Mitigating office waste: Strategies to hit internal sustainability goals

From companies that operate in tech to the ones that do marketing or engineering, all have one thing in common: the need to cut down on food waste.

This is a necessity for several reasons. While not everyone may be aware of this, food waste is one of the significant unnoticed problems that companies face, not only from an environmental standpoint but also from a social and financial one.

Firstly, 10% of total global emissions are generated by food waste. To exemplify this, if food waste were a country, it would be as big as India and Canada combined. After all, besides greenhouse gas emissions, generating food waste also entails squandering the resources utilised in the production, transportation, and distribution of food. 

Then, despite the amount of food that is being wasted on a daily basis, the global hunger crisis is on the rise. On the other hand, this social factor encompasses aspects that you may not have considered, such as the fact that more and more job hunters care about a company’s ethos and that being green is becoming “a requirement, not a nice-to-have”.

Finally, 40% of food is wasted in the United States annually, costing approximately $218 billion. Food prices have increased by 11.4% in the past year so not only are you wasting food but you are also losing money when doing so.

On the bright side, tackling food waste is one of the climate solutions that have massive environmental benefits without being expensive or difficult to put into practice.

  1. Partner with a local food bank

Perhaps the most accessible way to start your journey towards zero waste, partnering with a local food bank will not only prevent the waste of surplus food but will also help with redistributing food to people who need it.

While donating surplus food is the first step, if you want to get more involved, you and your team can volunteer at a local food bank. Not only will you raise awareness about food waste and its impact on climate change among your employees, but volunteering also increases employee engagement.

  1. Turn waste into fuel

Expired food or moldy vegetables may not seem necessarily useful for you and this is where you are wrong. We need to rethink the way we think about food waste, as just because food may be old or unappealing, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth anything anymore. For instance, an anaerobic digester can convert your moldy vegetables into fuel as aerobic digestion is all about breaking down organic matter and repurposing it. Digesters utilise anaerobic bacteria, but since this process happens in a closed environment, the methane, which is released when bacteria break down organic matter, can be captured and produce biogas, an alternative to fossil fuels.

In fact, this year, Sweden aims to achieve its goal of separating and biologically treating more than 75% of food waste from households, restaurants, catering kitchens, and more to utilise biogas and nutrients.

  1. Reanalyse your buying and storing habits

While it may be convenient to have a well-stocked office fridge at all times, in the long run, this might be doing more harm than good. After all, you can’t encourage your employees to become more aware of their food waste habits as long as your company is actively wasting food. You can start with minor changes such as limiting bulk purchases, going for in-season food, or buying ugly food so that it doesn’t go to waste.

  1. Set up an office composting plan

From vegetables and fruits to coffee filters and paper napkins, these are just a few of the materials that can be composted. Essentially, the rule of thumb is that you can compost anything that can be eaten or grown in a garden or field. When these materials are composted, synthetic fertilisers use is reduced, organic matter and nutrients are added to the soil, risks of soil erosion are minimised, and, overall, organic waste is kept out of landfills hence methane is not emitted.

There are plenty of free online resources for starting composting programs at work, and, to make matters easier, there are also compost pick-up services that are making urban composting more accessible.

  1. Reduce food waste at company events

The average event wastes between 15-20% of the food it produces and it’s safe to say that with more conscious planning this waste could be avoided. You can start by keeping a waste log so that you can assess the average consumption of food and drinks during events. On that note, it would be helpful to communicate with your employees before the event to ask them about dietary restrictions and to rsvp so that you avoid potential food waste.

Moreover, it’s crucial to choose caterers and venues that support sustainable initiatives. For instance, you can check if the caterers are supporting local vendors and using locally grown and seasonal products or if they have a partnership with a food bank to redistribute leftover food.

  1. Raise awareness

Food waste often happens due to a lack of awareness or knowledge. From educating your team about composting to teaching them how to properly read food product dating or store perishable food, these are a few of the simple methods that could minimise food waste.

You can start by informing your team about the effects of food waste, and then discussing how you can make smarter choices as a business. Moreover, a workshop on the effects of food waste on the environment may be just the incentive your employees need to take more action against this matter both at the workplace and at home.

Deciding to be sustainable and changing the way your company operates may seem overwhelming but you don’t have to start with massive changes, as even the smaller adjustments make a difference. However, making these adjustments is becoming increasingly crucial. In fact, for the 2030 SDGs to be met, food waste and loss need to be halved per person, hence we can’t afford to treat food waste minimisation as an option anymore.