Friday, May 15, 2009

On Potluck Lunches and Aiding Memories

A special guest post from Planting Truffula Trees, aka the Worm Lady!

Could an elegant multi-family potluck “leave no trace”? An intrepid mama dared to give it a whirl.

At a recent parent meeting, I was “volunteered” to organize our celebratory potluck lunch for this week. The group didn’t bargain for what came next: after a moment of indecision, I glanced around the room, took a deep breath, and… suggested that we ditch the typically used disposables to bring our own cups, plates, and utensils.

And why not? In those seconds before speaking, I had a vision of a post-potluck trash can, full-to-overflowing with foam plates and plastic cups, not to mention food scraps and paper napkins. I was going to pack reusables for my family anyway; rather than just “doing our part” within our family, and attempting to set an example for our fellow potluck-ers, why not help them set up for their own enviro-success?

When I talk with people about using durable shopping bags, mugs, cloth napkins and the like, they often smile and say they’d be happy to use them. Only, the catch is their remembering to bring the items along to the point of use. So, I thought, a no-waste potluck might just work if I planted the seed, and then helped the participants remember…

Happily, my suggestion fell on fertile ground. The other parents nodded their heads in agreement and immediately started thinking about what glasses, silverware, and other items they had available for our shared lunch. I agreed to bring a bucket for compostable items.

My who-will-bring-what email, and my subsequent reminder notes all included a line about please supplying your own plates, cups, and utensils, ideally with a few extras for guests and others who may not be able to bring their own.

Enough about the planning… how did it turn out?! This is what I took home:

Our group of about 50 people generated a fraction of a can of trash (mainly plastic wrappings), a bunch of recyclable bottles, and… a 5-gallon bucket’s worth of compostables. My no-waste aspirations settled for low-waste reality, and… some lessons for the next time.

If one mama hadn’t brought a stack of disposable plates, we would have run short. Silver lining: the plates she brought were paper, so they fell into the compostable category.

Embarrassingly, our boys were among the paper plate users! While I was busy checking on my compost bucket, they “forgot” about the ceramic plates I’d packed. Silver lining: we got their utensil wraps and stainless steel bottles to them in time. (Yes, we’ve had a thorough chat – again -- about the need to first check with a parent for their plate before heading over to the food table at future events.)

I purposely didn’t put a sign on the compost bucket, outlining the do’s and don’ts of what to put in there. Silver lining: going from table to table explaining the bucket’s purpose was a nice chance to say “hello” to lots of people.

There was no blue recycling bin. As a result, three glass bottles slipped into the trash can. Silver lining: When I sweetly extracted bottles from the can, explaining that I’d take them home, the “offender” realized that, of course, he could do the very same thing, and graciously retrieved the errant items from me.

So, that’s the news about our potluck, where our tummies were filled with tasty items but the trash can was left wanting, the cute little three-year-old who deftly lobbed her watermelon rind into the trash redeemed herself by admiring a huge nightcrawler out in the garden with me, and the bulk of our “waste” vanished in one of my compost piles without a trace:


Green Bean said...

That is an amazingly small amount of waste for 50 people! You showed that it can be done - just by planting the seed. There's no reason any of us cannot step a bit outside of our comfort zone and do something like this.

Daisy said...

Great work! I remember the old Dunk Bags from Girl Scout Camp. We had our own dishes, washed them after meals, then put them in a mesh bag to "dunk" in hot water and hang to dry. Girl Scouts have always been green.

Sudeep said...

Its amazing that you have started this in the community .I remember we in India with such type of group festivals and gathering used to use a plate made up of a specific leaf sewen together to form a plate .We ate in that and then we can collect and can easily make compost out of it as it was just a dried leaves nothing else .
Thanks for this post

Anonymous said...

Great post. It's nice to see examples of how we can work green into our everyday lives. I love how you encouraged people without lecture or even guilt. Thats how we spread the seed of sustainability! Love your blog!

JessTrev said...

Great story - I love that your kids even did their part, providing you with parent-humility! Also love the looks of your compost piles. I bet I would love wandering around your house, learning from all your systems....

Truffula Mama said...

Thanks, all, for your comments!

Daisy, my mom drew the line on our joining the Scouts, so I missed out on the Dunk Bag opportunity - sounds like a fun (not to mention, practical!) way of having a group of kids clean up after a meal.

Sudeep, it doesn't get more compostable than a dried leaf - cool!


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