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Green Kitchen / Office Kitchen

Make your office kitchen a green kitchen -- environmentally friendly, better health, save money.

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Clean Up Your Office Kitchen — Make It a Green Kitchen

At home, most of us recycle, and many of us are committed to minimizing waste, buying organic, and other activities that contribute to good health and a clean environment. But at the office, it's usually a different story. Trash cans can be seen full of recyclable items, overhead lights blaze away in empty offices, and office kitchens are stocked full of Styrofoam cups, plastic forks, and non-organic everything. This article addresses how you can make progress on the last of these issues and convert your workplace mess hall into a green office kitchen.


1. Green Kitchen
     (Office Kitchen)

2. Save Paper
3. Office Recycling
4. Green Office (Office
     Supplies, Office Energy)

Articles 3 and 4 will appear in future issues of Grinning Planet. Sign up for our mailing list so you're sure not to miss them!

From Office Kitchen to Green Kitchen


Perhaps the most common feature of any office kitchen is a stack or two of Styrofoam cups. Styrofoam, which is generically known as polystyrene, is bad news for the environment and for your health.

In the environment, polystyrene is extremely non-biodegradable and breaks down very slowly. But as it does break down, it can leach styrene—the single-molecule form of polystyrene—into groundwater. If your trashed Styrofoam cup somehow finds its way into a nearby body of water, it can eventually break up into small pieces, with the pieces being ingested by marine animals.

None of the above environmental effects are good, but the health effects of drinking from polystyrene cups are even worse. The styrene in the cup migrates into the liquid and gets into your body as you sip your beverage. Hot, fatty, acidic, or alcoholic beverages increase the rate of styrene migration. (You can read more about this in our article about foam cups and styrene migration.)


Even if you purchase polystyrene cups that are not made with ozone-depleting CFCs, the polystyrene itself is still a problem. So, even if your box of cups proudly says "No CFCs," sorry, but they still need to go!

So, what is the solution to providing office beverage cups for you and your visitors? We offer two suggestions:

  • Employees:  Bring in a mug! ... and quit using Styrofoam cups, period. This is an easy one!

  • Visitors:  For visitors, it's a little more complicated. Perhaps your company will spring for a few dozen mugs that bear the company logo; or, if the budget is limited, maybe just plain white mugs. If an order of any type of new mugs is simply unaffordable, ask each employee to bring in an old mug or two to start a pool of mugs for visitors to use. Ask people to only bring in mugs that are not embarrassingly stained or chipped. (An no pottery-class rejects, please!) It's also a good idea to get employees to agree among themselves on a system for ensuring that the mugs get washed and put away after meetings.

If all that is just too much trouble—or you find you've got a few office prima donnas that won't get with the washing-up program—a last resort that lets you use disposable cups in a relatively environmentally friendly manner is to get biodegradable cups, like these at Treecycle.

Make a Green Kitchen of Your Office Kitchen


So, what goes in your new fleet of reusable office mugs or your trendy new biodegradable cups? Will it be coffee from a chopped-down section of rainforest, heavily treated with pesticides, and grown by some poor sap who ends up selling his coffee beans for less graphic of coffee, tea, and soda than it cost him to grow them? Or will it be hot chocolate from some of the cocoa plantations in Africa that use forced child labor? Or perhaps it will be some of the delicious, stomach-rotting products from the soda aisle at the supermarket?

Most offices have employer-supplied coffee messes, and some provide tea, hot chocolate, and sodas, too. But most of the beverage brands are standard "industrial food" fare. We can do better! Here are some suggestions.

Coffee in the Office Kitchen

Our recommendations for healthier, environmentally friendly coffee are threefold:

  • buy organic, so it's pesticide free;
  • buy fair trade, so farmers get a fair price;
  • buy shade-grown (under original rainforest canopy), to protect the rainforest and to optimize the growing conditions for the plants that produce the beans that make your coffee.

The good news is, LOTS of coffee is available today with these characteristics, and the taste is almost always superior to the run-of-the-mill big-name coffee you're drinking now. (Check out our article on shade-grown, fair-trade, organic coffee for more information.)

Tea in the Office Kitchen

We have two suggestions for tea lovers:

  • As with all foods, organic is a good thing when it comes to tea.
  • Second, fair labor practices are a good thing too, and you can support such ideals by buying tea from a fair-trade-based company. A good place to start looking is at Equal Exchange. There are other ostensibly fair-trade tea brands, such as those purveyed by the Ethical Tea Partnership, though the standards there are not as strong as with Equal Exchange and other true fair-trade organizations.

Cocoa in the Office Kitchen

The recommendations for cocoa ("hot chocolate" to the marshmallows out there) are the same as those for coffee: organic, fair-trade, shade-grown. For more information on why, see our article on chocolate and pesticides.

Sodas in the Office Kitchen

There really is no soda that is good for you. These "negatively nutritional" beverages have generically been linked to osteoporosis, obesity, tooth decay and heart disease. You basically get two choices in the supermarket soda aisle: Drink sodas with high levels of sugar or corn syrup; or drink diet sodas and get a nice dosing of unnatural chemical sweeteners. But what about natural sodas and organic sodas, both of which may feature alternative and ostensibly healthier sweeteners?

We agree that natural and organic sodas are a better choice than the mainstream alternatives, but even these supposedly "healthy sodas" are chock-full of sugar or other concentrated sweeteners. In moderation, this is OK, but we know that "free stuff at the office" is not usually a good characteristic for encouraging moderation, so we recommend dumping the sodas from the office kitchen altogether. But, if you just can't live without sodas of some kind, it's better to buy organic sodas, which usually have a dram or two of fruit juice. You'll also avoid the pesticides associated with non-organic products. As for "natural" sodas, well, let's just say that they're not as good as organic sodas.


We're not totally down on sodas—we do keep some organic sodas around the GP office. But whereas black coffee and unsweetened cocoa or tea can all claim positive health benefits, no form of soda can say the same. (Note too, please, that we said black organic coffee and unsweetened organic cocoa or tea.) In any event, as for sodas, it's a matter of making the least-bad choice. If you must have them, look for organic sodas sweetened with fruit juice or cane juice—not sugar.

You may find our article about dead food vs. living food informative.

Your Office Kitchen Can Be a Green Kitchen


As with coffee cups, polystyrene (foam) plates and bowls will send a shot of styrene into your food, especially if you're going to be using the bowls and plates for hot, somewhat fatty foods like lasagna or cream of lard soup. Use paper plates and bowls instead. Or, even better, bring in a regular kitchen plate and a soup/cereal bowl to keep at work for your morning cereal and noon Feasts of Leftovers.

Assuming you will still need some disposable plates and bowls, what's best? From an environmental standpoint, try some of the new "paper" products that are made with natural materials. For instance, check out these "tree-free" plates and bowls made from sugar refining waste product.

When it comes to plastic utensils, why not stop buying them and invest in a cheap set of graphic of biodegradable cutlery silverware for the office? Again, it would be good to get agreement from everyone in the office about what the protocol will be for making sure the silverware gets washed and put away after events or meetings. If you must buy plastic utensils, get one of the brands that's made with recycled plastic or, even better, from biodegradable wheat or corn. (No, that's not a joke! They really make them!)


Do you ever microwave your lunch in a plastic container? That's a pretty bad idea, even if the container says "microwave-safe." Check our article on chemicals from plastic food containers.

Turn the Office Kitchen into a Green Kitchen


Believe it or not, many paper towels, napkins, and other ultra-disposable paper products are still being made today by cutting down trees from virgin tracts of forest; in some cases, old-growth forests. This is insanity. Please see our article about how we're using old-growth forests for facial tissues and toilet paper (and other disposable paper products). It contains specific recommendations for environmentally friendly napkins and paper towels to help make sure your office is not contributing to the problem.

Make Your Office Kitchen a Green Kitchen


Getting everyone in the office to agree that all of these things should be done may be tough. Start by talking to the office manager, the boss, or the person who orders supplies. If they want to know why any of this matters—"this is a place of business, not some hippy commune"—ask them if you can forward this article to them so they can bone up on the facts. You can also point out that moving to reusable items instead of disposables will save money in the long run.

Don't feel you have to accomplish everything at once, either. Taking on a few things and making a success of it will be better than going for the whole enchilada and ending up with an empty taco shell.


1. Green Kitchen (Office Kitchen)
2. Save Paper
3. Office Recycling
4. Green Office (Office Supplies, Office Energy)

Articles 3 and 4 will appear in future issues of Grinning Planet. Sign up for our mailing list so you're sure not to miss them!

Know someone who might like to try turning their office kitchen into a green kitchen? Send them this article.

Publish date: 15-NOV-2005

Books, other articles, and resources:

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Books for a Better Planet

For more reviews or purchase info, click on any title to go to

  book cover for Uncommon Grounds, by Mark Pendergrast, 4/1/2001

The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World

Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery in Abyssinia to its rediscovery with the advent of Starbucks. It uses coffee production, trade, and consumption as a window through which to view broad historical themes, and it examines the social and environmental ramifications of coffee production. (by Mark Pendergrast)

  book cover for Strangely Like War, by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan, 10/1/2003

Ever since Gilgamesh cut down the ancient cedar forests of Mesopotamia, civilizations and empires have foundered and collapsed in the wake of widespread deforestation. Today, 3/4 of the world's original forests are gone and the pace of cutting is accelerating. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between deforestation and our ecological crisis. (by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan)

  book cover for Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, by Mort Rosenblum, 2/15/2005

It turns out that science says chocolate is actually good for you—it's packed with antioxidants and triggers important brain chemicals. Delve into the complex world of chocolate—from the chocolates of ancient Mexico to those of contemporary France to the dark side of the chocolate trade to the factories of Hershey and Godiva. This book melts in your mind, not in your hand! (by Mort Rosenblum)


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"Industrialized, chemical-intensive agriculture and our globalized system of distributing food and fiber are literally destroying the earth, driving two billion farmers off the land, and producing a product which is increasingly contaminated. That's why the wave of the future is organic and sustainable, not GMO."

— Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association


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