A Zero Waste progress report.
So if you read my post* about my planned party held last month you may have wondered just how possible it is to hold a party for 65 and how close to Zero Waste I could get. So hear is a break down of what I used and how successful I was... or was not.
I personally have learnt a lot from this and am now even more intent to do better during the year, my next party will be a few steps closer to setting a good example, but for now I'd like you to take it as the modest attempt of someone heading in the right direction and having fun while doing it.
This photo shows most of our recycling waste from the night itself. Most of it was bottles (of which there are several full boxes not shown) The plastic cake boxes and soft drink bottles were not bought by us and despite my attempts to ensure guests bought nothing but a bottle of wine, these were contributions to our table. The bag you see in the picture contains mostly beer cans, these along with the bottles can be recycled however I am not so sure about disposable coffee cups of which some were used for the hot mulled wine. I have determined to buy some more sturdy glasses for this purpose because though I dislike accumulating stuff, it is preferable over creating landfill!
I love my compost heap! I can't tell you how satisfying it is to have virtually Zero Waste for landfill. All the vegetable trimmings, even orange peel and most of the (non meat) scraps went to the compost heap which is slowly maturing for our vegetable patch.
Gifts and Wrap
I had asked specifically that gifts were not bought for us or my children, but some of our guests were not on the WhatsApp group or couldn't abide by the concept. The gifts are all well chosen, appreciated and useful for my little daughter, but the wrapping, such a seemingly obligatory part of gift giving, is something we could have easily done without. I tried to counteract the damage by minimizing rips and then I reused the wrapping for some of the few gifts that I gave over the holiday period.
In the photo you can see that I recycled the wrapping paper and I used fabric (that was folded up afterwards to be used again).
I hope this doesn't come across as horribly ungrateful. Giving and receiving gifts is a wonderful thing and the Turkish tradition of bringing food to the table to which you are invited is one that I deeply admire as it has its roots in community, well-being and collaborative society.
Our 'Toys for Children in Need Box' was filled each day leading up to Christmas as my daughter went through her Advent Calendar and added one of her toys in return for her piece of chocolate. This has enabled her development around the concepts of sharing and need. We had asked guests to bring contributions that their own kids had gown out of to add to the box instead of bringing gifts for us. Now we will have a final sort out to make the box full of fun before we pass it on.
Parties and Christmas are not the same without lights and lots of them. However we have fallen into quite a dumb trap; the led light trap! Under the assumption that low energy lights are good or better for the environment we have been inclined to increase usage and illuminate everything, thus negating the benefit. (Not to mention obliterating the stars at night!)
My son did a wonderful job of placing a star upon the pine tree in our garden and we tried to counter balance our energy use by illuminating the tree instead of the perimeter garden lights.
We use a lot of candles and tea lights which I fear are quite possibly as bad as non reusable coffee pods. I plan to try reusing the little metal containers for various craft purposes. I'll let you know how that goes in due course, but for now I'm planning on abstaining from buying anymore.
Glasses made of... Glass!
One of the biggest challenges is in what to serve drinks. Previous years I have added to the world's refuse mountains by buying disposables sold in single use wrapping. We did use some of my old plastic stock, but nearly all of that was washed and stacked away again. A few of the more flimsy ones were broken and I guess by the guests who have yet to grasp the concept of Zero Waste.
We don't (yet) have a filter on our tap water, so we use refillable 20 litre bottles from which I decanted water to jugs and added lemon slices. Rather than buy any form of soft drink (especially such atrocities as Cola etc) we filled recycled glass milk bottles with fresh orange juice squeezed by the kitchen staff.....my sister :) We had a system to replenish the drinks table from a cold stock kept in the fridge but the outdoor temperature was almost cool enough to chill.
Plates and Cutlery
Serving food upon real plates and with real knives and forks is so much more satisfying then using the horrid plastic ones. One has a sense of eating properly while also avoiding the guilt that waste producing behaviour induces. Furthermore I thoroughly enjoyed the eclectic nature of our tables with stacks of mine and borrowed plates and bowls (for the pumpkin soup which was bubbling away merrily on the hob next to the mulled wine).
Our neighbour (and guest) also provided a big stack of cutlery that was suitably different from my own so they were easy to separate afterwards. We presented them in some recycled white flower pots and mugs around the tables.
These get a separate mention as I'm thrilled with the effect these have had on our continuing usage. I wrote a previous post about this. We have virtually eliminated single use napkins and tissues for sticky fingers and mouths and general spillage and instead we (especially our 4 year old) enjoy the satisfaction of using colourful fabric which does not add significantly to the laundry in that they just get thrown in the machine along with the other loads.
I planned the menu for sometime in the hope that I could shop strategically and avoid waste. (Plus to be able to juggle time and freezer, fridge and oven slots) In buying vegetables from the market and meat from the butcher using my own containers and bags I did a pretty good job at creating Zero Waste, however I did fall short in a few areas:
We had a spectacular cheese board that my sister and another cheese shop owner friend contributed to; everything was wrapped in plastic and I have yet to find a solution to that here other than abstaining from cheese.
My brownies (a version of Jamie Oliver recipe) are full of chocolate that is wrapped only in paper and foil, but the cocoa and butter are packaged in single use plastics or plastic coated foil.
The lasagna was delicious with my mums culinary expertise as well as the fresh pasta sheets that she bought from the UK. These were very tasty, but had the largest waste ratio of all with plastic between every layer. It went to recycling, but to a Zero Waste view point this is not sufficient, (specially when we have doubts about the efficiency of the recycle systems in our area). I will endeavour to make my own pasta in the near future (and I regret that de-clutter I did years ago when I gave away my pasta machine!)
From a Zero Waste perspective the consumption of meat is not acceptable. Meat production is the least sustainable of our foods and I have to admit knowledge of this is making it seem increasingly less attractive to cook and consume it. In this case I made köfte for a kind of burger bar that went on outside around the BBQ, I bulked the köfte meat out with copious amounts of breadcrumbs, which I find gives a great texture (I had prepared and frozen these a week in advance). For the staple of the menu we made one vegetarian, one vegan and three meat lasagna which were a beef and lamb mix. However I used a nifty trick to ease my conscience a tad, I finely chopped aubergines and added them to the meat while it was cooking. The subtle flavour and texture of the aubergines render them most appropriate for disguising as meat and for bulking out the sauce. I also use a lot of onions and carrots which are essential for flavour, but also help limit the meat used.
A popular favourite has always been pesto chicken served cold as a salad, however to avoid chicken consumption I used turkey meat instead which I understand to be farmed in a less intensive way, but was packaged with a polystyrene plate.
I had prepared and frozen corn and pomegranate for various salads, but I used cans of kidney beans and packets of pasta that seem to only come in plastic or plastic lined cardboard, (even the organic versions are really annoying about this). I buy eggs from a local farm and if not I try buy free range, but have been known to resort to the plastic wrapped organic variety on occasion. Milk is a challenging product that many Zero Wasters have to give up. I have yet to source bulk supplies of cashew nuts to make nut milk, I can't faff about with almonds and the easier oat milk would not be fatty enough so I didn't attempt experimenting for the bechamel sauce, needless to say I have accumulated loads of glass milk bottles. I plan to reuse some for storing drinking water in the fridge during the hot months, possibly also tomato sauces if we have abundant produce, other than that it's glass to our dubious local recycling.
This year I made one exception to my -make it all myself- rule and I bought icing coated cookies from a local lady that has started a home based business. I wanted to support at least one other person as well as save myself from a job. The only downside was the packaging that I have saved and will use again. Next time I buy in from a local caterer I will be sure to pre-plan the delivery so I can transfer to my own containers.
Finger foods are a great way to avoid the necessity for plates and cutlery!
A certain amount of cling film was used in the making of the sushi. I own a whole big roll which will run out soon. I will not buy again! The smoked salmon and seaweed are imported but asides from that avocados can be local (not always easy to find), the rice can be bulk bought, I used local baldo rice as opposed to sushi rice. Other finger foods were a cauliflower and cheese based pizza cut to bite size for anyone keen to eat pizza, but avoid carbs. Also my mum patiently created canapes with humus and dried tomatoes or labne (cream cheese) and olives on bite sized bread squares. (I will attempt making my own labne by straining home made yogurt soon)
It was a real pleasure despite the challenge to ensure that we had catered for our vegan friends. I bought a dried pasta that did not contain egg and made a tomato vegetable ratatouille type base for the vegetarian and the vegan lasagna, I had some humus to hand, both homemade frozen plus a local variety sold in a jar. So the humus replaced bechamel sauce. I really liked this lasagna and can easily convert to this instead of the meat version.
Vegan banana cake is delicious! (Vegans have been keeping their taste satisfaction a secret it seems!) Most of the salads I prepared were also vegan and I made a separate spinach börek that did not contain the usual cheese, egg and milk. I was careful to mark the foods that were vegan not so much for the vegan friends who could easily identify what was appropriate for them, but for all the rest of us who have prejudiced belief that vegan food is not so interesting and tasty.
Utilizing what we have in terms of table and house decorations and making our own is a fun thing to do with children and as adults. We had made it a tradition to have gifts under the tree for the attending children so this year I hand made naughts and crosses sets using hessian bags and white pebbles, I also made little jars of Choc&Nut Stuff for our guests to trake home.
Years ago I'd help my mum with her catering business, the lead up to Christmas and New Year would be hectic and she'd have lots to do in her kitchen. We still work together like professionals, sharing jobs, delegating, dancing around the worktops and clearing up after ourselves and each other. The banter is much like that you'd expect in any restaurant kitchen with expletives, silliness and insults flung about as our hard work gradually reveals lots of delicious and earnestly created food. This year I was blessed with the help and company of my big daughter (who has definitely got the family trait going on), my mum (the wise and revered one who keeps us all in order), my sister (the one who wings it yet has an uncanny knack for sushi making it turns out) and moi (she who invites a whole load of people over and then quite possibly has more fun during the 5 days of prep than at the actual party!)
Photo of my mum doing things to an orange with cloves (for the mulled wine).
Since we moved out of the city it was necessary for most of our guests to make a weekend of it and stay over night at one of the local hotels here in Sile, this meant an extra effort on behalf of our guests but was rewarded by great beach walks the next day after breakfast. I'm always concerned about any combination of alcohol and driving so close proximity hotels solved that.
Disapproval of the fuel consumed in getting to us can be appeased to a small extent in that the journey was spread over two days. Sadly none of us own hybrid cars for which there is no infrastructure here yet. My family and some of our guests had flown and for this there is no appeasement possible. I know that there are many who believe any attempt at zero waste is rendered null, void and hypocritical as soon as we drive our cars or get on planes, and though I eagerly await the invention of sustainability transportation, in the meantime I have to accepts that as an immigrant,travel to see family is one of the last things I will manage to do without (and yes that pilot is Santa!).
I take the responsibility of hosting and feeding people very seriously. I can't say that I stick to a very healthy menu in that the brownies are quite evil and the lasagna must have packed quite a few calories, but I like to cover all the sustenance needs while minimizing any unhealthy ingredients. Processed, artificial, MSG and palm oil aren't to be found in our home normally anyway. Fat is either butter or olive oil, flour is organic, vegetables locally sourced and organic where possible... etc. Hygiene is non-negotiable so if I have an occasional cough I'll use a mask during all the food preparation and my kitchen worktop is no lackadaisical matter!. I believe that we are what we eat, certainly it goes inside us and is absorbed by our bodies. I am always a bit humbled when I am given the privilege of feeding people, people who have entrusted their evening and their appetites with me so I endeavour to make it as worthy as possible.
Asides from those mentioned above such as to pre-plan to avoid waste and to practice making sushi without clingfilm (or cut sushi off the menu):
- Communication with guests and suppliers is essential to ensure the Zero Waste aims and expectations are understood.
- Hiring someone to wash up! When you have piles of plates and glasses to wash after a party it's a major chore. Unless you have a secret scullery out the back it seems that conscientious guests won't let you leave the dishes until later. Though I enjoyed the camaraderie around the kitchen sink I'd rather that our time was spent on the dance floor :)
The elements that make catering for 65 people at home and as Zero Waste as possible in short are:
Borrowing. Sharing. Buying Local, Collaborating. Communication. Homemade. Good Planning. Good Time Management. Recycle. Upcycle. Compost, Fun.
* My affiliated post entitled Feast & Fun.