3D printer on office desk
As offices reopen, employers might implement more strategies to lessen printing and reduce the use of plastics.
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  • As employees head back to office life, there could be a return of more generated workspace waste.
  • Prominent examples of workspace waste include printing paper and disposable coffee cups.
  • Companies can implement environmentally conscious directives to tackle excessive office waste.
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Last year, when millions of people stayed home from school and switched from working in offices to their homes, they also stopped printing a lot of paper, buying takeout coffee, and eating catered meals at large meetings. The shift in the type of waste generated was noteworthy, especially as restaurants remained closed and more people ate at home.

Sales of printing and writing paper had already fallen before the pandemic, but 2020 accelerated the trend. As a result, production volumes of paper in North America fell by nearly 2.4 million tons between the first and last quarter in 2020, a 16% decline. US office printer paper production fell even further, more than 31% in April, according to the Japan Paper Association.

This change had major environmental gains, as paper makes up a significant amount of commercial office waste. Despite the rise in printer sales during the first nine months of the pandemic, more companies have adopted digital document software and reduced their overall printing.

According to the food waste software company Rubicon, the average American office worker goes through 500 disposable coffee cups each year. While some remote workers are starting to buy food and their caffeine at restaurants and local vendors again, many coffee drinkers have invested in brewing their own cups. There were 1 million home coffee and espresso machines sold in April, May, and June of last year. By November, sales of all coffeemakers were up 28% and retail coffee sales had risen by 10%. (This included 3 million Keurig machines in one quarter, which have a reputation of being detrimental to the environment.)

Other aspects of in-person work that generate waste include marketing, advertising, enterprise electronics orders, catering, and old office furniture. Cheap plastic promotional materials, plastic-coated paper, and vinyl signage can all be difficult to recycle. After more than a year of empty desks, there is already confusion and concerns that older computers won't be able to run the most updated Microsoft operating system, Windows 11, requiring expensive equipment upgrades.

Companies returning to the office can easily go back to old habits without clear processes for how they will decrease waste and increase sustainability. But, hopefully, they'll implement environmentally conscious directives that lessen printing, reduce unnecessary plastics and non-recyclable materials, encourage the use of reusable drinkware, and manage the proper disposal of old electronics.

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