Your Packaging.

Product packaging plays a major role in plastics consumption. Instead of Styrofoam beads or plastic bubble wrap, try using a thicker paper alternative to package items when shipping products. Use recycled mailers or try these 100% compostable mailers when shipping non-fragile items. If you’re selling products in the store, encourage customers to bring a reusable bag by offering a discount for those who bring their own bag. If you really want to make an impact, eliminate plastic bags altogether in your store. Just be sure to have some reusable bags for sale (or giveaway, if you can afford it) for customers who forget their own bag – this is another great advertising tool if you include your brand or logo on the bag!

6. Organize a Workplace Cleanup.

Sponsoring a workplace cleanup can be a great way to help clean up trash in your local environment, but it can also help show employees just how much plastic pollution there really is in our streets, lawns, parks, etc. In this way, organizing a cleanup helps raise awareness for the cause. Volunteer opportunities in the workplace are also an impactful way to build a shared sense of purpose and belonging in your workplace, something I discuss extensively in another 3P Insights Impact Article. Get your customers involved for an even better brand building experience!

7. Be Realistic. And Be Positive.

It can be challenging to make the plastics-free switch. Changes won’t happen overnight and it’s important to recognize that everyone is on their own sustainability journey. The good news is that more and more employees and consumers are interested in reducing their plastics consumption. Tackle plastics problems one at a time and celebrate your wins. Reducing any amount of single-use plastics consumption is something to be proud of. Small changes can make a big IMPACT!

3P INSIGHTS is a consulting firm that offers training, speaking and support services to help organizations attract and retain diverse talent, create inclusive workplaces, become better environmental stewards, and improve their overall social, environmental, and economic impact.

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