Our estate had its third Streetfeast this year. A great event spearheaded by two civic-minded neighbours. Streetfeast is a nationwide initiative to encourage neighbours to share food and time with one another once a year, normally in June. In our estate residents lend their barbeques for communal cooking of food donated by the local supermarket, Supervalu, while others lend marquees, chairs, tables and bunting. Everyone is encouraged to bring some food to eat and to share and this year the quality of the food on offer was spectacular, from quinoa salad to lemon cheesecake! I had to go for a wee food nap in the middle of the event just to help the old digestive system.
Streetfeast is a great example of the share economy working at it’s best and I think it’s a great way for neighbours to get to know one another better. At our Streetfeast all the tableware was disposable, which was all put into the same un-segregated bin after use. I always think it’s interesting that people who probably go to great lengths to recycle at home don’t continue these efforts at events like this. In previous years I had suggested that residents could bring their own waste home, this went down like a lead balloon and so for now I think one resident takes responsibility for disposing of the black bags of waste after the event at their own expense. Our family were able to avoid all of the disposables by bringing our own reusable plates, cutlery and cups and the only waste we generated was compostable, which we brought home to put in our own brown bin. I was very pleased to see that there were no balloons used this year and that the bunting was being reused from last year. A few of use from the Zero Waste Facebook group had emailed the organisers of Streetfeast to suggest they leave balloons out of the organisers pack. Maybe they listened!
Whether you’re having a communal party or an intimate gathering, with a bit of forward planning it’s possible to green any summer barbecue.
Sustainable BBQs. It goes without saying that disposable bbq sets are a no-no if you’re trying to be sustainable so if you’re going to invest in a reusable bbq set-up, what is more sustainable? The debate about whether to cook with gas or charcoal is as old as Methuselah. Charcoal enthusiastic can’t imagine cooking with anything else and gas barbeques see their choice as far superior, but which is more sustainable?
In a 2009 study conducted by Eric Johnson, an environmental consultant based in Switzerland, concluded that the grilling footprint of charcoal is almost three times as large as that for LPG, with charcoal producing 6.7 kg of CO2 each grilling session, while in comparison LPG produces only 2.3 kg. The results boil down to the fact that LPG is more efficient than charcoal in its production, and also more efficient as a fuel for cooking. The research estimates that an average grilling session using charcoal is equivalent to driving a standard passenger car 35 km. For LPG, this falls to 13 km. I’m not sure if this conclusion would be altered by the discover this year that methane emissions from gas fields are 60% more than previously expected.
Whatever type of barbecue you buy aim to get one with a lifetime guarantee like the Big Green Egg Charcoal Barbecue, (see image above) as this is more likely to be better built and long-lasting.
If you already have a charcoal barbecue and don’t intend to switch then bear in mind that most charcoal briquettes (pillow shaped) available in stores are a combination of lighter fluid, sawdust and wood by-products, a binder such as starch, and other random additives and some contain borax, mineral carbon and limestone (to turn the ashes white). In addition to heat and smoke these briquettes release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that may cause cancer and other diseases. Lump charcoal is a chemical-free alternative to charcoal briquettes and is available to buy in Ireland. Most of it has been imported from far off places like South Africa, adding to it’s carbon footprint. A much more sustainable option is to buy locally grown and made lump charcoal from companies such as;
- Irish Artisan Charcoal Company who offer charcoal sourced and made in Ireland. All of their timber is locally sourced from sustainably managed woodlands, close to their setup, in County Limerick.
- Biochar Ireland‘ s Lough Derg Charcoal is made from locally sourced timber within the environs of Lough Derg. The company also state
- The Oxford Charcoal Company in the UK make lump charcoal from 100% British trees from certified sustainable woodlands.
- Marienburg in Latvia make organic charcoal from alder or oak that I have seen on sale in my local Supervalu store.
We’ve given up burger buns in our house. Instead we buy individual round rolls in Lidl or Tesco in our own bag. Not only do these have a more natural taste and texture they’re more filling than the air-like burger buns we’re used to.
Personally I’m not a huge fan of bbqs because it’s often just a huge meat-feast with little in the way of fruit and veg. Considering that the production of meat, particularly red meat, is a huge contributor to climate change don’t forget to balance out the fare with fruit and veg and some vegetarian / vegan meat alternatives, such as the Linda McCarthy range, which just come in cardboard boxes. Or if you fancy making your own vegan burgers Jamie Oliver has a great recipe that is relatively quick and doesn’t require any expensive, hard-to-get ingredients.
Gifts. There’s nothing worse than working hard to avoid plastic only to have it descend on you in the form of gifts. We typically ask guests to either bring some homemade food in reusable containers or a bottle of wine in lieu of flowers or shop bought food. Alternatively you could turn your event into a fundraiser and invite people to donate to a cause close to your heart in lieu of a present. A win, win all round.
Ban Balloons. These bad boys are terribly polluting, lasting for decades after use and the credibility of the biodegradable ones are suspect in my opinion. Call me sceptical but if something isn’t independently certified or I don’t know the maker / seller directly I just don’t trust what I’m told. Also helium is in finite supply and is running out and personally I’d much rather keep it for medicinal use than waste it on a bit of party frippery.
Decorations. I looooove party decorations, so much so I’d call it a bit of an obsession. It’s completely unsustainable to buy new decorations for each and every party so I reuse my paper ones instead. This means not buying themed decorations and opting for well-made generic ones that suit a variety of events and can be reused year after year. You can find fabulous fabric bunting on sale on Etsy. I’ve pinned my favourite decorating idea of outdoor parties on Pinterest, click on the link to see them. I love these DIY tin can laterns by Elise Engh Studios.
If you do want to theme your event how about renting props instead of buying them. It’s not cheap but it’ll set your event apart from the others. One such prop hire companies is Prop Me Up who organise their props by theme. I particularly love their Alice in Wonderful themed props.
Ban Straws. This is a no-brainer. Don’t let the blighters make an appearance if you can avoid it but if you feel you need them for some guests, offer reusable metal or glass ones or paper ones instead. As always with zero waste buy the biggest box you’re going to need to reduce packaging.
Ditch Disposable Tableware. Aim to use real crockery and cutlery instead of disposables if you can. If you don’t have enough at home consider borrowing from friends and family or hiring it from companies like Select Hire or Cater Hire.
If real crockery isn’t a runner consider borrowing reusable plastic tableware from friends and family. Or if you’re at the start of your ‘party career’ maybe it’d be worth investing in some reusable plastic tableware. You might even be able to buy them with friends or family, cutting down on expense and waste even further.
If you can’t avoid disposable then consider compostable cups and un-coated paper plates and when buying try to buy the largest packet available to limit packaging. For something a little bit more up-market you can get compostable paper plateware from Klee Paper in Dublin 8 or palm leaf and sugarcane tableware from Down to Earth or Zeus Packaging. Just be sure to explain to your guests that cups and plates should go into the brown bin and not the recycling bin.
Limit Napkins. Some zero wasters use cloth napkins instead of paper ones and it might be worth investing in some organic cotton, linen or hemp ones if you intend on having quite a few parties. If paper napkins are more your scene then just avoid leaving a large stack out. Research has found that large quantities of anything encourage waste so by limiting what’s on view you’ll limit what’s used.
Non-plastic Nibbles. I love crisps but hate that they only come in non-recyclable foil-lined plastic bags. Although not quite as lip-smacking as MSG coated potato crisps or tortillas, home-popped popcorn is a great low-waste alternative, particularly if you buy it packaged free from market stalls like Bring your Own, Bare Necessities or Minimal Grocery. I love this serving suggestion from French Country Cottage. You can have it straight with just salt, or sugar, or both, or dress it up with Parmesan cheese, truffle oil or chilli flakes. Personally I like to pour homemade caramel over it to make sweet popcorn.
Another options is to get loose nuts and dried fruit from these market stalls or Nutty Delights in Georges St Arcade, D2 or in some Holland and Barrett stores. My friend makes the most delicious salted almonds for parties, they’re to die for. I’ve been enthusiastically informed that homemade kale crisps are divine so maybe these are worth a go too!
Avoiding Food Packaging. It’s easy enough to buy unpackaged fruit, veg and bread if you’re willing to spend the time seeking it out, but meat can take a bit trickier. I’ve been buying meat in my own container for over a year now and I’ve never been refused. Some staff members are savvy enough to know how to TARE the scales (set it to zero) with your container on it, but if they don’t I let them weigh my item on a sheet of butcher paper or in a plastic bag and then take it into my own container without the packaging. I know this isn’t ideal as I’m generating waste by buying it but it’s a case of the least bad option.
Protect Food without Cling Film. If you’re laying out food self-service style it’s a good idea to protect it from little critters. A few years ago I invested in some reusable food cover umbrellas and they work brilliantly. If you don’t have such a thing there’s no need to reach for the cling film, just pop a plate over the bowl of salad or an upturned bowl or tea towel over the plate of bread rolls and you’re good to go.
Avoid Food Waste. It’s so easy to over-buy or over-provide so to avoid this buy reserve food that you know can be frozen if it’s not needed. Also to avoid having too much perishable food left over get some compostable disposable containers so guests can take an excess home. I like the paper lunch bags from Irish company Walsh Packaging, which you can get in most supermarkets in Ireland and the companies mentioned above that offer compostable tableware typically do compostable cardboard takeaway containers.
Provide separate bins. At parties I frequently see everything put into the same bin meaning everything ends up in landfill. To avoid this provide as many bins as you have waste streams and label them accordingly. For example in our house we have compostable waste (food, napkins, compostable tableware), dry recyclables (paper and some plastic) and glass, and then the landfill bin for everything else. I’m a waste nerd and so relish the opportunity to educate (annoy) guests about waste, explaining what goes into which bin and why.
Plastic-free Drinks. I keep reading that wine corks are compostable and yet we find 5/ 6/ 7 year old corks in our compost heap annually! Perhaps they do break down in commercial composters. Of course natural corks are a much better alternative to plastic corks but it’s impossible to tell which bottle has which until you open it. Plus the foil cover on corked bottles is not recyclable in Ireland anymore, so I prefer to buy my wine with a screw top. That way i can avoid all non-recyclable packaging.
After many years of (excruciating) research I’ve found two affordable organic wines on sale locally. The first is a red Tempranillo by Clearly Organic in Supervalu, which sells at €8.50. The second is a white wine called Cuvee Flor Natural Blanco in the Organic Supermarket for €10.50. The Organic Supermarket also does a very pleasant organic Prosecco for €14.95, which has a natural cork held in place by string.
Beer cans are recyclable but tend to be wrapped in plastic or come with a plastic ring. We’ve sourced loose cans of Perlenbacher beer in Lidl, which my husband thinks is the best flavour for the price. If you think your guest will poo-poo a Lidl branded beer than consider glass bottled or canned beer sold in cardboard boxes. If you can, buy 500ml bottles instead of 330ml ones as this will result in less packaging overall. Alternatively you could contact a local brewery and organise a returnable keg a beer for the party.
As far as I can tell fizzy drinks can only be bought in plastic bottles and if you need to have Coke Cola or 7-Up then it’s going to be impossible to avoid the plastic they come in. If you’re guest aren’t going to be hung up on a brand perhaps you could make your own fruit-infused water or simply mix tap water cordial bought in glass bottles. There are a few high-end cordial brands on the market now and readily available in most Supervalu stores, such as Longford based Richmount Cordials and Waterford based Naturally Cordial or the UK brand Belvoir offer a few organic options.
Richmount Cordials only source pesticide and chemical-free elderflowers locally, use cardboard packaging that is FSC certified, source bottles, caps and labels from companies who are committed to environmental protection, harvest rainwater, measure energy usage, and plant native trees to encourage biodiversity. The only slight negative might be their support for local hunts as shown on their Facebook page.
If fizzy drinks are an essential then another option might be to borrow a soda syphon or soda maker for the event. The air comes in recyclable and sometimes refillable canisters. From my research it seems that soda syphon don’t generate the same level of fizz as soda maker so bear this in mind when choosing.
Enjoy your sustainable summer soiree.