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Hosting a Low-Waste Holiday Dinner

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

By Betsy Dudash, board member

Photos and tablescapes by Jenny Montgomery, board member


If you’ve already committed to living more sustainably and want to continue through the holidays, tell your guests. Your planning should include food preparation, serving, and dealing with leftovers and food waste.


Those doing the cooking and baking can borrow rarely-used items such as roasting pans, or, if they have storage space and room in their budget, pick some up second-hand. Unless you plan on washing and reusing them again and again, aluminum pans and other disposables are not a good choice.


When serving a large crowd, single-use plates, cups, and flatware can be hard to resist, but almost none of them are recyclable or compostable. Instead, try one of the following options:

• Ask some guests to bring dishes. If you’re looking for specific colors or styles such as square plates, ask around—but if you’re setting a kids’ table, why not get creative?;

• Pick up extra flatware, glasses (including wineglasses, if you’re serving adult beverages), and pieces that complement your existing dishes at a thrift store; or

• For a really big group, consider renting what you need from one of the local party rental specialists in the valley such as Bumfields, Gather or Nancy's.

If you don’t use them already, a holiday dinner would be a good time to start using cloth napkins. I’ve used them for years; we all have to do laundry anyway, so just toss them in with your other items. Seasonal cloth napkins make great sustainable host or hostess gifts and can also be used to wrap other gifts. You might also be able to find them secondhand, or you just might inherit some if your aging parent decides to declutter or embrace minimalism. I’m also a fan of placemats, which help to keep my glass tabletop and holiday tablecloths clean.


If your family is anything like mine was growing up, there will be leftovers—although my mom’s homemade dinner rolls rarely made it past Thanksgiving night, because they made such delicious turkey sandwiches. If guests are bringing some of the food, ask them to bring storage containers for leftovers, too. I personally have an assortment of containers that I wouldn’t hesitate to send home with someone, though I might need your address before I let you out of the house with my Pyrex containers. Through years of browsing secondhand shops I’ve also acquired a couple of Tupperware-type containers with compartments, perfect for sending a meal home with someone.


No matter how much you plan, there will be waste. Let guests know what can go into the recycling bin, what can go into the compost, and what has to go into the trash. Vegetable scraps such as potato peels can go into the compost. Uneaten food that has meat or dairy products in it—mashed potatoes and gravy—needs to go into your regular garbage.


Good luck, and have a happy, sustainable holiday season!




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Sustainable Wenatchee is a 501(c)3 non-profit that promotes a culture of environmental stewardship and social sustainability in the Wenatchee Valley.

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Saddle Rock photo by Frank Cone