How clean is your breakroom?

People sitting in their staffroom eating lunch

A guest blog post by TerraCycle, an eco-friendly recycling company that has become a global leader in recycling typically non-recyclable waste.


The breakroom area is the center of many offices. It’s where we take our coffee, have lunch and catch up with coworkers. Like most rooms where people gather to eat, drink and take time together, the breakroom is a hub of activity, and often the more activity, the more waste generated.

A significant amount of the things we eat and drink at work involve items that are meant to be used once then thrown away. To-go coffee cups and take-out containers, snack bags and wrappers, coffee capsules and filters, and disposable cutlery and dishware are all examples of single-use items that are considered “difficult-to-recycle,” materials not accepted by curbside programs and destined for the trashcan.

In a fast-paced world where time is at a premium, the drinks, snacks and meals that fuel the day-to-day workflow need to be quick, easy and readily available. But convenience needn’t equal wastefulness.

Coffee and tea are common sources of every day breakroom waste. With International Coffee Day fast approaching October 1, consider the sustainability of your grind. The disposable coffee cups, lids, sleeves and straws that come with to-go beverages require resources to produce and often get tossed in the trash. Keeping a reusable mug for hot and cold beverages reduces waste at work and all year-round.

Taking your cuppa in-house also has its impacts. The traditional drip coffee maker is alive and well with some waste associated with extra coffee made; try to use just as much coffee and water as people will drink, and compost filters and grounds instead of discarding them to landfill.

Used pierced single serve coffee k-cups with coffee grounds

The ubiquitous coffee capsules and pods that have been “an environmental bogeyman” are unrecyclable curbside due to their size, need to separate the components and organic matter. There is a solution for all brands of hot beverage capsules, including K-cups, pods, discs and their packaging, with a Coffee Capsule Zero Waste Box.

Single-use packaging for snacks, drinks and other prepared foods are a huge waste stream in the breakroom or kitchen. At a minimum, try to encourage a robust in-office recycling program that informs employees with signage, literature and training about what the local recycling system accepts. This one seems like a no-brainer, but to many, highly recyclable paperboard boxes, aluminum cans and glass and rigid plastic bottles are considered disposable, with little stopping people from tossing them in the trash.

With the recently added tariffs, some of what you put in your office’s blue bin for building pickup may not be recycled. On top of it, most of the single-use packaging we interact with on a 9-5 basis actually falls outside the scope of what most public programs accept for recycling. Plastic shopping bags, chip bags, coated paper boxes, snack pouches, energy bar wrappers are all examples of common items that are either to complex or too small to recycle by traditional avenues.

TerraCycle Zero Waste Station Recycling Boxes
Public recycling may not have caught up, but most breakroom waste is technically recyclable. An effective solution for your discarded breakroom items, even in an uncertain recycling system, is TerraCycle’s Breakroom Separation Zero Waste Box. We can recycle any non-recyclable and non-organic waste that is generated in the breakroom, including food packaging, coffee capsules and dining disposables.


So many products and packaging are single-use because it is easy, inexpensive and convenient to buy new items that can be thrown way. Figuring out what we really need from our products may steer us towards purchases and workplace habits that are less wasteful, without sacrificing convenience.

For example, taking a few extra moments out of your day to pack a lunch and snacks in durable, reusable containers can help to reduce the disposable cups, cutlery and plastic clamshells that come with to-go and delivery desk lunches. Or, bring a travel mag and food containers to the vendor of your choice to get the convenience of prepared food without the packaging waste.

The most sustainable items are always the ones you didn’t buy, so consider this when planning out your at-work breaks. Getting with your coworkers around a zero waste aspiration may make small changes, like adding recycling bins, keeping durable dishware available, or patronizing low-impact food vendors, easy and fun. We spend so much of our day in the workplace – let it be time spent working for the environment.


One thought

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.