Zero Waste Home OfficeZero Waste Home Office

My husband and I share an office.

A big adjustment from our old house, where I had turned the granny quarters (a fully equipped kitchen) into a studio and where my husband had a room so large that he added useless furniture to fill the space… the kids did find it useful to draw on the lounge chair with markers though. It was so easy back then to just close his office door, when I could no longer stand the sight of his pile-scattered floor (Scott is a compulsive “piler”). And in my space, it was also too easy to collect used frames found at garage sales. I had high hopes of using them to exhibit my art, but they never actually “helped” my artwork. In our separated offices, we both had a stapler, we both had a shelf for office supplies, we both had a printer, we both had a TV… we both had a refuse can: one labeled “trash”, not “recycling”. Paper, food, pictures, plastic bags, packaging, all went in the same bin, destined to landfill.

How did we ever think that recycling should be relegated to the kitchen only?
Boy, have we come a long way in the past 5 years. In our new (1920’s) small home, we’ve learned to share, for the better… a more streamlined and more sustainable office. (Bonus: una officina to clean, not dos!). It’s not yet perfect as we still have to deal with long-ago purchases and their imminent disposal: Food coloring containers which await to color my homemade paper, large artist acrylic paint jugs, adhesive spray can, etc. I am not sure how I will choose to sustainably replace these products (make my own, or find them used on Craigslist perhaps?), if replace them at all, when I empty them. In the meantime, I am reminded everyday of the wasteful office life we use to lead, and look forward to putting it behind me, with no visual reminders.
Here are some of the things we have done to get us on the right track in our current home office:



Pens / pencils:
REFUSE

  • Better to have one good pen than a dozen “cheapies”. Thru my simplifying business, I have witnessed homes filled with dozens of free business pens. If you have allowed them in your house, you have also created a demand for it. Help stop the free-pen madness.
  • Teach your kids to REFUSE pencils as party favors, as homes can get filled with those too.

REUSE

  • If you do need a pen or a pencil, choose a stainless refillable model, and buy them from a stationary store: They come unpackaged.
  • Use refillable white board markers (Auspen): we don’t personally own them since we’re still using those from our previous life, but we’ve seen them at the SF Green Festival
  • Donate extra office material (paper, pencils) to your public school’s art program.


Paper:

REFUSE

  • Start your own junk mail war
  • Cancel your phone directories: available online anyways
  • Request less paper from your kids teachers/school and refuse duplicates when you have more than one child.
  • Refuse paper billing (and it would be nice if we could keep it at that;)…sign up for electronic bills and statements. Call them as soon as you open their mail.

REDUCE

  • Buy recycled paper products, packaged in paper: Some manufacturers choose to sell their reams in plastic (?????)

REUSE

  • Use single-side printed paper for printing or making notepads with a metal clip: Dedicated a file or paper tray for it
  • Collect and use junk mail response envelopes

RECYCLE

  • Ditch the trash can (use it as a receptacle for your goodwill donations): Strive to use your recycling bin exclusively, an office is all about paper management.


Shipping:

REFUSE:

  • Request recyclable-only packing material from your shippers: Refuse bubble wrapping, styrofoam and plastic bags.

REDUCE:

  • Use paper tape on your parcels, and masking tape for smaller uses. I confess, it was a hard switch for me. There was something comforting about protecting my shipping addresses behind a waterproof plastic tape.
  • Buy lick-on stamps instead of stick-on’s (if and when possible). At this point USPS only has $1 lick-on stamps available, so we’re left with a sticker sheet the rest of the time (landfill). Send them an email to help bring the lick-on’s back in fashion.
  • Use USPS.com to print postage directly on your envelopes.
  • Use surface mail to reduce the carbon footprint of your posted items.

REUSE:

  • If you shred paper (we don’t because of the added energy cost and extra machine laying around), reuse the shredded material for shipping or COMPOST it: Shredded paper is a nightmare for recyclers to separate if you have a mixed recycling can.
  • Use a return address stamp instead of stickers (the latter leaves you with a non-recyclable sticker sheet destined for landfill): You already cancelled the pesky charity themed address labels, right?
  • Reuse packaging material: donate your bubble wrap (with no tape), peanuts, entire styrofoam pads to UPS, dedicate a cabinet for the rest and reuse it.


Other Supplies/Equipment:

REDUCE:

  • Use paper clips instead of staples, or a staple-free stapler (packaging is ¾ cardboard, ¼ plastic). I personally don’t have one yet, I can’t get past all the packaging.
  • Buy paper clips in bulk: bring a bulk bag to Staples, they have a great selection of such items sold by the weight.
  • Use solar powered calculator (looks like they still make battery operated ones…)

REUSE

  • Use your library to read business magazines and books. Sell your books on amazon.com (you’ll be amazed how much you can sell your old schoolbooks) or donate them to your library for other people to enjoy them.
  • Use memory sticks and external drives instead of CD’s (they last longer than the rewritables too)

RECYCLE:

  • Only print when absolutely necessary, recycle your cartridges (at Best Buy for example) keep a receptacle next to your printer for easy recycling.
  • Donate your unused computers/equipment to Goodwill. They will refurbish and resell the equipment if possible. And, if buying a new computer, get a laptop, it’s more energy efficient.
  • Cell phone: repair or donate. Best Buy will take them.

Operations:

  • Use zero waste cleaning (recipes coming up next week!).
  • Smart strip your equipment if you can. Since it did not work for our system, we have strategically plugged our equipment in power strips that we turn off at the end of the day.
  • When your bulb burns out replace them with CFL’s (duh).

My husband and I share an office.

A big adjustment from our old house, where I had turned the granny quarters (a fully equipped kitchen) into a studio and where my husband had a room so large that he added useless furniture to fill the space… the kids did find it useful to draw on the lounge chair with markers though. It was so easy back then to just close his office door, when I could no longer stand the sight of his pile-scattered floor (Scott is a compulsive “piler”). And in my space, it was also too easy to collect used frames found at garage sales. I had high hopes of using them to exhibit my art, but they never actually “helped” my artwork. In our separated offices, we both had a stapler, we both had a shelf for office supplies, we both had a printer, we both had a TV… we both had a refuse can: one labeled “trash”, not “recycling”. Paper, food, pictures, plastic bags, packaging, all went in the same bin, destined to landfill.

How did we ever think that recycling should be relegated to the kitchen only?
Boy, have we come a long way in the past 5 years. In our new (1920’s) small home, we’ve learned to share, for the better… a more streamlined and more sustainable office. (Bonus: una officina to clean, not dos!). It’s not yet perfect as we still have to deal with long-ago purchases and their imminent disposal: Food coloring containers which await to color my homemade paper, large artist acrylic paint jugs, adhesive spray can, etc. I am not sure how I will choose to sustainably replace these products (make my own, or find them used on Craigslist perhaps?), if replace them at all, when I empty them. In the meantime, I am reminded everyday of the wasteful office life we use to lead, and look forward to putting it behind me, with no visual reminders.
Here are some of the things we have done to get us on the right track in our current home office:



Pens / pencils:
REFUSE

  • Better to have one good pen than a dozen “cheapies”. Thru my simplifying business, I have witnessed homes filled with dozens of free business pens. If you have allowed them in your house, you have also created a demand for it. Help stop the free-pen madness.
  • Teach your kids to REFUSE pencils as party favors, as homes can get filled with those too.

REUSE

  • If you do need a pen or a pencil, choose a stainless refillable model, and buy them from a stationary store: They come unpackaged.
  • Use refillable white board markers (Auspen): we don’t personally own them since we’re still using those from our previous life, but we’ve seen them at the SF Green Festival
  • Donate extra office material (paper, pencils) to your public school’s art program.


Paper:

REFUSE

  • Start your own junk mail war
  • Cancel your phone directories: available online anyways
  • Request less paper from your kids teachers/school and refuse duplicates when you have more than one child.
  • Refuse paper billing (and it would be nice if we could keep it at that;)…sign up for electronic bills and statements. Call them as soon as you open their mail.

REDUCE

  • Buy recycled paper products, packaged in paper: Some manufacturers choose to sell their reams in plastic (?????)

REUSE

  • Use single-side printed paper for printing or making notepads with a metal clip: Dedicated a file or paper tray for it
  • Collect and use junk mail response envelopes

RECYCLE

  • Ditch the trash can (use it as a receptacle for your goodwill donations): Strive to use your recycling bin exclusively, an office is all about paper management.


Shipping:

REFUSE:

  • Request recyclable-only packing material from your shippers: Refuse bubble wrapping, styrofoam and plastic bags.

REDUCE:

  • Use paper tape on your parcels, and masking tape for smaller uses. I confess, it was a hard switch for me. There was something comforting about protecting my shipping addresses behind a waterproof plastic tape.
  • Buy lick-on stamps instead of stick-on’s (if and when possible). At this point USPS only has $1 lick-on stamps available, so we’re left with a sticker sheet the rest of the time (landfill). Send them an email to help bring the lick-on’s back in fashion.
  • Use USPS.com to print postage directly on your envelopes.
  • Use surface mail to reduce the carbon footprint of your posted items.

REUSE:

  • If you shred paper (we don’t because of the added energy cost and extra machine laying around), reuse the shredded material for shipping or COMPOST it: Shredded paper is a nightmare for recyclers to separate if you have a mixed recycling can.
  • Use a return address stamp instead of stickers (the latter leaves you with a non-recyclable sticker sheet destined for landfill): You already cancelled the pesky charity themed address labels, right?
  • Reuse packaging material: donate your bubble wrap (with no tape), peanuts, entire styrofoam pads to UPS, dedicate a cabinet for the rest and reuse it.


Other Supplies/Equipment:

REDUCE:

  • Use paper clips instead of staples, or a staple-free stapler (packaging is ¾ cardboard, ¼ plastic). I personally don’t have one yet, I can’t get past all the packaging.
  • Buy paper clips in bulk: bring a bulk bag to Staples, they have a great selection of such items sold by the weight.
  • Use solar powered calculator (looks like they still make battery operated ones…)

REUSE

  • Use your library to read business magazines and books. Sell your books on amazon.com (you’ll be amazed how much you can sell your old schoolbooks) or donate them to your library for other people to enjoy them.
  • Use memory sticks and external drives instead of CD’s (they last longer than the rewritables too)

RECYCLE:

  • Only print when absolutely necessary, recycle your cartridges (at Best Buy for example) keep a receptacle next to your printer for easy recycling.
  • Donate your unused computers/equipment to Goodwill. They will refurbish and resell the equipment if possible. And, if buying a new computer, get a laptop, it’s more energy efficient.
  • Cell phone: repair or donate. Best Buy will take them.

Operations:

  • Use zero waste cleaning (recipes coming up next week!).
  • Smart strip your equipment if you can. Since it did not work for our system, we have strategically plugged our equipment in power strips that we turn off at the end of the day.
  • When your bulb burns out replace them with CFL’s (duh).
  1. Anna says:

    February 28th, 2010 at 2:38 pm (#)

    Thanks for all of this great information! You've taken zero waste much farther than I have gotten so I really appreciate all the resources and inspiration!

  2. mrs green @ myzerowaste.com says:

    March 1st, 2010 at 4:40 pm (#)

    Fantastic blog! I discovered you today through google alerts. I love what you are doing and how you're helping to make the world a better place. We've set ourselves a goal of zero landfill waste this year after a successful 2009 of producing just one bin of waste! Good luck with your year.

    Warm wishes
    Mrs Green

  3. Sylvia says:

    March 1st, 2010 at 8:20 pm (#)

    Can't wait for the recipes!!!
    This is a great blog; I am totally impressed at the amount of work that you've put into gathering all the the information.

  4. Bea Johnson says:

    March 1st, 2010 at 11:25 pm (#)

    Hello Mrs Green from the UK!
    I know you! I have seen your you tube video. Wouldn't it be fun to meet?

  5. Tracy says:

    March 3rd, 2010 at 7:34 pm (#)

    How do you get charities to stop sending you return address labels? They drive me crazy, but I feel obligated to use them instead of just tossing the whole thing.

  6. Bea Johnson says:

    March 3rd, 2010 at 8:57 pm (#)

    You're doing the right thing by using them instead of throwing them out, but call the charities to be taken off their mailing list.
    Some are more persistent than others, but don't let it discourage you!

  7. Helen says:

    March 4th, 2010 at 5:32 am (#)

    Great ideas! Though I don't know how you'd spend a day sat on that chair with no back support and with that cupboard in your face. My office doesn't look minimalist, but investing in a comfortable chair has made a huge difference.

  8. Bea Johnson says:

    March 4th, 2010 at 6:35 am (#)

    Hi Helen: Your comment cracked me up… I guess I should have been in the picture to give you an idea of scale 🙂 the cabinet hangs way above my head… I also have good posture, so the stool fits me just fine. When I get tired, it's time to get away from the computer anyways… take the dog on a walk, work on my artwork, or play with the kids (my husband has one of those froufrou designer comfortable chairs, and to be honest, I have never felt the need for it).

  9. Anonymous says:

    March 5th, 2010 at 10:52 pm (#)

    Love your blog! Read about it in Michelle Slatella's column and it has already spured me on to greater, greener things — buying reuseable poduce bags, breaking the compost bin out of storage :), and getting off the mailing list of several catalogues — soemthing I had meticulously done at ou last home, but hadn't tackeled it here.

    The WF- related posts are terrific. They are capitalizing on a somewhat undeserved green rep. They are the only game in town for many of us… Funny story: I asked at my WF last week about reuseable produce bags, which I thought I had seen at the store before. Five minutes and TWO sales-people later, the guys shows up with those DISPOSABLE (a swear word, right?) plastic tubs… Sigh, they didn't even understand the basic idea… I ended up ordering several handy things from reuseablebags.com.

    Question: how do you freeze food? I'd like to break the plastic ziplock freezer bag habit, but am not sure how to deal with excess air in the glass lidded storage containers…

  10. Bea Johnson says:

    March 6th, 2010 at 12:56 am (#)

    I do freeze meat, fish, butter, bacon (roll and freeze on a cookie sheet 1st) and ice cream in the same french canning jars that I take to the store. We've kept meat and fish in the freezer for a month without freezer-burn issues (we have not tried longer though). We freeze butter, bacon and ice cream for a couple of months at a time too.
    I fill 2/3's of Straus milk bottles to freeze liquids such as soups and OJ.
    I hope this helps! Don't be afraid to give it a try.

  11. Anonymous says:

    March 6th, 2010 at 10:05 pm (#)

    Hi Bea! Being so inspired by your blog, I took empty bottles to the Berkeley Whole Foods to fill up from their bulk shampoo and conditioner. I didn't like their selection so I left the store with my empty, unlabeled bottles in hand. A security guard followed me into the parking lot and demanded to see a receipt! When I explained the situation he just said "Oh…strange." No apology or anything after wrongly accusing me of stealing. Yikes. Berkeley Bowl will be getting my undivided business from now on.

  12. Ticky and Mimi says:

    March 9th, 2010 at 11:36 pm (#)

    This is simply amazing and inspiring. Thank you for all of these terrific tips! This mind set has become lost over time. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  13. Sarielle says:

    June 7th, 2010 at 7:17 pm (#)

    And make sure to recycle those CFLs! Ikea takes them. Not sure who else.

  14. Bea Johnson says:

    June 7th, 2010 at 8:55 pm (#)

    Home depot takes CFL's and so probably does your local hardware store.

  15. Anonymous says:

    June 12th, 2010 at 11:15 pm (#)

    I really enjoyed this blog.I love learning new ways to reduce,reuse,recycle. I'll be looking forward to reading more!
    Thank you

  16. Cetatzeanul says:

    August 7th, 2010 at 12:43 pm (#)

    Useful blog. Although i don't belive in such a thing it's ok to wish for such homes. Anyway, the other days i was wondering if i do save any tree ( working at a shredding company ) considering the amount of energy we use to shred all that paper and fuel we burn visiting our clients…

    Cheers,

    on site shredding fort Lauderdale

  17. Bea Johnson says:

    August 23rd, 2010 at 7:09 pm (#)

    Thanks for your nice comment Blake, but I had to delete it. I do not allow advertising without my consent.

  18. Anonymous says:

    December 31st, 2010 at 12:40 pm (#)

    Hello from Corte Madera!

    Just read the article about your family in Sunset Magazine and am inspired.

    I proudly do several things you advise in this blog, but have a ways to go yet to be in that comfortable and simple space that is right for my family…thanks for the guidance.

    We have used catalogchoice.org to reign in the catalog madness in the mailbox, and we have opted for the library for my 2 year old son (and now myself) ever since he was born.

    My question to you: have you had any luck requesting books from the Marin Free Public Library when you can't find what you want already there? I have put in some requests using their online form, but don't think anything has come of it.

    Any experience you have to share would be appreciated.

  19. Bea Johnson says:

    January 3rd, 2011 at 7:57 pm (#)

    Hi Anonymous:
    I have not had any problems with the library. I personally could not be happier with its services. If I place an online order for a book, I get an email within a few days to pick it up. You can also place requests for book that they do not carry in the county, and they will email you when they come in.
    You might want to contact them about your account if you do not receive emails from them.

  20. Anonymous says:

    January 3rd, 2011 at 10:11 pm (#)

    Yep, we also order from all the branches for delivery to our local branch and get email alerts, and that is super, but what if the entire county nor any other CA county has the book, have you ever been able to request a brand new book successfully?

  21. Bea Johnson says:

    January 3rd, 2011 at 10:33 pm (#)

    Yes. I think it was for "Cradle to Cradle". When it first came out, the library did not carry it so we filled out an online request form. When the library acquired it a month later, we received an email notification…

  22. Anonymous says:

    February 8th, 2011 at 2:42 am (#)

    Great post. Thank you for sharing.

  23. A L says:

    February 22nd, 2011 at 12:16 am (#)

    1)The last time I was in a retail business, the owner offered a free pen, and I politely smiled and accepted. But I discreetly left it on the counter when I left. 😉

    2)I actually still keep the phone directory. I do an internet sabatical on weekends, so when it's that time of the week, or I just plain don't want to go online and look up info, I use this mammoth book. I even still have a paper map in my car. I find it faster to use than Googling an address.

  24. Monica says:

    February 25th, 2011 at 3:43 am (#)

    Hi Bea,

    Love this article! Two quick comments:

    1) An additional idea to help reduce the amount of printing needed is to enlist a PDF printer, such as doPDF (easily Google-able), which enables you to print confirmation screens / online receipts straight to PDF rather than to paper. Between this and paperless billing we've been able to reduce our paper filing down to the very basic essentials, things that we have to keep paper originals of (sigh).

    2) I hate to say it, but I refuse to get rid of my books. I keep a book on average for 15+ years and read it over and over again until it literally falls apart on me. Libraries don't look kindly on you doing that to their books. I make use of my local library for things that I have no intention of reading more than once. I just need to figure out ways to reuse the pages once a book does disintegrate on me.

  25. Bea Johnson says:

    March 3rd, 2011 at 1:42 am (#)

    Thanks Monica, great input on PDF printer!

  26. Anonymous says:

    March 10th, 2011 at 11:07 pm (#)

    I am very frugal but try to use common sense also. I would never refuse a free pen or pencil because I need one w/ my purse,my Bible,beside my bed and each phone,my car and for those who don't have one. I get free magazines from the library,read and pass on. I use my son's school papers that are not used on the back for grocery list,scrap paper and taking notes. We did get lots of things from Goodwill but now due to the bed bugs we are more careful.We donate everything for a tax write off on our income tax.We give back by volunteering,supporting a boy that is my son's age in Beleze.
    The most important thing that I do is to pass on info to people in need-free phones,help w/ heat bill,food banks,etc.

  27. Bea Johnson says:

    March 17th, 2011 at 12:50 am (#)

    You might not want to refuse one now if you don't have enough (which I truly doubt), but eventually you will have to. Pens seem to come and accumulate into homes faster than they can be used (which is why most homes have too many of them). If you stuck with a refillable pen, you would not create a demand to make more disposable cheap ones. Accepting a free pen is pretty much as environmentally damaging as accepting a plastic bag at the grocery store. Refusing them, simply casts your vote against our society addiction to plastic.

  28. Anonymous says:

    March 25th, 2011 at 6:35 pm (#)

    Bea,
    When I shop at the goodwill/ thrift store, I end up with a receipt even if I do not want one. They print receipts anyway, even if I refuse & throw them away. Have you observed this? What can be done about this?
    I love it when I have can press the 'no' button for receipts at gas stations.
    Thanks for this wonderful blog.

    I wish all businesses give you this option.

  29. Bea Johnson says:

    March 31st, 2011 at 3:27 am (#)

    The mandatory receipt applies to practically any store, not just thrift shops. If everyone refused receipts, stores would quickly find an alternative for them. Mac for ex. gives the customer a choice to get a receipt emailed instead of printing them out. And my drycleaner asks if I want one, because his credit card machine gives him the option not to print one out.
    Why not contact the businesses that you most frequently visit to suggest a receipt opt-out?

  30. Susan d says:

    August 8th, 2011 at 4:12 pm (#)

    Hi Bea:

    I am a teacher and I have to agree 100 per cent that schools send home way too much paper. I am going to speak to the principal in September and see if we can't send home a lot more stuff electronically. I suspect that a lot of the paper we presently distribte doesn't even make it home anyway.
    The other thing I'm going to do is stop buying books. I have hundreds, many unread. I can get everything I need from the library anyway.
    One of my favourite books ever is Cradle to Cradle. I'm so glad I bought it before my book buying ban was put in place!

  31. Project Blog365 says:

    November 9th, 2011 at 8:43 am (#)

    I have a question.. how about arts and crafts? do you do them? don't they generate wastes as well?

  32. Serviced Office Solutions says:

    December 18th, 2012 at 7:47 am (#)

    Whether you are hiring serviced office space or using your home as a back-up office, you can surely collect a lot of waste from your office supplies. Thus, these tips you shared are definitely helpful in saving and maximising resources. Thanks!

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