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