Waste Hierarchy: Bathroom Plastic
Updated: Aug 11, 2019
Every week for Plastic-Free July we're running a campaign to highlight ways to work through a particular type of workplace waste.
We're into Week 3 and this week we focused on Bathroom Plastic in the Workplace!
What are the main types of waste in your bathroom? Where is it coming from?
The main areas here are usually toilet paper, hand washing, and cleaning (all very important!) and as usual we're looking mainly at consumables, which generate ongoing waste. The first step is to RETHINK the problem - how might we approach this with new eyes? What could we be doing differently? Where can we look at bringing more sustainable materials into the situation to replace the problematic ones?
REFUSING bathroom plastics means working out ways to eliminate plastic in consumables & packaging or substitute plastic for more sustainable materials where it occurs.
We look at this early on in the process because the strongest thing we can do to prevent waste is not bring it into our work environment in the first place. Do we really need everything we're buying/providing? Does it really need to be plastic?
Can we refuse to engage with any items that are only ever going to end up in landfill?
Our Wednesday keyword is REDUCE; which means trying to minimise the bathroom plastic that you really can't avoid.
For bathroom liquids (eg. hand soap and cleaning fluids), buying in bulk is always a good option to reduce packaging by volume (and will usually save you money too!).
Plastic can often be found in cleaning consumables like sponges, cloths, gloves and mop heads, as well as longer lasting tools like mop handles, brushes, brooms, and buckets. Remember to use up what you already have before replacing things, as throwing out usable products just creates unnecessary waste... (the exception to this would be a product that creates extra consumable waste, like a perfectly usable mop handle that you have to keep buying disposable plastic heads for).
Also remember behaviour change as an important factor in using less of everything!
The next level of the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid is REUSE & REFILL. The focus here is on turning single-use products into resuable ones, and starts with asking the question "How can I make this reusable?"
For example, paper hand towels become washable cloth hand towels, hand soap is provided in permanent containers that can be refilled from bulk containers, and packaging can be returned to the supplier to be refilled.
Obviously in a bathroom there are important hygiene considerations, but it is possible to make items like hand towels or cleaning cloths "single use" - between washes - without making them disposable.
And finally, the last stage of the process is to RECYCLE / COMPOST, to make sure that your workplace bathroom is part of the circular economy instead of the dangerous take-make-waste ethos.
And it's not only important to recycle and return everything you can, but to buy items made out of recycled material as well - or "close the loop" - otherwise where does all that material go?
One of the biggest actions you can take here is to always buy 100% recycled toilet paper; a small change to make but it provides an important use for post-consumer paper waste rather than flushing millions of trees every year, and brings us one step closer to a true circular economy.
What actions are you taking to recycle and compost your bathroom waste effectively?
As always, this is just one example of how to work through a problem using the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid, and use each stage to question what you're doing now and how you might approach your consumption differently. The idea is to work through the levels in order but for all of them to be working together at the same time to prevent and minimise your waste.
Remember, you don't have to tackle everything at once! It's ok to take it in stages, to focus on your quick-wins first and then move towards deeper change in the medium-long term. Sustainability is a process, and starting imperfectly is much better than never starting at all! We also recognise that there are some solutions that might never work for your workplace at all, for reasons of security or hygiene or the speed of work. Ask yourself if you're just resisting inconvenience or if there is a genuine reason you can't address that waste stream that is built into your business model. If that's the case then it's ok to leave it until later to tackle, or to seek outside help or create a long term project to seek a bigger solution.
For today, do what you can :)