Recycling, waste management and COVID-19 in the office environment

Recycling and reuse of resources is an important issue in the world today, given the finite resources of the planet. In 2018 Creation IP framed three targets to address reduce, reuse and recycle within the Company:

  1. Develop more on-line procedures to reduce paper usage and printing.
  2. Ensure that Colleagues have appropriate equipment for their role, so that they are not using more resources than are needed.
  3. Encourage the use of Innovation Centre recycling facilities.

These targets were also addressing one of the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse’.

However, even into early 2020, paper use (alongside electronic systems) was still significant. In other areas, we had reduced disposables, for example, by each having a personalised Company mug; by reducing the amount of plastic we used in the kitchen, and by making use of recycling facilities for office waste.

How has Covid-19 impacted on how we manage resources during months of working from home, and what will be the issues we face in a return to the office environment, in meeting Sustainable Development Goal 12?

During 2019 we developed an extensive bank of procedures for tasks, the aim of which were to empower colleagues and maintain consistency. These procedures also created a diversely skilled and flexible team of administrators within the Company. It was this bank of electronic procedures which were created for another purpose, which have enabled the Company to make a seamless transition from working in the office environment, to working from home.

In addition, working from home has also meant we have not had access to any paper resources. So, a win from home working has been a further change in task management, meaning we are now operating as a paperless office. This has led to a significant reduction in use of resources (paper, ink) and means a reduction in waste, for example, from shredding. Target one, a major win.

Working from home has also shown that some equipment in the office is not necessary. During the first month of homeworking, colleagues pinpointed the resources they needed. Other equipment and resources have simply been gathering dust in the offices. Therefore, another target which we have had as a Company, to not use more resources than needed, has taken a leap forward. A clear-out is in the pipeline!

Therefore, in working to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12 to ‘substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse’, we have, through working from home, changed our practices to reduce paper use, and reduce the list of essential office equipment.

However, there are new challenges concerning our third target in the Covid-19 environment. Nationally there are fewer recyclables going to recycling companies, and more is going straight to landfill, as local authorities do not know how to sanitise household waste effectively (including cost effectively). This has also had a huge impact on companies which handle recycling.

As a Company, our risk assessment for the office environment addresses how we will manage waste, including distinguishing between personal waste (for example, face coverings), and office generated waste (packaging from mail).

It is unfortunately likely that there will be an increase of waste. This includes, for example a return to disposable cups, cutlery and paper towels, to minimise potential transmission of the virus. Similarly, new waste will be caused by disposable masks (used on public transport); wipes which may be used to clean; plastic gloves; and empty plastic bottles of sanitiser. Furthermore, some of this waste will have to be handled with care, with potential for increased use of plastic waste bags.

Overall, we think that the environment will eventually win. The move to paperless office, and reduced office equipment is a long-term success. The increase in new waste because of Covid-19 will, hopefully, be temporary; and we will be back on track to meet our current targets for Goal 12 for 2030.

In this article, Alison Clark (HR Support) and Fraser Corbett (Administrator) at Creation IP discuss the Company’s journey to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12, on global resources management. They look at the impact of Covid-19 on being responsible in our resources use, including working from home and the return to the office environment.


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