Sustainable Waste | Reducing waste in the office

This is the amount of paper waste that is estimated to be produced in one month by the average British office worker [in 2008, things may have changed since then].

A very large bin appeared on Waterloo Bridge in London on February 2008. The bin is constructed out of the amount of paper that the average office worker uses in just one month. is encouraging companies to remove all but one bin from the office to highlight the amount of waste generated in one day.

This gigantic bin [two and a half metre high] is made with the 1584 sheets of paper the average office worker prints off in a month. [Aldred 2008] The provocative installation is a creation of the group Envirowise [ unfortunately not working anymore] as part of the campain One Bin Day, which was trying to raise awareness about the waste issue in offices and ask companies to rethink the way they were using materials and they were handling waste.

“One Bin Day is designed to make people think about what they buy, use and throw away. Much of what we discard can be reduced or recycled, but the convenience of a bin right by your desk makes for a big temptation to throw away valuable resources. The visual impact can be staggering. If workers follow their normal practices, the central bin will soon be overflowing within a matter of hours. This will help focus attention on just how much is used and thrown away daily. Once people start thinking about how they use things, they often think of how to reduce the amount they use, and improve the reuse and recycling of what is left.”

Envirowise programme director, Martin Gibson.

The idea of Envirowise was to remove individual desk bins and force workers to walk to just one central bin [the same system now working at DMU, the Bin-less scheme].

The waste produced by offices is included in the industrial and commercial sector, which forms 25% of total solid waste annuallyproduced in UK. [Defra 2001] According to Envirowise approximately 70% of waste in the office is recyclable, but on average only 7.5% is recycled. Something like 80.6m tonnes of white paper is thrown to waste each year in the UK, the 20% of total office and commercial UK waste.

Source: (2004). “Waste at work information sheet.” Personal re-elaboration

Recycling one tonne of paper can save 7,000 gallons of water. It also saves 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, and 4,000 kilowatts of energy. The average office worker uses 50 sheets of paper a day in unnecessary printing, figures show.

Envirowise tips for the office [Aldred 2008] are particularly focused on reducing paper consumption and waste:

  • Set the office printer to print on both sides of the paper by default.
  • Use electronic communication where possible to reduce printing and faxing.
  • Don’t print out emails unless absolutely necessary. Add a Think before you print prompt at the bottom of email signatures for others.
  • Collect all paper that has been printed on one side and reuse it for printing in draft, or for scrap message pads.
  • Reuse envelopes wherever possible, especially for sending information internally.
  • Place recycling bins in all offices.
  • Ensure that vending machines allow the use of china mugs rather than plastic vending cups.
  • Avoid purchasing disposable catering products such as milk jiggers, sugar sachets and paper plates.
  • Be aware that a single-sided, double-spaced document uses four times as much paper as a double-sided, single-spaced document.

A way to make an office more environmentally friendly from a garbage point of view is the idea of ‘Green procurement’, or buying recycled products [ 2004]. The return of a material to be recycled is only the first stage of the process. The material needs then to be sorted, reprocessed, and manufactured into new items which can be sold. Recycling, therefore, involves all four stages – collection, sorting, manufacturing and purchasing. The final stage, the purchasing, is vital for recycling to be economic and for recycling schemes to be successful.

In offices products that have a life of less than three years comprise 27% of waste. Disposable, such as paper or polystyrene cups, paper towels, pens and pencils, constitute a significant portion of these goods. By using items that can be refilled or reused instead of thrown away, offices will not only help to eliminate unnecessary trash, but can save money.

  • Use nondisposable tableware –> in DMU cafès food is served in ceramic plates and metal cutlery is at disposal
  • Use cloth towels in kitchens and bathrooms –> who have them in their department?
  • Refill laser cartridges and re-ink typewriter ribbons
  • Buy reusable filters for coffee machines
  • Buy mechanical pencils and refillable pens
  • Use reusable envelopes for interoffice mail –> an habit very widespread at DMU, who’s doing it?
  • Buy refillable tape dispensers
  • Encourage employees to reuse lunch bags
  • Consider purchasing a water cooler to replace individual bottled water

Buying Less Toxic Products

Many products that are used in offices contain toxic materials that can cause problems with waste disposal and can also affect our health. Changing procurement practices to favor less toxic and nontoxic alternatives can significantly improve office environments and reduce the toxicity of the waste stream.

  • Purchase cleaning products with nontoxic content in large reusable containers or use homemade cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda
  • Buy products with less toxic ink and dye
  • Purchase unbleached paper products
  • Use low toxic correction fluid or correction tape
  • When redesigning an office, purchase less toxic products, such as solid wood instead of particle board (which emits formaldehyde), and carpet tacks instead of toxic floor covering adhesives
  • Purchase equipment that does not require batteries (which leak hazardous chemicals), such as solar-powered calculators, manual can openers, and mechanical pencil sharpeners

Other Tips for Office Waste Reduction

  • Buy coffee, tea, and sugar in bulk
  • Share newspapers and magazines
  • Organize swaps of unnecessary items from your home with your colleagues  –> DMU has a furniture shop where items are stored when offices are refurbished and where you can have a look when you need something for your office, before buying something new
  • Donate food, furniture and other materials to local organizations, such as homeless shelters or charities
  • Share source reduction ideas among coworker

Are you unsatisfied by this tips and think it is possible to do more? Have a look at this long list  of tips to reduce waste in the office:  Key office wastes and what to do with each one of them


DEFRA (2011). Waste Data Overview. London, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Aldred, J. (2008) Office waste costs UK business £15bn, campaigners say. (2004). “Waste at work information sheet.” Retrieved 20.11.12, from


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