The holiday season is fast approaching, and many of us are eager to socialize. With Thanksgiving only days away, it looks like public health restrictions will allow us to have moderately-sized gatherings. Like everything we do, these gatherings have an environmental footprint associated with them. We would like to share with you our favourite tips and tricks for reducing that footprint without sacrificing fun!
Dishes, Cutlery, and Servingware
Many people have plenty of dishes for their household, but not enough for a larger gathering. Between this lack of dishes and the desire to relax with family after dinner rather than spend time washing dishes, many people opt for disposable options for the holidays.
Each year Canadians spend about $20,000,000 on disposable cutlery, $69,000,000 on disposable plates, and $65,000,000 on disposable cups, dispensers, containers, and bowls (based on data from 2018). At about $0.05 per piece of cutlery and about $0.10 per plate, that amounts to about 400,000,000 pieces of cutlery and 690,000,000 plates, making dishes a great place to start for reducing the waste and carbon footprint associated with an event. Here are our favourite options:
Since most families have more than enough dishes to cover their household, consider asking each group to bring enough dishes for themselves. Alternatively, put a callout to your guests with what you need for the event and have them respond with what they can bring. This works particularly well if you are already doing potluck style for the food. At our family events, we do this for plates, cutlery, glasses, tables, chairs, table cloths, and food. We usually put everything in the dishwasher after dinner and send people home with clean dishes, but if each household brings their own you could also consider having them take them home dirty (in a washable bag) to make less work for the hosting family. This is a great option in some scenarios but not others, depending on your relationship with your guests.
If you would like matching dishes, or if you want to go reusable without doing dishes, you could try renting dishes. Most dish rental companies take the dishes back dirty (but with excess food removed) and wash them in their industrial dishwashers.
Who doesn’t love the festive look of a nicely decorated fall gathering? Like everything else we do, decor has an environmental impact. But there are ways to reduce that impact without giving up on a festive look.
At every gathering I host, I put a few glass vases around the house and fill them with seasonal plant cuttings. Flowers in the spring and summer, dried grasses and colourful leaves in the fall, evergreen sprigs and pinecones in the winter. Just be sure to take from somewhere you have permission to prune the plants, like your own property or that of a friend or relative. Harvest just a little bit from any given plant or area, and choose trees and shrubs that are well-established and likely to thrive with some light pruning. Bonus points if you take flowers from invasive species!
Agricultural & Garden Waste
For fall decor, try decorating with garden or agricultural waste if you have a garden or know someone who does. For example, if you know someone who grows corn, harvest the stalks as decor once the corn has all been harvested. If you have decorative grasses, cut it down to form bundles of dried grass. ***Note: Most ornamental grasses are invasive, so take care to avoid spreading the seeds and, for an even bigger impact, consider removing it from your property and replacing it with a native plant.***
For fall decor in particular, consider replacing ornamental gourds with edible pie pumpkins and squashes. It takes a lot of energy, water, and other resources to grow produce, making it much lower impact to use food as decor (and then eat it) than to put so many resources into growing items that are used only as decor and then thrown away.
Reusable, Secondhand Decor
If you prefer to have decor that you can use year after year, try using what you already have or shopping at a thrift store to buy what already exists. These items are still destined for the landfill, but by buying these instead of brand new items you can save the energy and resources that go into manufacturing a brand new item.
So often, large gatherings end up with much more food than needed. This can be a good thing, as long as you go in with a plan for the leftovers! We find the easiest ways to handle leftovers are:
- Have each household put assorted leftovers into whatever serving dish or casserole dish they brought (if it was a potluck style event)
- Ask each household to bring containers to put leftovers into
- Have a stack of containers or thrifted casserole dishes for guests to take home with leftovers (this works best if you don’t care if or when you get the containers back)
If it won’t be feasible to manage leftovers, some extra time spent on meal planning goes a long way.
The food we eat accounts for roughly 10-30% of our carbon footprint, which means that we have the capacity to drastically reduce our carbon footprints through our food choices. In a recent study of typical US diets, researchers found that meat and dairy are responsible for about 75% of diet-related emissions. Livestock production is responsible for 70% of land use and occupies 30% of the planet’s land surface. Beef and lamb have by far the highest carbon footprints, due to their ruminant digestive systems.
There is often a focus on eating locally produced food. While this can be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, it is not the big contributor that we may expect. Food transportation only accounts for about 5% – 11% of the emissions associated with our food. The most impactful food actions are to change the types of foods we consume and choose foods that are grown or raised in ways that support the planet.
Choose More Plant-Based Dishes
You can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your gathering by choosing dishes that are vegetarian or vegan. We have found that the best way to do this without sacrificing the enjoyment of the event is to choose recipes that have broad appeal, and are satisfying and delicious. Here are some recipe blogs that we hope will not disappoint:
It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken – includes a whole section of holiday recipes
Oh She Glows – by a chef local to the GTHA
Buy Local & In Season
While this isn’t the most impactful way to reduce food-related emissions, it is still a great way to further reduce emissions and support local farmers.
If there are multiple people considering hosting your event, you may be able to reduce your impact by choosing the home that is most central to all of the guests. This reduces emissions resulting from travel by car, bus, train, or plane.
Offsetting Your Emissions
Whatever other steps we take, there will always be a carbon footprint associated with hosting an event. Consider offsetting your event by donating to Green Venture’s Canopy for Community program. For a reasonably eco-friendly gathering, aim for about 1 tree per 10 people. If you will be consuming a lot of meat, producing a lot of garbage, or if a lot of people will be traveling long distances, consider adding a few extra trees.
You can donate through e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org or by credit card through PayPal. Include $50 per tree and add a note that your donation is for tree planting to offset an event. All trees will be planted locally in Hamilton to grow our urban canopy which supports local ecosystems, improves physical and mental wellbeing, and reduces the urban heat island effect! And of course offsets carbon emissions.
Let us know if you try any of our tips for your event, or if you have any of your own to share! Reach our Education Team at email@example.com