The circular economy is a trending topic these days and it refers to the idea of keeping materials in use instead of disposing them, generally by landfill/incineration. In the media, we find many examples of how consumers can participate in the circular economy. But it is also possible for companies to participate in the circular economy via their purchasing habits and internal processes.
Here are some ways that we work with clients on incorporating circularity into their office life. Currently, many people are not in the office but we know that businesses are slowing asking their employees to come back. While the office has low occupancy it is a good time to plan for and implement some of the below.
Ensure Good Recycling
At a minimum, make sure that the organization is recycling correctly (i.e. no contamination such as liquids or paper towels in the recycle) and that all recyclables are put in the right bin. In addition, make sure to separate out specialty recycle material such as electronics, batteries, k-cups, etc. And finally implement composting (more on that below).
Just a quick note that PPE is contaminating the recycling streams currently so it is important to train employees as they come back to the office.
Buy Secondhand – furniture, electronics, etc.
Buying secondhand is a critical component of the circular economy because it keeps materials in circulation and use. Review what is bought in your office and determine what can be bought second hand.
Taking furniture as an example, we work with many businesses who want to donate their furniture when they move offices or do a redesign. It is harder to convince businesses to buy used furniture. It can be challenging to find enough items of the same design or maybe you don't have the most updated version of a brand model. It requires some pre -planning and contacting vendors and seeing what is available and making design choices that support reuse or second hand.
The first step is about being open to the idea. And while everything cannot be secondhand , the chairs or the lamps or the keyboards can be. The key is to plan in advance and to incorporate secondhand purchasing into the process.
Focus on Recycled Content
It is important to support the recycling economy by prioritizing purchasing items made of recycled material. This is how recycling can be a viable business model.
Businesses can develop Environmentally Preferred Purchasing (EPP) policies that state that recycled content is a criteria in purchasing decisions for the office – from paper to recycle bins to office supplies. More and more companies are creating items with recycled material and getting support from businesses with large spend is critical. For example, when companies are building out their offices, consider using recycled materials in the build out.
Establishing Reusable Systems
Many offices provide disposable cups, silverware, plates in their offices. Switching to reusables is a great way to participate in the circular economy and reduce waste. Switching does require having a process for cleaning and storing the items. This can be done via a dishwasher, a rotating job chart or having a cleaning team take responsibility for cleaning dishware. Recently, there are reusable dishware companies that provide “dishwashing as a service”. Dishcraft and Keko Box are two such companies, but we know there are many more depending on the location of your office.
Establish Circular Systems
Part of reducing waste is reusing and sharing with others. One way is to create physical swap spots for smaller items (see below). There are also technology solutions to foster sharing / distributing items within a set ecosystem. Rheaply is one such company and it has a technology that enables a company to share items across the organization.
Create Swap Spots
In office spaces and in office buildings, creating a swap spot to share and encourage reuse is great way to dip your toe into fostering the reuse economy! At one building, a start-up was able to find incredible items to decorate and bring to life some creative events . A product company had some extra items that they donated to the swap which other tenants happily used. Office supplies can also be donated (after a move out or clean out) which other tenants or departments can use. The key to the swap spot is to establish some rules and criteria on what can be donated/when is there a clean out, etc.
Establishing Food Donation Programs
Over a third of the material in an office’s waste stream is typically food! And most of that can be eaten. When we do waste audits, we see a significant amount of food being thrown away after a party or event. Before big events, establish a food donation plan and contact food rescue organizations so that you know the procedure for donating and they are ready to come at the end of the night. There is usually a fee , but you should also receive a tax deduction for the donation.
If you're concerned about liability, know that the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 protects food donors from criminal and civil liability. In addition, there are no recorded lawsuits related to food donation. Donors can also ask nonprofits to sign a hold harmless cause for another layer of protection.
Establish a Composting Program
In addition to food donation, establish a composting program to divert organic materials (food scraps and plant matter) for beneficial use . It is easy to do and most haulers are able to provide the service. If you are in a big building and are the only tenant separating out organic materials for beneficial use, you can also consider using a micro hauler.
Finally, Measure Your Results
As your company embarks on this process, make sure the data is being captured so that the organization knows if
The total waste generated in the building is decreasing
The diversion rate is increasing
If the data is not showing these results, you will want to figure out where the problems are that are causing more waste and/or less or poorer quality recycle stream. If the data is showing that waste generation is decreasing and/or your diversion rate is going up, congratulations!
Don’t forget to celebrate your successes with your team, then there is always more to do.
If you are interested in learning more about how your company can participate in the circular economy, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.