It’s all well and good working for Friends of the Earth – encouraging everyone to reduce the amount of plastic they use. But just how easy is it to go plastic-free, really? Especially in the workplace.
I work in Friends of the Earth’s Supporter Relations Team. We’re always there to answer your phone calls, emails and enquiries via social media. More often than not it’s with a packet of biscuits or – my favourite – crisps within close reach.
When Friends of the Earth launched its campaign to drastically reduce plastic use, it suddenly hit home that my favourite daily snacks were wrapped in plastic – and I decided to try to set a good example in future.
After all, the campaign isn’t about making our lives impossible, it’s about making us realise just how much throwaway plastic is part of our everyday life, just how many of our simple conveniences end up in landfill. And most importantly, how small, easy lifestyle shifts can drastically reduce our waste.
Breaking the plastic habit
Once I'd woken up to my snack packets being made of plastic, I started to see just how much plastic I rely on. From shampoo and toothpaste, to my morning coffee, to meal-deal sandwiches at lunch, and my guilty pleasure: takeaway dinner.
But I realised that some of my colleagues had the same worries. So we banded together to encourage each other, and this really helped. And although I’m still hunting for the perfect packet of plastic-free crisps, I found myself making changes that affect my whole week.
Here are some of the tips we came up with to help reduce the amount of plastic we use. Maybe you can rally your colleagues and introduce these at your place of work too?
Loose change – ditching plastic tea bags
We drink 165 million cups of tea daily in Britain. Our office contributes its fair share to that. After finding out that tea bags contain plastic, we decided to try loose tea. I remember my grandparents only ever using loose tea, so this was a moment of nostalgia for me.
We got some tea ball strainers and found tea leaves that didn’t come wrapped in plastic. I even got myself a tea flask – it keeps my tea hot all day.
One of my colleagues went on a mission to find plastic-free fresh coffee and we’re having fun tasting them all until we find our favourite.
For those who can’t resist a takeaway cuppa on their way in to work, we swapped tips on our favourite reusable mugs and even found a company that would collect, and recycle, our discarded paper cups.
Top tip: Why not introduce a Breakfast Club at work where you can brew up fresh coffee and take turns bringing in bread and pastries from a local baker? Then you can chat and relax before work starts.
Bottle stop – switching to glass
We've gone retro. We're now getting our office milk delivered in glass bottles. This has sparked so many conversations about collecting milk bottle tops for charity – remember that?
It's been such an easy and simple shift. Some of our staff have even decided to make the change at home too.
Yes, we know glass is heavier and that adds to the transportation carbon footprint. But it turns out if you re-use – rather than recycle – glass milk bottles enough times, you save enough energy to make them better than plastic ones. We heard the BBC's environment expert Roger Harrabin point out that if glass milk bottles are reused 20 times they come out better in energy terms than plastic bottles.
And that's not all. We've tried to ditch the disposable plastic water bottle too. Our tap water is great, there's no need to buy bottled, and there are some great reusable bottles that keep your water cold throughout the day.
If you get caught without water on your way home you can check the Refill app for places that will re-fill your bottle with tap water for free.
Top tip: If tap water isn't to your taste look for a refillable charcoal filter bottle that will purify the water, or get a filter jug for your desk.
Sin bin – increase recycling, cut landfill
Most offices have been offering paper and glass recycling for years. If your office doesn’t do this, talk to your managers about getting extra bins to separate your waste.
At Friends of the Earth we have recycling stations all across our office, so there's no excuse not to separate our waste. We have bins for paper, plastic, glass, food waste – and now even bins especially for plastic film and coffee cups.
But the bin that's always fullest is the landfill bin. We placed all our bins in a row near the office kitchen so that we could recycle easily. It also meant we could watch as our landfill bin grew quickly by comparison. It was really interesting to see what was in it, so we could learn what to avoid.
We know that – when it comes to plastic – recycling is a much poorer solution than reducing how much we use. Yes, we need to recycle the plastic that's already out there, wherever possible. But we really need to be drastically cutting demand for plastics in the first place by radically changing what we all use and buy.
Top tip: Why not encourage a fun landfill fine? Every time you want to throw away a non-recyclable item pop 10p in a jar. Then use that money towards Friday night drinks – at a bar that doesn’t use plastic cups and straws, obviously.
Sharing is caring – and saves on waste
As part of promoting using less plastic here at the office we decided to combine forces and hosted a shared plastic-free lunch. It was great to get together with colleagues and escape the dreaded desk lunch.
I bought in some bread from a local baker (wrapped in a paper bag). A colleague made guacamole. Some people brought in home-cooked food to share and my boss made cakes.
And the best bit was that it was all completely plastic-free. This from an organisation that usually has at least 15 different pots of hummus lurking in the fridge.
Top tip: Switch things up by arranging a lunch out of the office. Forego the plastic-packaged sandwich. You deserve a break.
Happy #PlasticFreeFriday! At @friends_earth office we're going #plasticfree with our "inconvenience store" , stocking tasty treats, lunch essentials and kitchen/bathroom refills. Could your workplace do the same?! #FridayFeeling pic.twitter.com/8Auu6I0CKG— Friends of the Earth (@friends_earth) February 23, 2018
Incredible bulk – bring your own container
My favourite office solution is our INconvenience store. "In" because it’s in the office, and "convenience", because, well…
Bulk shops are popping up across the UK, but if you can’t get to one easily, why not bring one to you?
Our bulk shop sells essentials like ethically-sourced and eco-friendly washing-up liquid, laundry detergent, fabric softener, hand soap, shampoo and conditioner. And you can take along a bottle and fill up as much as you need, often at lower cost than on the high street.
We recently expanded to plastic-free treats, such as vegan chocolate bars, wasabi peas, Bombay mix, muesli and fizzy drinks in glass bottles. One of our colleagues has promised to make hummus every morning to sell – this will be a life-changer. Now we just need someone to learn how to make crisps!
Top Tip: Get bulk items like loo roll and eco-detergent delivered to your office and share the costs between a few of you. You’ll be surprised how much you can save.
Plastic-free with friends
The best thing about getting together with friends at work to reduce how much we plastic we use is that we can encourage each other.
No-one is perfect – not even at Friends of the Earth. But we can swap tips, share big bags of crisps when we can't help ourselves, and take turns bringing in lunch for each other. And we're kind to ourselves when we trip up.
From finding greengrocers that sell loose veg a short walk from the office, to lending work mates your tote bag to take to the shops, it's so much easier to ditch plastic with your pals.