The Cost of Convenience: Plastics in the Publishing Workplace

Published by Sarah Jackson, Editorial Assistant 4 years ago

We consume plastics like a bad habit.

What kind of container was your lunch packaged in today? What kind of cup did you enjoy your morning coffee in? What materials do you use—and then immediately dispose of—every day? These are questions I have been asking myself lately.

I must admit, I use the plastic utensils and paper plates kept in my office kitchen quite frequently. Why? It’s convenient. I don’t use plastic like this at home, so why do I find myself being more wasteful at work?

The truth of the matter is we live in a culture of disposability for the sake of convenience. Drilling oil out of the interior of our Earth changed the course of human history. Petroleum created a foundation for products that can be found nearly in everything we buy and use. Think: not one plastic bag that has been manufactured—ever—has decomposed yet.

At home, I’ve been trying to make more conscious choices about how I use and dispose of products, and it only seemed logical to extend it to my time in the workplace. The time spent at our desks is significant, and the way we consume and dispose of products while at work has serious implications.

Alternatives to plastic cutlery like bamboo or corn-starch based products are sound alternatives to plastic-based products. Although the bioplastics conundrum is complex, I believe it is a step in the right direction for a healthier Earth.

In my research for this article on workplace sustainability, I stumbled upon a company that upcycles various products. TerraCycle sells “Zero Waste Boxes”—containers that can be filled up with materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Boxes meant for all sorts of objects are available—prescription drug containers, home cleaning accessories, party supplies, dining disposables, home furnishings, and even used gum (I still don’t know how to feel about that one). Most applicable to my workplace conundrum, I discovered a Break Room Separation Zero Waste Box meant for used coffee capsules, dining disposables, coffee and tea accessories, plastic and paper packaging, and laminated paper packaging.

I’m sure none of us can deny recycling is extremely important to the sustainability of our environment. Why not extend such practices into the workplace? Arranging to have plastics and paper recycled could help us do our small part for the environment.

It is great to recycle, but it’s also great to use recycled products. Use of post-consumer products like paper and packaging alternatives can help alleviate the stress plastics would otherwise place on our environment.

Although my efforts have mostly been focused on personal uses of plastic, I think it is also important to consider the implications for the world of publishing as a whole, an industry partially reliant upon printed materials. This got me thinking: what kinds of paper do we print our publications on? How are they packaged and shipped? What kind of carbon footprint does this printing process leave? Do readers recycle our publications?

These questions continue to loom over our line of work. Many publishers have already taken leaps to be more environmentally sustainable, and I wonder how the industry will transform in the years to come as concerns for the well-being of our Earth become even more prevalent. Printing can be environmentally expensive, but if it is done responsibly, it can also espouse sustainability.

The more I thought about and researched available alternatives to plastic, the more I begin to have faith in a greener future. Sustainability and upcycling are planetary-wide efforts, and the workplace shouldn’t be a place where we cut corners for the sake of convenience.  

Plastic isn’t something we can entirely cut out of our lives, but I believe if we are more cognizant of how we consume and produce, then we truly can make a difference on our planet.

Resources and Further Reading

Commentary: 4 Ways To Reduce Plastics And Other Single-Use Disposables In Your Kitchen

Publishing and Sustainability

Book Publishers Go Green To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

Going Green Is All About What You Gain, Not What You Give Up