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Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Week 31--Green Your Break Room

My friend DeeDee has determined that the break room in the real estate office where she works needed a green makeover. With an abundance of paper plates, plastic flatware and disposable drinking cups, the trash cans there overfloweth with garbage while the recycling bins remained empty. Just as bad as no one recycling, no one was making the effort to use anything reusable. That's when DeeDee decided to bring in a couple of sets of old dishes, coffee mugs, flatware and cloth napkins to stock the break room. While it's been tough converting her fellow realtors to her reusable ways, I'm convinced that soon enough she'll succeed.

Around the same time that I heard about DeeDee's efforts, my mother sent me an email suggesting that I write a post about making refreshments at meetings green. (She serves on a number of non-profit boards, and at their regular meetings, there's always food served.) Here's what my mom had to say about the greening of her meetings:
"The only paper we now throw away are napkins. By shopping @ Goodwill or Yard Sales, we have enough dishes, bowls and silverware....NO more plastic or paper. To avoid using paper towels, we also have dish cloths (which I bring home to launder) to dry the dishes."
You go, Mom!

This is all leading up to this week's task for Green Boot Camp. I want you to figure out how you can green the break room at your office. Or, if you're a teacher getting ready to go back to school (or have already gone back to school), I want you to come up with ideas to green the teacher's lounge.

Some ways you can achieve this, that tap into what DeeDee and my mom have done, include:

* Stocking the cabinets with reusable silverware, flatware, coffee mugs and drinking bottles

Are you an ardent yard sale shopper? Do you like to troll for bargains at thrift stores? Have you ever seen an "offer" on Freecycle for old place settings? If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you realize that these are all great options for finding free or very low-cost dishes and other serving utensils that you can use in the teacher's lounge or break room.

Also, teachers tend to get way too many coffee mugs as gifts from their students--ask any teacher and she'll tell you this is true. So maybe if you work in a school, all you need to do to is ask your colleagues to reach into the depths of their storage cabinets in their classrooms to find all of those gifted coffee mugs that they never knew what to do with.

Finally, if you work in a school, you might want to query your physical education teachers to see if they have overstocks of refillable water bottles. I know that at my daughters' schools, mini sports bottles are often the "prize" they get for doing some sort of fitness-oriented fundraiser like Jump Rope for Heart. Might your PE teacher have an abundance of these that can go into rotation in the staff lounge?

* Bringing in cloth napkins and washable dishtowels

Again, the idea here is to reduce the amount of trash that ends up getting thrown out after a lunch break or prep period. Ideally, you can get a couple of teachers or work colleagues to agree to bring home the cloth napkins and towels at the end of the week to wash, like my mother has volunteered to do for her meetings. I'll bet that yard sales are a great place to pick up mismatched cloth napkins sets. Who cares if they don't match?

* Providing a compost bin for food scraps

I know plenty of people who aren't as lucky as I am to have a compost bin right in their backyard, but that doesn't stop them from being committed to composting their food scraps. These folks truck their scraps to a community composting pile or bring them to a local garden that collects organic matter. Perhaps the teachers among us could convince their school district to work with the cafeteria to compost their food scraps, and then the teachers could contribute their leftovers as well. At the very least if you have a compost pile at home and are willing to bring home organic matter to add to your compost pile, then you could provide an empty bucket, tucked under a sink or in a cabinet, and then let your colleagues know that they can dump their food scraps (except for meat or dairy), including coffee grounds, in that bucket.

* Making food and drinks on-site

Most people know that a great way to save money on workday nourishment is to bring in or make your own. Well, brewing your own coffee in the office or in the staff lounge is also a great way to cut down on people having to bring in disposable cups filled with coffee from the local coffee shop or Starbucks. At the same time, wouldn't it be great if you could have a freshly made, hot lunch that cost barely anything to cook up? Why not consider bringing in a Crock-Pot and having a schedule that you and your colleagues can use to Crock-Pot lunch? They could bring in the ingredients and dump them in the Crock-Pot before the first bell, and by the middle of the day, lunch is served! (For great ideas on easy Crock-Pot recipes, check out the blog A Year of CrockPotting.)

* Providing recycling bins

While most offices and schools have finally gotten around to recycling office paper on a regular basis, I'm convinced that not all of them are recycling plastic, metal and glass like they should be. So why not set up a clearly marked set of recycling bins in your break room or staff lounge so that when someone finished a can of Diet Coke or a bottle of water (gasp: bring a refillable bottle!), she has an easy way of tossing that can or bottle in a recycling bin instead of right into the trash.

I realize that all of these ideas are great in a vacuum and maybe you don't have colleagues who will buy into this notion of using reusables and then washing them afterwards. But you'll never know unless you try. Let me know if you can bring this up at your next staff meeting and what kind of reception your idea gets.


Crockpot Lady said...

thanks for the link, Leah! I like the idea of a crockpot for a lunchroom---what a neat use.

Daisy said...

I always have too many coffee mugs, even though I love every one of them. I like to keep a clean one in my desk in case a substitute teacher wants coffee; we have the universal coffeepot in the school office.
The crockpot idea is great. I've taught in schools where we had periodic pot lucks, and we usually ended up with enough leftovers for days. It's a great morale boost, as well as green solution.

Stefani said...

Way too many mugs is a problem in the business world too. One time our Green Team at work had a meeting the office of one of our VPs - and we sat there and counted 15 unused mugs sitting around on various shelves, stuck in cabinets.

We've done a lot of these things you mention in your piece and I'm happy to report the resistance to change by the employees has been way less than we anticipated. We use "real" silverware and dishes - and people are recycling way better than they used to.

Great post!

Rebecca said...

My dad runs a business, and one thing they've decided to do is to get a water cooler with hot/cold taps to replace the dozens of water bottles the employees were going through on a daily basis. (I am personally not so picky about water and could drink it from the tap, but for people who like nice filtered water at the workplace, this is a great option!)

We hope you join us for Thrifty Green Thursdays over at the Green Baby Guide!