In addition to blogging about plastic, knitting animals from grocery bags, and training for a half marathon (okay, that one is kind of a fib), I have an actual job in an office. I run the accounting department of a small home care agency in the Bay Area. (What, you couldn’t guess I’m an accountant from the graphs and itemized lists?) And one of the things that I noticed when I returned to the office after starting this project is that we had been tossing out an awful lot of plastic.
We have a little kitchen and make our own lunches. But the “tableware” we use is mainly paper or plastic. Numerous plastic knives, forks, spoons, and cups are thrown away every weekday, so I decided to provide an alternative. First, I went to a thrift store and purchased a bunch of cheap, stainless steel cutlery. I also bought a (plastic) basket to hold it. Since the basket came from Goodwill, I felt fine about reusing it for this purpose.
My main concern was how to present the new silverware to the group in a way that would not seem preachy and that would encourage them to use it. I decided on a low-key approach. I simply let them know it was there for anyone who wanted to save plastic and set it on the table without any fuss. The first question I got was, “Who’s going to wash it?” and my response was, “If you use it, you wash it. It’s up to you.” Several days later, I was gratified to see a few pieces in the dish drainer, evidence that someone besides me had decided to use them.
My next step was to bring my own plate, bowl, and glass to work so I wouldn’t have to use paper plates or plastic cups. I didn’t provide these things for the rest of the group. It would have been personally expensive, and I figure that they could each bring their own if they wanted to, and I’d serve as an example. We do already have quite a few mugs in the cupboard, so anyone who wants to switch from plastic cups can do it at any time.
I have to say that I get a bit of ribbing for using my own tableware at lunch. I’m not sure what that’s about. Perhaps some folks feel defensive or think that I’m judging them. I try not to comment about what they choose to use, but if someone asks me to get them a cup or spoon, I don’t bring them the expected plastic. And sometimes that can cause a bit of eye-rolling. So I’m trying to figure out how to navigate these interpersonal waters, being diplomatic while at the same time letting my co-workers know there are options besides plastic.
After attempting to reduce our waste by replacing plastic kitchenware, I thought about ways to at least recycle some of the things that do get tossed in the garbage. I looked up the Daly City recycling department online and found out that they have a program specifically for businesses. So I made an appointment for a representative to come to our office, do an evaluation, and set us up with the appropriate boxes and bins. Now, in addition to a large box in the kitchen, each of us has our own small box under our desks.
I have to say that monitoring the office recycling program has been kind of a headache for me. I have been met with resistance. “It’s too hard.” I’ve tried bribery: If you guys can go for six weeks putting your waste in the correct containers, I’ll buy lunch for the entire office, whatever you want.” Still, I continue to find wadded up kleenex and paper towels in the recycling box and bottles and plastic containers in the garbage. At this rate, we’ll never succeed for one week, let alone six.
Any suggestions for how I can encourage my co-workers to use the correct receptacles without pissing them all off? I need help on this one!
Once I’d made some changes in the kitchen, I took a look at my desk. Specifically my desk drawer. Recently, I read an article on Greenlivingtips.com about how much metal could be saved if people stopped hoarding coins. Well, I don’t save coins. But I did realize that I am a big fat pen hoarder! I must steal them secretly in my sleep because I don’t remember taking all of these pens. So how did I end up with a mountain of them in my drawer?
The photo is actually just a small sample of all the pens I had in my drawer. These are the ones no one wanted after I brought the stash upstairs to the lunch room to spread the wealth. I wonder how much plastic could be saved if people stopped unconsciously walking off with pens wherever they go. Our receptionist was thrilled that she wouldn’t have to order more for a while.
And then I went a step further. In addition to releasing the stash of plastic pens in my drawer, I purchased an old-fashioned refillable fountain pen so that I never have to throw away another plastic pen again. At least, not at the office.
Fountain pens are expensive, and this one is new, so I only purchased one. The next time I have a chance to go antique shopping, I’ll see if I can find a used one to keep at home and maybe one to keep in my backpack.
This particular pen is a Lamy AL-star graphit. It has an aluminum body. There is some plastic inside: the refillable converter. But it’s a one-time purchase. Instead of buying disposable cartridges, which is what most people use with fountain pens nowadays, I am able to refill the converter from an ink bottle and reuse it many times.
This pen feels really good in my hand and writes well. Fountain pen ink flows smoother than ballpoint ink. It does take a little getting used to. But I’m enjoying it. And to prevent other hoarders from walking off with my expensive pen, I’m keeping it in its cardboard box when not in use, and I stuck my name on it for good measure.
So, these are the measures I’ve taken in my office so far. Next up on the agenda: having the company purchase a water filter for the kitchen sink so we can cancel our Arrowhead water delivered in #7 plastic containers, checking to see whether we buy recycled toner cartridges, researching the best ways to recycle e-waste, and looking for any other plastic alternatives I can find.
Here is an article that was sent to me: 50 Ways To Reduce Office Waste. It has a few more ideas. Please leave a comment about any ways you have found to reduce plastic in your workplace, get along with your co-workers, or simply enjoy your job. I want to hear your ideas.