Your workday may be difficult or carefree, happy or less so, busy or boring. No matter how your day at the office is going (and I hope it's going well), the one thing it shouldn't be is toxic. Offices and workday rituals can contain the same toxic chemicals that show up in our homes. Try these five easy, cost-effective tips for detoxing your workday and greening your office:
Dry cleaning: Lets start with what happens before you get to the office. Office wear, with it’s sometimes fussy fabrics, often sports those telltale “dry clean only” tags. Perchloroethylene, a chemical prominently used in dry cleaning, has been linked to cancer as well as nervous system, kidney, liver and reproductive disorders. This pesky chemical has been labeled as a hazardous air pollutant by the EPA, and a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. What does all of this mean? You probably don't want this chemical on something you wear every day.
If it's not possible for you to give up dry cleaning, there are some easy solutions. Switch from traditional dry cleaning to wetcleaning, which replaces common toxic solvents with biodegradable soap. Debra Lynn Dadd (The Queen of Green) has an outline of which solvents to look out for, and which ones are safe to use. Healthy Child, Healthy World recommends using these two directories to find local, green dry-cleaners. If you want to stick with your dry cleaner, try to dry clean less items, less frequently. Go through your dry clean only clothing and determine if any of it could be washed by hand instead of sent to the cleaners. And when you bring dry cleaning home, take it out of the plastic and let it off gas outside or in a well ventilated area.
Buy a plant (or a few): Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, with most of their working hours spent in an office. Studies from the EPA show that indoor air quality can be even more polluted than outdoor air. Don't run out and buy that fancy air purifier just yet. Instead, save your money and invest in plants for your workspace. The houseplants that filter out the most toxic chemicals are Boston Ferns and Areca Palms according to Planet Home. This list from Care2 features 10 other plants that work well too. And if you can fit more than one, go for it: A NASA study recommends 15 to 18 houseplants for a 1800 square foot house. While you may not have an 1800 square foot office, aim for more than one plant in your office if you have room, and try to introduce plants into common areas too (waiting rooms, kitchens, meeting rooms). If your office isn't plant-friendly, another easy (and free!) way to improve your air quality is to open a window for at least 5 minutes every day.
Put down your cell phone: When it’s time to make or take a call, use your hands free headset as much as possible: Headsets emit less radiation than cell phones. Check out EWG’s buying guide for cell phone headsets to help you find the safest headset with the least radiation. If you aren't in the market for a headset, you can also try using landlines more often, taking calls on speaker phone when possible, or moving your calls to online call services, such as Skype or Google chat.
Unplug your office appliances: Appliances draw a small amount of power even when they're turned off. So when you leave the office, don't just turn off your office appliances, unplug them too. One easy way to do this is to keep your electronics plugged into surge protecting strips and switch the strip off when you leave for the night. If you can't unplug everything, focus on the "energy vampires" (aka appliances that waste the most power even when they're turned off). This list from the Conscious Consumer shows you which appliances to unplug at the office, and at home.
Better paper purchases: Pay attention to your paper purchases. Choose recycled, non-chlorine-bleached paper or paper made out of alternative fibers, such as cotton, flax, or hemp. Make the recycling process easier: Skip sticky notes or rip off and throw out the sticky part before recycling (the glue interferes with the recycling process). Take staples out of documents, or purchase a no-staples stapler, which can usually be found online. Look for lighter colored papers, which are easier to recycle. And of course, remember to recycle paper used at your office and to print on both sides when possible.