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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Office Case Study

Does your office use paper coffee cups, plastic utensils, or sugar packets? These disposable items create waste and use energy and resources to make.

Reusable dishware - including cutlery and cups - are the best environmental option, and they're often cheaper in the long run, since they reduce the cost of purchasing and disposing of throw-away items. They're also nicer to use - ever try cutting something with a plastic knife?

How to make the switch

Staff break room

Provide reusable mugs, cups, plates, bowls, and cutlery in your office kitchen. All you need is a place to store them, a sink and a drying rack. A dishwasher is nice to have, but not necessary.

Durable dishware stored in cabinet 
Cups and dishware at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s staff kitchen.

At our office, staff bring in odd pieces of dishware and silverware – it’s an eclectic mix, but it works. We’ve been washing dishes by hand for years, and have just added a dishwasher. Everything – cups, bowls, plates and silverware - is in constant use; so much so, you might need good luck to find a fork at the peak lunch hour.

Tip: Get rid of all disposable paper products and plastic utensils. If you keep a disposable option, people may automatically choose what they’re used to. 

Meetings and events

If you host meetings or events with food and drinks, use “real” dishware instead of disposables. You can ask caterers to provide, and take back, dishware, or you can purchase a set for your office.

At our office, we keep a set of dishes for events in an easily accessible spot in the kitchen.

Durable dishware and mugs 
Dishware for meetings and events at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s office.

You could also purchase branded coffee mugs, or set up a “clean” and “dirty” bin system in each conference room, like Metro did.

Cleaning event dishware can be handled in different ways. Some offices assign responsibility to specific staff, while others expect the staff organizing the meeting to handle clean-up. Other offices coordinate with janitorial to load dirty dishes into dishwashers.

Reusable mugs in a conference room
Branded mugs and clearly labeled “clean” and “dirty” bins in Metro’s meeting rooms.

Office coffee

Cut down on waste by providing reusable coffee mugs for all employees to use. Have mugs near your coffee station to make reusable the obvious choice.

Single-serving suger packets and reusable dispenser 

Tip: Switch from buying individual coffee creamers and sugar packets to buying in bulk or larger containers.

Keeping things clean


You don’t have to have a dishwasher, but if you do, here are some suggestions for making it work well:

  • Get magnets or signs for the dishwasher doors that indicate clean or dirty. 
  • For large meetings where durables are used, the person organizing the meeting need to designate one or more staff (if not themself) to load dishwashers, and return later to put dishes away.

"Clean" and "Dirty" signs on dishwashers 

Kitchen clean-up crews

A kitchen cleaning plan will help keep the staff break room clean. At our office, we have a kitchen cleaning rotation where each week 3 people spend half an hour cleaning the kitchen. This includes:

  • Wiping down counters and the microwave.
  • Loading and unloading the dishwasher.
  • Composting old food from the refrigerator.

The cleaning roster includes all staff - from interns to leadership. The weekly clean-ups keep the kitchen looking nice for everyone, and the team effort is a great way to get to know coworkers.

Tip: Easy to understand and prominently displayed posters are a great way to let staff know about new dishes.

Durable supplies poster 

Poster showing available office event dishware.

Questions? Ready to start using more reusable items in your workplace, but not sure where to start? Contact us!