Posts Tagged ‘reusable’

So, you are planning an event, maybe at school, or church, or at the office, and you are serving food.  You would like to make it a litterless event, but how do you go about it?  If you have a sink or two to wash up at, it’s easy to have volunteers help clean.  But what if you don’t have access to a sink, or don’t have the time or the bodies to help?  Just pack them up and wash them at home!  Volunteers can each take a bin home to wash.  It’s easy, fun, and rewarding.  I just love washing a whole bin of colourful plates, knowing that nothing got thrown away.  It’s an amazing feeling!

Here is how I do it, and it is super easy.

These are the supplies from my school, which is portable:

  • 100 small plastic plates


    100 plates, really doesn’t take that much room.

  • 2 bins to keep the plates in
  • 100 stacking plastic cups
  • 2 bins to keep the cups in
  • 100 plastic forks, good quality because you are going to reuse them!  The less disposable they look the better so people don’t throw them out.
  • spoons and knives (usually, forks will do fine, but just in case)
  • 3  small bins for sorting cutlery
  • washable table cloth
  • 1 bin, if necessary, to hold all the cutlery, table cloths, etc. and washing stations

For washing stations, when there is a sink or two:

  • a small bottle of dish-washing liquid for each sink
  • a couple of sponges or dish cloths for each sink
  • an absorbant dish drying mat for each sink
  • plenty of microfibre drying towels (find the kind that absorbs water really well) or other tea towels for everyone to help dry

Cups and a bin of forks….

Some tips:

  • choose lighter plastics if you are going to be transporting them a lot
  • have fun and choose things that match – it will look more professional too
  • put signs on the empty bins so that guests can sort for you.  Remember to include cutlery on the sign too so that no one throws them out.
  • put out a compost bin for any food waste and for the napkins, if you have municipal composting or someone who does backyard composting
  • people are often impressed when I do this, and ask me questions.  I just started leaving this flyer, Tips for a Non-Disposable Event to help people get started with their own non-disposable events.  Feel free to share it!

Here’s my setup in action at my daughter’s Grade 6 graduation:


Cup setup


Someone even brought a water dispenser instead of bottled drinks!


Plate setup


IMG_0811 Dirty dishes, mostly sorted!

When I got everything home, it only took 20 min to wash all the plates and let them air dry, and another 20 min in the morning to do the cups.  Throw the table cloths in the wash and you are all done!

IMG_0825IMG_0827Oh, and the amount of garbage generated from the reception?  Normally, you would see at least a couple of garbage bins piled full of disposable cups and plates.  At this reception?  Just packaging from some of the food!


A look in the garbage can….

Doesn’t that feel great???


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So, in a previous post, I said I’d follow up with a post on food courts using real dishes and cutlery.  Well, there is one that recently popped up in my own back yard and it’s so exciting!

My daughter and I checked out the new Urban Eatery at Toronto’s Eaton Centre a while ago and you should too!  Not only does the new food court look spectacular, but it’s leading the way by serving everything in real dishes.  Way to go!

Pictured is my daughter, enjoying Chinese fast food on a real plate and with a real fork!

Here she is handing in her tray at the Collection Station.  There are no garbage cans, so everything actually gets sorted properly by the person working behind the counter.  Please thank them!

Here she is washing her hands at one of the washing stations.  What a great idea to reduce traffic to washrooms, and fill up your water bottle too!

And there is even a little sign at each table letting you know where to take your tray.

So exciting!!!

This is the first of it’s kind in Toronto, and won’t be the last, but Toronto wasn’t the first to offer this new aged food court.  I had been planning to visit Oakville Place, which led the way in Ontario opening it’s new food court in June 2009.  It was all over the headlines that they had ‘gone green’.  Customers were given the choice of reusable or disposable dinnerware, and they reported that 9 out of 10 chose reusable.  Cadillac Fairview, the same company that re-did the Eaton Centre, revamped the food court at Carrefour Lavalin Quebec in November 2009.  Oxford Properties has redone the food court at Yorkdale Shopping Centre which recently opened.

When I was searching for articles on new food courts, I was surprised to find few headlines focused on the new green option and that most of them focussed on the the updated look, and the new upscale eateries including a vegan option.  The fact that food was being served in real dishes and that waste was being reduced by 85% barely registered more than two or three sentences in most articles, which I found very disappointing.  No praises for placing the environment ahead of ‘convenience’, for thinking of the future.  I’m surprised that the decor outshadowed the obviously huge step towards sustainable fast-food eating, and wonder what that says about our society or our journalists….

Well, I for one, am so very thankful that we can have our cake and eat it without creating excess garbage.  We shouldn’t have to choose between eating or creating garbage, and now we don’t have to.

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Nothing bothers me like the commercials that have duped millions of us into using disposable products.  We have the ‘most absorbent’ paper towel, they claim.  Our paper towel absorbs like a sponge!  Really?  Do you know which towel is the most absorbent?  I do.  A real towel!  And if you need a sponge how about using… a sponge?  Brilliant!  I’m surprised more people don’t see through it.

If you are wanting to reduce the disposables in your household and don’t know where to start, many people find that eliminating paper towels is an easy first step.  Most of us have something that will do in their place, such as tea towels, old rags, or just a plain sponge.  In fact, after some thought, many people wonder why they depended on paper towels in the first place.  Most people find they can go cold turkey, and others have a roll around just in case of emergencies.

Paper towels were never really a part of my household growing up.  My parents had a roll around, but they never touched it.  They always had rags and sponges handy for everyday messes.  The only time I remember them ever using paper towels was for soaking up the oil from deep fried foods such as egg rolls or prawn crackers at Chinese New Year’s.  Otherwise, the roll of paper towel sat unused on top of the fridge, and probably sat there for several years.

Needless to say, I never got into the habit of using paper towels either.  I do have a two-pack of 100% recycled and unbleached paper towels (so I can compost it easily and safely) sitting around that lasts me about a year or more.  I use it for ’emergencies’ like picking up cat puke and nice things like that. (If I didn’t have a cat, it would probably last me many years as well.) Otherwise regular messes are pretty much taken care of by my all-purpose cellulose sponge.  I prefer sponges over rags or tea towels for any type of cleaning because they’re absorbent, you can rinse them right away and you’re as good as new, and they don’t add to the laundry.

Some interesting statistics regarding paper products that I came across while surfing the topic:

  • 90% of North American households use paper towels
  • 3000 tonnes of waste generated by paper towels are disposed of every single day
  • it takes 324L of water to produce 1 kg of paper
  • one tonne recycled paper saves 60% energy, 17 trees, 682 gallons of oil, 7000 gallons of water, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space
  • North Americans uses more than 700lbs of paper products per capita per year, compared with the world average of 94lbs.

We don’t need to use trees, the lungs of our planet, to clean up our messes, do we?  Having said that however, there is a whole new market out there trying to sell ‘reuseable paper towels’, which really irks me, even if the company is ‘green’.  Do we really need to replace one product with another?  A rag is a rag, is a rag.

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So first, I must confess.  I did use wrapping paper for the gifts this year.  Not thinking, the bargain-hunter in me bought five rolls of it during last year’s Boxing Day sales, so it was just sitting there looking at me guiltily.  Also, I had not thought ahead to how I was going to make this a non-disposable Christmas.  I don’t like using newsapaper as it stains the fingers, and I didn’t have a stash of shiny flyers to use because I don’t get many of them where I live.  I thought of making fabric gift bags, but just didn’t have enough time left for that.  It would also have meant spending a lot of money on fabric to wrap the gifts in.  But I do have paper gift bags that I reuse every year, as well as boxes and wrapping tissue.

So, for next year’s gifts, I plan to collect as much potential gift wrapping as possible, mostly in the form of reused fabric.  I did wrap a few gifts with just a square piece of fabric.  Tea towels would probably do as well and make a double-gift.  I love the microfibre cloths for their bright colours, and they dry dishes instantly.  And if you wanted to be extra sure that gifts aren’t open before Christmas Day, you could potentially sew them up!

A lot of the gifts I gave this year did bear an environmental theme.  (If you are friend or family, you might want to wait until after Christmas to read this paragraph!)  I’ve given quite a few Envirosax reusable shopping bags, and the World’s Best Pot Scrubber (the one in the link bears a different name) – I’ve been using the same scrubber for over a year now and they really are fantastic!  Even my friends rave about it when they do my dishes.  At work, I gave dishes and cutlery to co-workers who were still using paper plates at staff luncheons.  I found them at the thrift store and had fun matching patterns to potential recipients.  I gave my Uncle’s family a stack of melamine plates and forks for family dinners so they won’t have to resort to using paper plates and plastic forks the next time we’re over.  And to my two cousins one each of David Suzuki and Al Gore’s eye-opening books.  My daughter also re-gifted a few of her toys, books and games to her friends, which was terrific.  Speaking of which, my daughter asked for mostly non-packaged gifts this year.  No more Littlest Pet Shop, yeah!

Since we were going to be home this Christmas and are hosting Christmas dinner, we also chose to get a real tree as the most environmentally friendly option.  That was  a tough one and there is no perfect answer.  I was considering getting a potted tree that I could plant in the yard, but it turns out that the tree could only stay inside a few days, and the survival rate of the tree would have been very low if I tried to plant it.  Of course, we could forgo the tree altogether.  We certainly won’t get a tree next time if we plan to be away for Christmas.

We didn’t have any garlands for the tree, so instead of buying tinsel, we decided to string popcorn instead.  We’ll put it out for the birds after Christmas.  Next year, we’ll have to try stringing cranberries too.  Fun, and smells so yummy!

What else?  As I only have four dinner plates, I’ll be using Mom’s Corelle dinner plates Christmas Day.  She has a whole stack of them for family dinners.  The great thing about Corelle is that they are 100% glass, and they are so thin they don’t take up much room to store, which is perfect for my small kitchen.  I’ll have to watch for sales and get my own stack for special events.  And of course, we’ll be using cloth napkins.

So, I get a thumbs-down on the wrapping paper this year, but am definitely planning to make next Christmas a non-disposable holiday.

All the best to you and your family,

Grace & Hannah

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I started this blog over a week ago, and I’m already getting lots of inquiries on how I’ve reduced my garbage.  So, I thought I’d intersperse my more serious posts with some practical posts as well.

Let me first start by saying, that there are only two of us in the household, myself and my daughter who is seven.  Regardless, if there were another adult, I don’t think it would make a huge difference in terms of garbage because I’ve made sure to replace most things disposable with reusable.

These are the napkins on our dinner table today

The first change I made was with napkins, facial tissue and paper towel.  Growing up, my parents were frugal to the point of splicing up folded paper napkins into single layers to make them last longer, we never used paper towel, and my Dad would berate me if it took more than one tissue to blow my nose.  Needless to say, I grew up with a keen awareness of wastefulness.

One day I was browsing on Etsy, which is a great place for finding eco-conscious people making hand-made reusable items, and I came across people selling really cute cotton napkins.  A light went off in my head, and I dug through my fabric stash for leftover ends of my favourite fabrics.  Not only was making napkins something I could do easily, it gave me something to make out of my favourite scraps that I could enjoy everyday, yippee!

The napkins I made weren’t the full-sized 16-inch napkins for your formal dinner table.  That would be too big for everyday use, and would add up to a lot of laundry.  I simply took a metre of fabric which already comes folded in half, and folded it in half lengthwise again so you end up with one long length of folded fabric.  Then taking a squared up edge, I just cut the fabric up into squares by folding triangles and cutting along the edge – like cutting a square out of a rectangular piece of paper.  Quick and easy, no measuring, and it should give you 12 to 16 napkins about the size of facial tissue, which is big enough.  Then simply hem up the edges and you are done!


Our newest sets of napkins

Well, you might be asking, does it make for much laundry?  Heck no.  If I throw the napkins in with the weekly load, it barely adds up to a t-shirt.  I also find, if you aren’t eating messy meals, you might use the same napkin for the whole day before tossing it in the laundry basket, so it’ll be even less.  No garbage, barely any laundry.  It feels good!

And of course, you don’t have to stop at napkins.  You can do this for your facial tissue (otherwise known as hankies!), and for your paper towels.  Find a really soft fabric for your hankies, and old clothes and sheets make great towels to have handy for wiping.  Make sure all fabrics for your projects are 100% natural, and organic is great too if you can.  You can also choose from knits, flannel and terry as well.  I like to make a set of dark colours and a set of light colours for everything, so that I’m always washing no matter which load of laundry I am doing (I only do laundry once a week).


Basket of hankies, made from a well-worn, very soft sheet.

But here’s the real unexpected benefit to using your own hand-made reusable stuff, and it isn’t just in the feel-good about eliminating most of your paper-based garbage, the trees you are saving, or the money you are saving by skipping the tissue/napkin/paper towel aisle at the store….

How often have you gone out to buy disposable paper products and had fun???  Did you oooh and ahhh over the colours and patterns, feel them for softness, discuss their absorbency and tell your friends how excited you are about your next purchase?  Did you plan a trip to the store just to buy the exact colours to suit your mood or style?  When you got them home, did you show them off to your spouse, express how excited you were and how you couldn’t wait to use them?  And every time you did reach out to use one, did you have warm, fuzzy feelings inside?

Making your own stuff brings you pleasure that buying manufactured disposable products don”t.  Disposable products, meant to create convenience, kill creativity, excitement and enjoyment.  Making your own stuff, or buying hand-made if you don’t sew, brings that back to all the little things you do.  At least, that is what I am finding.

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