I reached out to ask Kate to write a post about creating less waste as SLPs, since this is something I’ve been trying to do myself, with mixed results. Between prizes, laminating, and throwing away straws and tongue depressors, I feel like I create more waste in my own speech room than I’d like. I follow Kate on her Less Waste Instagram account and I’ve enjoyed her realistic and do-able approach. I never feel judged by Kate for creating waste, but instead she inspires me to become a better SLP, by creating less garbage. I’m so ready to reduce my speech room waste in the coming year. How about you?
This blog post was written by Kate Lamb, MS, CCC-SLP.
As a certified SLP I take ASHA's ethics code to do no harm in earnest. Before I began reducing my waste at work, however, I did not consider how my speech therapy waste and materials created potential harm for my clients and myself. My waste reduction efforts began at home in 2013 when I started moving toward zero waste using 5 R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost). In January 2018 I consistently began using those same R’s in my therapy room and then fully committed to going zero waste at work that following March. School has been in session for 5 months since then. During that time the garbage my students and I have produced fits in a spice jar the size of 3 tablespoons with room to spare. Reducing therapy waste has taken less effort than anticipated and, when I consider the countless hours of time and money saved by refusing unnecessary packaging and therapy items, wasting less has been easier than remaining wasteful.
The key to wasting less for SLPs in any setting is to refuse what we don’t need, reduce how much we do, reuse what is already available and then (and only then) should we recycle or rot (compost) the rest. If followed in this order, the amount of waste in our therapy trash and recycle bins will be much, much less. Here are five easy ways to start becoming a less wasteful SLP!
Instead of relying on physical rewards like stickers, toys and treats, use communication-based rewards like gestures (high fives, thumbs up, smiles, etc.) and comments (“You did it!” “Wow!” “You worked hard!”). Gestures and comments model important communication skills for our clients. They are free, always available to us, and create zero waste.
Freebies: Conventions, workshops and conferences almost always offer freebies. From promotional handouts, pencils, pens, and bags, to key chains, first aid kits, penlights and more, they are rarely of high enough importance or quality to be useful long-term. Most of the time a simple “No, thank you” works just fine but be prepared for a surprising amount of pressure to accept unnecessary waste (“But it’s free!” “Everyone needs one!” “Take it. I have tons to give away!”).
The relevance of many laminated items is shorter lived than most of us realize. Lamination renders paper non-recyclable and essentially makes items last forever. Reduce the need for laminating by using alternatives (preferably “used”) such as reusable sheet protectors, picture frames, name tag holders, or covering small visuals with compostable cellulose tape. You can even forgo any covering at all by printing on thick card stock instead of regular paper.
SLPs who are not 100% paperless can significantly reduce paper and ink use by printing on both sides of the paper, printing multiple pages per page as well as shrinking the margins and/or font size to reduce the number of pages all can reduce waste. Also, instead of recycling paper only printed on one side, reusing the unprinted side as scratch paper or paper for client use during therapy sessions can reduce recycling waste.
5. Eating and Drinking
Although food and drinks are an inevitable part of daily life, the potential waste stream from these items is preventable. Begin by bringing a lunch from home using reusable containers and utensils you already own instead of packing food in disposable zip-top bags, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap and consuming it with forks and spoons made to be thrown away after one use. For drinking, bring a reusable water bottle to work instead of buying disposable plastic ones over and over. If you stop for coffee, take a reusable to-go mug to the counter. You’ll likely earn a discount and, if your mug is insulated, your drink will stay hot (or cold) through at least half a day’s worth of therapy sessions.
Further Reading and Resources
About the Author
Kate Lamb is a school-based zero waste speech-language pathologist with educational experience spanning from birth to age 21 as well as medical experience with adult and geriatric populations. Kate posts about her zero waste speech therapy room on Instagram using the handle @lesswasteslp and also runs the waste reduction blog www.towardzerowaste.com.