Zero-Waste Workplace

Depending on our occupation, it can be particularly challenging to avoid waste at work as we have far less control over materials, suppliers, etc. But we can still make a few changes.

General suppliers

  • USA: EcoEnclose is dedicated to sustainable packaging, which they explain in detail here.
  • Australia: BuyEcoGreen is an online shop specialising in green office supplies, school supplies and art and craft products. “The products that we supply need to satisfy at least two of our environmental criteria which include being recycled, biodegradable, reusable, sustainable, organic and having a reduced impact on the environment.”

Packing & Shipping Supplies

Plastic Tape (scotch/sellotape)

Even though this item is pervasive, it’s surprisingly easy to do without it entirely.

  • A good all-purpose solution is gummed paper tape, which watercolourists will already be familiar with: gummed strips of paper, available in rolls of varying width (said rolls being sold unpackaged and without even a wasteful inner tube). You tear or cut off the length you need, and moisten the gummed side. This can be done by running it under the tap, but using a sponge allows you to control the degree of wetness better. Apply where needed and let dry. It’s incredibly efficient because it bonds with the surface of card and paper. It can even be removed neatly by moistening, if necessary. When you use it for packing, the recipient can recycle the whole thing without having to strip plastic tape from the card first. Butterfly gum strip is one brand sold UK art shops, but gummed tape also comes in much more massive rolls that are better value, so investigate in your local art shops, or online.
  • There is also cellulose tape, which is plastic-free, made from plant material that biodegrades completely. However, the term “cellulose” tends to be bandied about indiscriminately, so make quite sure you’re buying genuine cellulose, such as this product on Life Without Plastic or this one on BuyEcoGreen.
  • When looks are important and brown tape just won’t cut it, consider washi tape instead of clear plastic tape: a Japanese material made of natural fibers, it is widely available in a large number of plain colours or patterns. Pick a colour/design to match your wrapping paper or brand, and you need sacrifice neither presentation nor the environment.
  • Good old twine works really well for inside packaging (not for the outside of a box as it gets caught in the postal machines) and adds a rather nice old-fashioned touch. It also has the advantage of not damaging the material it’s holding together: for instance, if you absolutely must use bubble wrap, using twine instead of tape insures that the wrap remains intact and can be reused, instead of having to be discarded after one use.
    Search for packing twine made of natural fibers (jute, hemp or raffia) and prefer brands that are not wrapped around a plastic spool. You may also be in a position to reuse string that’s already in your house: personally, I receive a weekly vegetable box tied with twine, and simply save and reuse that.
Packing tape

For high-volume shipping or when stronger tape is required, reinforced gummed tape is actually much stronger than plastic packing tape (it is used by Amazon, among others, to seal large packages). Like regular gum tape, it’s water-activated and comes in large rolls. Other names for it: reinforced kraft sealing tape, paper packing tape. A simple search turns out plenty of sources, but here are those that are dedicated to sustainable materials:  EcoEnclose (US), BuyEcoGreen (Au).

Bubble wrap

This nasty material, that is not reusable if carelessly taped, is not even the most efficient type of wrap.

  • Honeycomb paper wrap: Look for brands such as GreenWrap (US, Oz), EcoEnclose Corrugated Bubble (US), Geämi WrapPack (UK).
  • Corrugated wrap aka corrugated paper rolls: This is corrugated cardboard that is only lined with a sheet of cardboard on one side, so it can easily be rolled around flat or long items. Its structural rigidity, in addition to absorbing shock, makes it superior to bubble wrap.
  • Cellulose wadding aka cellulose tissue cushioning: The multiple layers of this plant-based material provide excellent cushioning and absorb oil and water. Unlike corrugated cardboard, it is soft and therefore better adapted for wrapping around delicate objects. It’s less voluminous than bubble wrap, leading to smaller shipping boxes, reducing waste and expenses. It is biodegradable, compostable and can also be recycled alongside paper.
Foam peanuts and similar fillers

Avoid not only these dreadful toxic things, but also the air-filled ones made of recyclable or compostable plastic, as there really is no need for them. Some alternatives:

  • Shredded paper. Shred the un-reusable remains of gift wrapping for a festive filler, although it really is better to avoid such wrapping altogether (more on that soon).
  • Crumpled up newspapers.  You can also tear and crumple paper that was destined for your recycling bin, but ask the recipient to recycle it at the other end!
  • Some companies even use popped corn
Mailers and boxes
  • I receive a lot of packages, and I reuse absolutely every mailer and box, even if they’re not very pretty. My Etsy shop carries an explanation of my environmental practices so that even the products I sell are sent in reused packaging: I save the prettier, branded packaging for the interior. I cut down boxes to the right size if necessary, and, if it’s strong enough, even use the box from any item I had to buy (shoe boxes, appliance boxes…) Anything good enough to be reused, is reused, and if necessary I add an outer wrapping of simple kraft paper to make it look more tidy. I also reuse the inner packaging (such as kraft or silk paper) when it’s in good condition. As a result I can’t remember the last time I needed to buy such shipping materials.
  • Rigid mailers or (paper-)padded mailers are widely available and plastic-free. But if you have been saving boxes and strong cardboard, you can sandwich your documents, or any relatively flat object, between two layers of strong card, tie the lot with a string, and slip it into a regular kraft envelope before sealing it with gummed tape. Use your ingenuity and what you have lying around! It’s a little bit of work, but so is having to go to the shop to buy mailers.
Moisture-guard plastic lining

Waxed paper offers good moisture protection: be generous on the layers, or add it as a final layer around cellulose padding. For instance this product from Uline (US).

Display Materials

Clear cellophane

[in the works]

Food Packaging

Completely compostable food packaging is possible, and Vegware, based in Scotland, is pioneering its development. They offer over 250 compostable products spanning cutlery through to tableware, napkins, hot and cold drink cups, and takeaway packaging. These products are available worldwide.

Office & School stationery

[in the works]

Art Materials

[in the works]



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