April 02, 2010

Zero Waste Dining and Entertaining

By now, you already know that we have chosen a simple life, free of unnecessary objects. I truly believe in the 80-20 rule. In a regular home, only 20% of household items actually get used. In ours, we have evaluated those 20% and have let go of the remaining 80%.

Thru my simplifying business, I have noticed that most kitchens are filled with unused kitchen gadgets that are supposed to make cooking and entertaining easier. But are the sorbet maker, waffle iron, or panini press really being used? What about the specialty cake pans, the cookie cutters, the dozen placemats, the fancy wine stoppers, the wine basket, the wine cooler, the champagne bucket, the 2nd or 3rd set of china, the stem glass charms, the shot glasses, and the tablecloth weights? Oh! And the candle that is too pretty to be lit? Think of the drawer filled with hot pads (aren’t a couple enough?), the drawer filled with matches (can’t the refillable lighter do the job just fine?), not to mention…the junk drawer (what is in there that you can’t live without?). These items take precious space, make it harder to find cooking essentials, create stress, and clutter our lives, not to mention waste time and valuable resources. There is a really good chance that most of the items mentioned here can be forgotten, simply donated, and their use replaced by something else (the grater plane works just fine as a zester). Clearly, the more accessories you have, the more you take out, the more needs cleaning (individual measuring cups are a great example).

Of course, you can zero waste dining and entertaining with a packed kitchen, but honestly, the simpler the kitchen, the simpler it is to get there.

Here is how we dine and entertain with zero waste in mind:
  • Zero Waste Grocery Shop: Make sure you bring extra jars to the grocery store when shopping for company (including take-out).
  • Make finger foods for larger parties (more than 10 people at our house, because 10 is all we can sit at our dining table): Finger foods are a fantastic waste buster for larger parties (no store-bought party trays here).
  • Instead of fizzy water, consider serving tap water with lemon slices in it.
  • Forget about disposables (duh): Use ceramic dishes, cloth dinner napkins and cloth appetizer napkins (sooooo much nicer than paper).
  • Avoid the use of serving platters/dishes: When serving straight onto dinner plates, it simplifies, saves water from extra cleaning, and it allows for a plate presentation.
  • Find creative ways to decorate your table: I personally do not use tablecloths or placemats, I find that both get dirty too fast, are a waste of physical and electrical energy, and detergent. I also have more fun decorating it with a few napkin folding tricks, discarded leaves/branches from the yard, designs drawn in some scattered flour, fuzz of a seeded dandelion flower, or just seasonal fruit… For a recent buffet, I set small fern branches in water glasses and covered them with different size Le Parfait Jars so that these “cloches” could set the serving plates at different levels.
  • Reuse empty votive tins (and the wick base) to make new votive candles for company: Super fast and super easy. Locally, I can find beeswax in bulk at Rainbow Grocery, and lead-free wick by the yard at Ben Franklin. I have about 20 rotating votive tins.
  • Transfer your music onto your iPod: Donate your CD player and CD’s for others to enjoy, use your iPod connected to your home sound system instead. (THIS is my birthday wish, Scott!)
  • Use rechargeable batteries for those remote controls!
  • Try no TV/gaming for a while: We cancelled ours about 1½ yr ago and I love it. We finally have time to read the books that we wanted to read, and watch movies, commercial free. We rent and watch one PG movie with the kids on Friday nights, Scott and I watch another more mature movie during the week. Sunday night is game night!
  • Lucky to be invited somewhere? Need a hostess gift? Bring a jar of a homemade consumable, or your favorite bulk item (we love the Whole Foods chocolate malt balls).
  • Need wrapping? Consider Furoshiki (the Japanese art of cloth gift wrapping).I think it’s so cool, I have become an addicted “furoshikier” I have wrapped presents in 24x24” piece of curtain, or French antique kitchen towels (I had a stacks of them in my previous kitchen). A zero waste present is a great opportunity to let your friends know about your waste reduction efforts and inspire them to follow lead.
  • Educate your friends about your zero waste efforts: so that they don’t show up at your door step with a large pastry box (full of pastries wrapped in throwaways… speaking from experience, here). Remember that Zero Waste Home starts outside the home.
  • Lastly, please don’t forget to bring your own container for leftovers, when dining out!
What are we doing for Easter? This year, we’re invited to a brunch. I will bring bulk wine wrapped in a French antique towel. But before we go, the kids will enjoy their Easter “egg” hunt of bulk candy: Chocolate malt balls, organic jelly beans, and chocolate covered peanuts. I just have to decide before tomorrow whether to wrap them in paper or get refillable plastic eggs (stainless yet to be found) from the thrift store… It all depends on the weather and where the Easter Bunny will decide to hide them… Inside or out?