Expert Home Tips is based in a small office of just 11 people, in Guildford, Surrey – 3 of us in the photo above: Alex, Bianca and Rachel. Before trying #PlasticFreeFriday, I guess we considered ourselves pretty environmentally friendly. We have a recycling bin, dairy-free milk and very few of us drive – we were sustainable, right?
We’re always keen to get involved with such projects, and we (rather naively) presumed going plastic-free would be relatively easy. The whole team was excited about pulling together to do our bit for the environment, and show just how eco-friendly we are. It turned out to be a bit trickier than we thought, as I'll tell you.
Before our plastic-free experiment
As the day approached, we gathered in the meeting room to talk more about the changes we’d need to make internally to ensure the day was a success. Of which, it quickly became apparent, there would be many.
Being a small office has both its perks and drawbacks. While it enables us to do things like daily coffee trips in the morning, to spend some time bonding over frothy cappuccinos, it also means we don’t have much in the way of facilities. Apart from a few tea bags, a fridge and microwave, our food/drink provisions are limited.
There is no canteen, or rest room in the office, so many of us prefer to go out for lunch, pick something up from the shop and come back. There’s nothing like fresh air to clear a computer head.
Such habits may be good for our lifestyle and wellbeing, but they’re no good for our plastic-free intentions (or our bank balances, for that matter).
During the meeting we looked more closely at where, when and how we used plastic, and identified our challenges...
Our plastic problem areas
Every day, anywhere from 2–8 of us go to grab coffee. Of the 11 of us, only 1 had a reusable coffee cup. I know, shame on us.
I guess we always knew disposable coffee cups were wasteful, but what we didn’t know is that they are not easily recycled. We, like most of the population, thought these coffee cups, readily marketed as disposable, were made of paper. So we were shocked to find out that most takeaway cups contain a layer of plastic on the inside to keep them waterproof – pretty obvious when you think about it.
It looked like we’d have to rethink our morning coffee – there was no way we were going to give it up for good.
Lunch was another obvious area where we splurged on plastic without even realising. And the more we looked into it, the harder it seemed to find a solution.
I always bring my own lunch in. My salads get sectioned up into smart-looking Tupperware-style container, which saves me money every day on costly "meal deals". While I don’t contribute to the problem of throwaway plastic packaging with my lunches, my lunchbox is, essentially, plastic.
For those that choose to buy their lunch, not only was there the problem of plastic containers to consider, but also the plastic bags they come in. As we all know, disposable plastic bags are a big no-no.
Not only would meal deals be off limits on our #PlasticFreeFriday, but it looked like my budget lunch would be too.
Despite being small, like most offices, we have a water-cooler. While most of us do use the glass cups on offer – or our own, refillable, plastic bottles – there are a select few who continue to use the disposable plastic cups attached to the water-cooler machine (we won’t mention names but you know who you are).
Last, but certainly not least on our areas of concern, were pens. Most of us have a pen – most of us have several pens – and we use them throughout the day without giving so much as a single thought to what they’re made of.
Plastic, of course. So these were going to be off limits too.
Plastic-free is challenging, but doable
After discovering that our "eco-friendly" office was, in fact, not that eco-friendly at all, the interest in our #PlasticFreeFriday trial mysteriously diminished.
When staff realised they’d not only have to change their very cemented, work-life habits to reduce plastic consumption, but perhaps even go out of their way, and possibly even spend money on their efforts, they became less keen.
Determined to keep the morale high, I spent some time drumming up solutions to every one of our plastic concerns, and relayed these to the bosses. The idea was to make the change so easy for people that they had no excuse to keep being frivolous with their plastic usage.
As it turned out, some of the changes were much simpler than we'd thought.
Our plastic-free solutions
As there are only 11 of us, a small amount went a long way when it came to plastic-free solutions. Here’s where we put our efforts and where we spent our dollar.
Given the reluctance of staff to buy a brand new coffee cup for #PlasticFreeFriday, we decided the best solution would be to go halves on a plastic-free, reusable coffee cup.
The company would pay half the cost of an approved coffee cup, providing that staff put in the rest. We bigged up the coffee shop’s "50p off with a reusable cup" offer, and the whole team obliged. Result.
Lunch was a much harder problem to solve. For those who bring lunch in, aside from getting a new metal lunchbox, options were severely limited.
With a bit of wangling, I managed to bag the whole team a plastic-free lunch at the local health café. A result for the environment, local businesses, and our team morale too.
The disposable water-cup problem was easy to fix – we simply removed them from the room. Out of sight, out of mind.
I sent a friendly email around advising everyone to either bring in their own glass cup, or use one of the many on offer by the tea station. This was well received by the team.
Pens were another easy fix. We did a quick Amazon order of a multi-pack of recycled pencils and removed all the pens from the office on Thursday evening.
The revelation that an HB pencil can draw a line for 56 km while a ballpoint can only manage 2-3km was enough to convince the office this was definitely the way to go.
Plus, we could finally get one of those automatic, electronic pencil sharpeners everyone wants – and expense it too.
Plastic-free results and learnings
Overall, I’d deem our #PlasticFreeFriday a great success. We managed to keep the office plastic-free (if you discount our desks and mouse devices that is) for one day, and learnt a lot in the process. For example:
We are not as eco-friendly as we think – and your office probably isn’t either. Doing something like #PlasticFreeFriday is a great reality check and will help kick-start new, eco-friendly habits.
Plastic is everywhere. In fact, it’s so prevalent that we rarely even realise we’re using it. This can be intimidating …
… but it doesn’t need to be. There are ways to reduce your plastic consumption – it’s all about making simple changes to your daily routine.
Our plastic-free future?
You’ll be happy to hear that we do plan to carry forward our findings from #PlasticFreeFriday into our everyday office environment.
While we’re not going to force the initiative on everyone, there are certain concrete changes we’ve made in the office that will see a reduction in plastic usage for everyone:
A collection of natural-fibre tote bags by the door for shopping trips, to prevent plastic-bag waste.
The cups we took away from the water cooler have now been removed from the building entirely, and won’t be coming back again any time soon.
The office kitchen cupboards have been stocked with non-plastic cutlery, plates and bowls to help reduce disposable plastic waste at lunchtime.
The pencils have stayed.
We all use our reusable cups when getting coffee.
Plastic Free Friday: our top tips for companies
We’d recommend #PlasticFreeFriday to any business, especially small ones. Small efforts result in big returns, are good for staff morale and help with team-building.
Our top tips for the bosses of any company that wants to try #PlasticFreeFriday:
Be prepared to put some money behind it – which will help encourage your staff to get involved.
Educate your staff on the plastic problem and the impact you can make in the office.
Get everyone involved – this will improve team-building and staff morale.
Have a project leader – too many cooks spoil the broth. Choose someone passionate and organised.
Be realistic – make things as easy as possible for your staff to make small changes to their daily habits.
Don't dictate to staff members – #PlasticFreeFriday should be fun, not daunting.
Don't be intimidated – with a little time, perseverance and imagination, going plastic-free is easy.
Don't leave everything to the staff – as the boss, it’s your job to set an example. Get involved and your staff will be more inclined to as well.
People spend the majority of their days at work. By encouraging more eco-friendly habits in the workplace, it’s more likely they'll be replicated at home, and the word will spread . . .