Zero Waste Dining and EntertainingZero 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 24×24” 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?

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 24×24” 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?

  1. virginia piazza says:

    April 3rd, 2010 at 3:33 pm (#)

    Hi,

    I remember in an earlier post you had said
    something about refusing wine served in disposable
    glasses-one of my friends purchased a set of
    glasses from Ikea, keeps them in the box and brings them to parties; another has a set of
    mismatched stemmed glasses-she brings them in a picnic hamper.

  2. LeeAnn Balbirona says:

    April 5th, 2010 at 5:32 pm (#)

    Stainless steel Easter eggs?!?! Perish the thought! LOL How about making some out of clay or papier mache? Or better yet, just make some nice hard-boiled eggs, decorate them, dye them and give them those along with some loose jelly beans in the basket. It is too wet here (Seattle area) most years for an egg hunt. We just put the kids' treats in the baskets. For ourselves, we have a set of plastic eggs that we wash and use for several years, about 20 of them for four kids. We reuse various baskets around the house as well. Happy Easter! Hope your day was blessed!

  3. Bea Johnson says:

    April 5th, 2010 at 7:09 pm (#)

    Hi LeeAnn:
    Thanks for your comment, here is what we ended up doing: the kids really enjoy egg hunting (vs.filled basket) so I wrapped the candy in paper (painted with light watercolors) and shaped it like an egg (could not get myself to buy plastic!)… We stayed indoors. Ironically, our 8 and 10 yr old busted the Easter Bunny this year. I am glad stainless eggs are not yet available or I would have bought them for just one (and afterall last) use… (ditto for spending time making paper mache/ clay or chocolate ones!).

  4. Bea Johnson says:

    April 5th, 2010 at 7:12 pm (#)

    Virginia: funny…sounds like your friend owns the same Ikea glasses that I too take on our picnics!

  5. Anonymous says:

    May 3rd, 2010 at 8:40 pm (#)

    I am ready to take a baby step and use cloth napkins. Please, please recommend a brand/source.
    Towards this end, I bought some 100% cotton napkins at the thrift store that were still in the CostPlus packaging: after one warm wash and hot dryer (my husband-a story too long for this comment) the napkins were unevenly shrunken and unattractive. I don't mind investing in "good" napkins but more $ does not necessarily = better. I will not iron and cannot line dry…ideas?

  6. Anonymous says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 2:24 am (#)

    I have some hand me down cloth napkins and some from a thrift store. I washed them and then did a vinegar rinse. They are 100% cotton. I hang them up on a small drying rack and they are done in no time! They are super easy to use and now I just toss them in when doing the appropriate color of laundry!!

    Microfiber cloths are amazing on glass/mirrors.

    Now, what I am having a problem with is figuring out how to use more dish cloths and rags instead of paper towels. Bea any clever ideas? I am way down compared to my previous use but no wear near none or even 1 roll per year!

  7. Bea Johnson says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 3:26 am (#)

    Thanks for your input, Anonymous.
    The best thing about used napkins is that you do not get a bad surprise at the 1st wash. What you buy (used) is what you'll get after washing.
    As for the paper towels… What do you use paper towels for? Just don't buy anymore… and you can do without them. I use the microfiber cloths for everything… counters, floors, bathroom, mirrors…

  8. Anonymous says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 2:45 pm (#)

    Thanks to the second anonymous above from the first–used napkins are a good idea [Bea–though I'd still like a source so I could have, say 20 matching napkins (since I don't do laundry often)]. Also to the second anonymous, I use paper towels for the occasional gross mess, too, and for mirrors. I'll have to try the microfiber cloth for that.

  9. Bea Johnson says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 5:13 pm (#)

    For the occasional mess, like glue, car/bike grease, paint, caulk… you can use old tee-shirts.

  10. Anonymous says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 5:37 pm (#)

    But still, I cannot clean the glue-, grease-, or paint-filled cloth (especially grease)…so then what to do with the (unusable) rags? (I am not trying to be difficult; this is the kind of thing I do throw away…)

  11. Bea Johnson says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 5:47 pm (#)

    Yes, you do throw these away but at least, you reuse before doing so. (better clean up a mess with a worn out tee-shirt than a dead tree, don't you think?)

  12. Anonymous says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 6:10 pm (#)

    I guess it is better to re-use an old t-shirt than to use a paper towel from recycled paper…And, by the way, can you suggest a good brand/source for cloth napkins (see my original post 🙂 ). I don't sew and don't plan to buy a sewing machine. I suspect some napkins are less prone to shrinkage, or are pre-shrunk. Thanks for the replies, btw.

  13. Bea Johnson says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 9:06 pm (#)

    Yes. It is better to reuse. Even if both will end up in the landfill after your clean-up, paper towels made with 100% recycled content still use valuable ressources to produce (to only be used once!).
    As for the napkins: I can't really help you if you want to buy new. The one set I have (and wash once a week), I found on ebay (it matched my interior to perfection).

  14. Sarah says:

    May 8th, 2010 at 4:06 pm (#)

    One problem I am having with using rags, old tshirts, cloths in my conversion from paper towels is bacon grease! If you have a greasy dish (that your husband loves) like bacon, and you want to drain/blot the fat/grease from the bacon can you do that with cloth? It's so messy and icky that I usually use paper towels.

    Also Bea, I don't quite understand the no trash bag liners for your trash can. Do you just put wet things into a composting bin directly?

  15. Anonymous says:

    June 14th, 2010 at 2:00 am (#)

    Bandanas make great napkins, they come in fantastic colors, are 100% cotton, easily washed, and can be bought, used or new, rather cheap.

  16. Tanya says:

    September 24th, 2010 at 9:30 pm (#)

    I'm vegetarian but still not sure how to get away from paper towels entirely. Cooking with oil leaves small amounts of oil in the pot, and as we are on a septic system we don't want to just wash this in the sink. So we need to blot it with paper towel and then throw it out it seems. Any kind of reusable cloth would still have the problem of when it is washed putting oil into septic, a no no!

    Sarah – for composting we keep a stainless steel pail to throw the wet things into then when its full take it to the backyard to the compost box / pile. (however since we don't eat meat we can compost everything in the backyard)

  17. Sandra says:

    January 1st, 2011 at 6:03 pm (#)

    I use an old, rubber spatula to remove leftover cooking oil from pots/pans. The spatula scrapes out most of the oil without the need for paper towels and without scratching the surface of my cast iron cookware. It also works great for scraping out dirty dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.

    You can blot out bacon grease by letting it sit on a wire mesh strainer, and then collect the strained grease in a glass or porcelain jar. The bacon drippings are great for flavoring other foods such as roasted brussel sprouts or for adding smoky flavor to a bolognese sauce.

    I'm really curious to hear how others have dealt with disposing of cooking oils. My compost's instructions clearly state 'no oils' but I wonder if anyone else has had luck doing so.

  18. citrus says:

    January 4th, 2011 at 7:27 pm (#)

    Hi Bea, What kind of citrus juicer do you use? It seems very effective and easy to clean. Thanks 🙂

  19. Samantha Harris says:

    January 21st, 2011 at 12:26 am (#)

    I just wanted to say on behalf of the earth and its inhabitants, Thank you.

  20. Anonymous says:

    February 11th, 2011 at 8:35 am (#)

    For napkins be sure they are a natural fiber or they will look good but won't do the job. If going new try Cost Plus, Pier 1, Crate n Barrel but vintage will be better quality/softer – check vintage stores/ebay. I have some from Cost Plus or the like with some texture I really like because it doesn't show wrinkles.

  21. Anonymous says:

    February 27th, 2011 at 1:33 pm (#)

    I agree that I wish there were some stainless steel or other non-plastic alternative for the easter eggs. You can make your own fabric ones though…
    http://green-living.families.com/blog/alternatives-to-plastic-easter-eggs-part-1

  22. m'n'e says:

    March 3rd, 2011 at 5:01 am (#)

    i've purchased white towels from thrift stores (100% cotton), cut them up into 24" squares and hand-stitched (using a blanket stitch) the edges in colored 100% cotton upholstery thread. i have about 20 – 25 of these that my husband and i use to clean up after our two toddler girls. okay, and ourselves. when they get too grody we simply compost them in our backyard and make new ones. old t-shirts go for bedding for our bunny and then are composted with everything else. we haven't had opportunity to deal with end of-life sheets, but all of ours are organic cotton, which, from what i've read, can also be easily and successfully composted.
    we use cloth napkins, but aren't too exacting with them, we're just happy the kiddos have figured out how to use them instead of their clothes!
    cheers, m'n'e

  23. Anonymous says:

    March 11th, 2011 at 11:37 pm (#)

    Instead of paper towel or paper napkins, I bought packages of wash/dish clothes at Target and then another at Kohls. They match my color scheme and wash and dry with no problem. I have a stack in a basket in my kitchen and in the dining room I rolled a bunch and put them in a wood container I had on hand. I haven't purchased paper towels or napkins in forever.
    My family and I are pescaterian (no meat except seafood) so we don't have the problem with bacon grease, etc. And thus far, haven't had a real problem with clean up after cooking with olive oil. We don't use much, so I have never had to deal with pouring any out of a pan.
    Bea, today is my first day reading your blog. I love it! So many great ideas. I can't go cold turkey, but I would like to incorporate something new each month. Thank you for sharing!
    Tonya

  24. Anonymous says:

    April 5th, 2011 at 6:22 pm (#)

    Hi Bea!

    Love your blog, learning so much from you!

    I have a question on cookware.

    What pans do you use in your cooking? Stainless, cast iron or non-stick (Teflon)?
    My Teflon ones are super old and I am considering replacing some of them…

    Thank you!

    Yelena

  25. Bea Johnson says:

    April 7th, 2011 at 12:09 am (#)

    Yelena: I use Stainless. If my husband did not have the medical condition of having too much iron in his blood, I could also use cast iron.
    Please stay away from Teflon. It is highly toxic (so is the Teflon/Scotchguard stain repellent sprayed on furnishings). Please refer to the book "Slow Death by Rubber Duck" for more explanation/info on the subject.

  26. Amanda M. says:

    April 20th, 2011 at 2:33 am (#)

    Bea, My parents came to visit a few weekends ago, and my dad is a paper towel fanatic. We ran out of paper towels just a few days before, and I refused to purchase more. It costs extra money and puts more waste in the garbage. So, Dad washed his hands and looked around the kitchen before asking, "Where are the paper towels?" I replied, "We have none. Use one of the kitchen towels in the drawer." My father looked at me like I lost my mind and told my mom to go to the store. I assured him that such would be a waste of time, gas, and resources. Ahhh, the look on his face was priceless! I enjoy not having to remember paper towels on a grocery run.

  27. Aldo says:

    May 19th, 2011 at 2:10 am (#)

    I want to ask some questions. Which is more the best, citrus juicer or juice extractor? Do you think having a popcorn maker or coffee maker is very necessary? I really appreciate if you want to answer my questions. Thanks.

  28. Graham says:

    August 1st, 2011 at 1:54 am (#)

    Your post is very helpful to me. My house always looks full because the goods that are poorly organized. I think I still need these items but in reality I rarely use the stuff. How do I sort items needed or not?
    Previously, I say thank you.

  29. Susan d says:

    August 31st, 2011 at 8:54 pm (#)

    Thanks to you and your readers for all of the great ideas. Recently we decided that we would like to have some french fries from our local chip van (I know this not health food.) The chips are served in a paper container (brown paper bag type.) and normally come with a paper napkin and fork. I told my husband and daughter we could have chips if they would put them in a glass dish and we could use our own forks. They agreed and we arrived at the chip van with the glass dish. The young man working there gladly put the chips into the dish and said "you probably don't want forks either, right?" I think he actually gave us extra. Anyway the chips were delicious and it was a positive (if unhealthy) experience in zero waste. Thanks

  30. Gypsy Queen says:

    August 29th, 2016 at 6:42 am (#)

    I have been crazy about DIYs lately and that’s how I found your blog. My friend is using Furokishi for a long time. I admired how she wraps her daughter’s bento box everyday. It’s washable, gorge, and fashionable!

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