Food & Drink

How to Make Eco-Friendly Lunches at Work

by Rebecca McCusker June 19, 2019
ReadHow to Make Eco-Friendly Lunches at Work Photo by Ryan Concepcion

The first time I worked in a corporate office, I noticed how much unnecessary trash we threw away every day. By the time we left the office cafeteria at 1 PM, there were piles of Styrofoam boxes, plastic bottles, paper cups, and disposable forks and knives clogging up the trash can.

For an office of 300-odd people, that’s a lot of trash on its way to the landfill five days a week.

It bothered me so much that I finally made an appeal to the CEO of the company, “Can’t we do something about this?” I asked. “Can’t we implement reusables into our lunch system?” I told them that Styrofoam spends 500 years in a landfill without breaking down.

Despite their multiple green initiatives, corporate decided to allow their offices to generate an impossible amount of trash every day.

This galvanized me to think of alternatives. If my coworkers were going to throw away hundreds of pounds of Styrofoam and plastic per week, I sure as heck didn’t want to contribute to that, so I thought of a solution.

The swap to reusables

The swap to reusables doesn’t have to mean abandoning the delicious hot lunch served at the corporate cafe. But, it does mean getting creative. My first step was to make it possible for me to purchase lunch without using a throw-away container.

First, it’s important to bring a plate or a tray from home so you’re not eating off paper or Styrofoam. I also bring silverware from home that I can wash and keep at work.

Having your own reusable kitchenware at work comes in handy for office parties, too! When they’re slicing that birthday cake, you can bring your own plate and fork, creating less trash.

I also keep a large Tupperware container in my desk so that I can carry food from the cafeteria to my desk, shake up a salad, or order soup without having to use a throw-away bowl.

Last but certainly not least—if there’s one item you’re going to bring to work to cut down on trash output, let it be the reusable mug or water bottle. Choose one that works well for both hot and cold beverages so you can enjoy your coffee in the morning and water in the afternoon without going through multiple cups.

Bringing an eco-friendly lunch from home

While the options at your company’s cafeteria might be too good to pass up, there’s always cost to keep in mind. If you spend $5 a day on lunch, that means you’re spending about $100 per month on lunch alone! Bringing your own lunch from home is both more cost-effective and far more eco-friendly.

Here are some ideas to improve your homemade lunch to be friendlier to the earth: bring your lunch in a reusable bag instead of a bag you’re going to throw away. (Brown paper bags are okay if you’re composting them, but if you’re throwing them away, it’s just one more item in the landfill.)

How to be eco-friendly while eating out

Eating out—whether at the office, out to lunch, or out for a family dinner—creates more trash than we realize. In my household, I’ve noticed that take-out orders and doggie bags are common culprits that end up in the trash.

Going to grab your morning coffee at the local cafe? Bring your own tumbler for the barista to fill up instead of a disposable plastic cup. While you’re putting in your order, hold up your coffee cup and say, “can you pour it in this?” Chances are, the barista won’t skip a beat.

When I run to the local health foods store for a smoothie, I bring my own mason jar with a lid or tumbler so they don’t put the smoothie in a plastic cup.

And finally, whenever you go out to a restaurant, it’s important to remember to bring your own container in case you leave with leftovers. Any Tupperware or food container laying around the kitchen will do just fine—just do all you can to reduce your trash output both at home and at work. It feels good, keeps your trash bin empty, and will help save our planet.

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