Zero-Waste Office


Here's a glimpse of Paris corporate life, from the Facebook and Google offices and beyond. Chauncey Hare would go nuts if he saw it. As far as I know, there's no French equivalent to the word corporation. They use the word société, which (I guess) denotes socialization. The offices I've visited place high importance on art, communal areas, and contemporary furniture. Couches, open space, and shared extended desks replace formulaic cubicles. They might frequently run out of copier paper or toilet rolls, but never wine, with cases upon cases of reds, whites, and rosé in every supply closet.

Apéro is an important part of the workday, arguably more important than the Ticket Resto-subsidized lunch. Office hours begin later than the US, sometimes ending around 10 o'clock. Ostensibly, the French workweek is 35 hours. This is rarely enforced. A minimum five to eleven weeks vacation, plus bank holidays, sweetens the deal. Contrary to what I've read online, casual Friday does exist in France, at least in Paris, the sneaker-loving capital.

If you're considering working here, read Michel Houellebecq's Extension du domaine de la lutte. If you're already a proud member of the French workforce, here are some zero-waste desk essentials:Zero-waste desk drawer essentials
  • Baking soda. Keep in a small shaker or jar at your desk. Safer than deodorant, it won't stain nice suits and shirts. Swish with water after morning coffee instead of popping breath mints- many Parisians brush their teeth at work (alternately, make some zero-waste breath freshener or spray of your own).
  • Safety pins. Temporary fix for outfit mishaps.
  • Eyedrops. In France, you can buy recyclable plastic multi-application bottles that expurgate preservatives before reaching the ocular surface. Don't try making your own at home!
  • Garment brush. Replaces a lint roller.
  • Mooncup. Replaces tampons and pads.
  • Cloth towel (for drying hands) and soap. I'm only putting soap on here because I used to carry it in a little cloth bag to work. I used one piece to wash my dishes, one to wash my hands, one to spot-clean clothes, etc. It seems overkill now, but I didn't want to use antibacterial gels or packaged products. Savon de marseille removes stains better than Tide pens anyway.
  • Utensils. Even people who don't care about zero-waste keep cloth napkins, a knife, fork, spoon, and mug or canteen at their desks for convenience. Pack your lunch to avoid creating trash.
  • Extra shoes. All the women I know carry sneakers or ballet flats. They click-clack to lunch in heels but take the Metro in comfort, usually New Balances or Repettos.
  • Spare keys. I once climbed into a second story window (wearing a dress and heels) in the 16eme because the owners forgot their keys and didn't want to pay a locksmith. Later my husband tried to climb from our neighbor's apartment to our top floor window, where he and a neighbor tried breaking in with hammers. $1200 later, we have new keys. Bienvenue à Paris!
To stay streamlined and organized at work, try clearing everything from your workspace. Put it all in a box, and take out what you need, as you need it. Place the items you use on your desk. After a month, if there are items you haven't used, get rid of them. My friend Sandra, a civil engineer, makes it a point to clean every day, both when she arrives at work, and before leaving, so messes don't pile up. Take a cue from reader Amber, a soon-to-be mechanical engineer, who manages to keep reference material and school papers organized in her beautiful workspace:

Far left and left, Amber's desk before. Right, in progress.

P.S. Put unused items and office supplies on Freecycle or offer to other co-workers and companies like Terracycle instead of sending them to the trash!

Paris to Go


  1. How neat to see my desk on your blog! Sorry to be out of touch for a bit, but school has been taking up a good deal of my time. Btw, although I may appear to be "structured" *wink*, I'm on my way to being a mechanical engineer. This experiment has been great! A few weeks since the picture on the right and it still looks about the same +thermos+one small notebook for ideas. I edited my books and reduced some of my paper on my bookshelf, leaving me with another near empty shelf. That shelf now holds any active project that I don't want to fully put away.

    I highly recommend #1 on your list, it has made a huge difference in how I think about what "needs" to be on my desk.

    1. Oops, I'm sorry Amber! I'm dumb for mixing that up- I fixed it to mechanical engineer now! And thanks for the updates, I can't wait to see the new pictures :) but even the before photos are a model of organization. Thank you for sharing !

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