Thanks so much to Hawnuh Lee of Closed-Loop Cooking for teaching us how to host your own zero-waste dinner party!
All photos in this article are courtesy of Leslie Kavasch, you can find more of her work here on Instagram. Featured image: A truly Scrap Supper diner party – foraged cedar branches and borrowed candles made for a romantic, winter inspired atmosphere. Out tablescape was curated by Rachelle Hacmac.
One of my greatest joys in life is bringing together friends and family at the dinner table. A thoughtful meal has always been an expression of love and an invaluable way to build community.
That’s why we started Scrap Supper, a zero-waste, plant-based dining event here in Portland, OR. We host intimate, quarterly dinners that elevate unconventional ingredients. Scrap Supper is our opportunity to create meaningful food education through root-to-leaf cooking methods. I work with a wonderful team of people to develop seasonal recipes, using food scraps that might otherwise go to waste, create foraged tablescapes, and inspire our attendees to continue their zero-waste experience at home.
My hope is to help you bring the Scrap Supper experience into your next dinner party or event and inspire your guests to continue the work!
Sustainability prep work
Zero-waste and low-waste practices do require some strategy. Figuring out how many reusable bags to bring or what kind of bulk containers you need can often feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve made it all the way to the grocery store without them.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Figuring out an efficient process for yourself so you can put on a dang fun event makes it even easier the second time around! So much of the traditional event space is built around convenience – by committing to some or all zero-waste practices you are changing the conventions around social gatherings. It is hard, but necessary work!
So let’s try to do this together.
The how-to’s of a zero-waste event
Hosting your own zero-waste or low-waste event is not as daunting as it seems! There are many alternatives to conventional dinner party / event traditions that have a major impact. Most likely you have everything you need on hand to make something special. I’ve compiled a list of 9 ideas to help get your next event started!
1. Shop in season and shop in compost
When possible, pull menu inspiration from your local farmer’s market. Much of the Scrap Supper menu comes from produce seconds or surplus as well as vendor compost-bound bins. Items like carrot tops or cauliflower leaves aren’t sold to customers as most people don’t know what to do with them. If you ask to look through their bins most vendors are happy to give away these unwanted produce pieces.
It helps to know what makes for a good dish – you can check out Closed-Loop Cooking for ideas! Just make sure to bring your reusable bags!
Making use of all our ingredients for the Scrap Supper – this appetizer consisted of roasted delicata squash (skins on!) with a lentil + ugly garlic spread on a gluten-free sourdough bread made with repurposed oat pulp, and topped with beetroot powder (from leftover beet pulp!) What a *mouthful!*
2. Shop in bulk
At your local grocery store, shopping in bulk is usually more affordable and you’re likely to find local bulk options. (Like PNW local black beans for a flavorful taco night!) Let the bulk staples inspire your event. You can also bring your own bags / containers to fill up so make sure to shop accordingly.
3. Avoid packaged goods
Avoid purchasing items in plastic! This includes plastic produce bags. Just put your fruits in veggies in the basket loose and wash them later. You might have to get creative with where you source ingredients (not every city has access to bulk tofu.) Consider how to incorporate fewer packaged ingredients and potential bulk alternatives.
4. Make use of all of your ingredients
Make sure to find out what parts of your ingredients are edible (like the beetroot stems and leaves!) and try to incorporate them in other dishes (beet to stem spread, anyone?) You’ll get more bang for your buck and have less food waste to worry about.
5. Take paper towels off the menu
(As well as paper plates / disposable cutlery.) Try to challenge yourself to clean up spills with a dedicated dish towel and offer your guests fabric linens instead. If you’re feeling crafty you can sew-your-own using upcycled fabric. It’s a perfect beginner craft! (Yay squares!)
6. DIY your tablescape + place settings
You can use simple objects to create a memorable look and feel like:
- Seasonal herbs: cut a sprig for place setting and encourage guests to take the pieces home and dry them out
- Mismatched candles: create some ambient light with candles in reusable votives
- Foraged branches, leaves, and flowers: you might be able to find something in your neighborhood or a friend’s to use, just be mindful of what you grab!
- Cut up recycled paper: create basic geometric shapes out of materials you have on hand and lay out along the table
- Repurposed fabric: a long table runner can be made out of just about anything
- Potted plants: rather than buying cut flowers, put out some live foliage
Foraged rosemary sprigs and dried sage accented plates. Guests were encouraged to pocket the herbs as a memento of the evening. The napkins were created from upcycled cotton bedsheets and hand blocked printed with eco-friendly ink.
7. Try hosting a homemade potluck style event
Specify to your guests who’s responsible for what and ask everyone to contribute a dish using food they have on hand. This will help save time on cleanup for you and your guests will get to share in the excitement of prepping for the event!
8. Compost your plant parts
Leftover ingredients should make their way into the compost bin whenever possible. Make sure you check what is / is not compostable. And if you don’t have access to compost, check with a friend, local community garden, or composting facilities in your area. Set up a system to keep yourself reliable!
9. Send food home with friends.
Proper storage will keep your leftovers fresh longer and make sure they actually get eaten rather than sit in your fridge for weeks! It’s always a great way to remind your guests of the wonderful evening.
You can absolutely put on a special event, small or large, using materials you have on hand and by shopping strategically. With some mindful planning just about any event you throw can have a low-impact! It’s about setting intention and seeking out sustainable alternatives to share with your attendees. You can set a precedence for the kind of events you attend and inspire your guests to host their own zero-waste / low-waste events and keep the party going!
Have other ideas? I’d love to hear your suggestions at Closed-Loop Cooking!
Hawnuh Lee is the founder of Closed-Loop Cooking, a sustainable food platform focused on helping people reduce food waste and single use kitchen items through seasonal, plant-based recipes, how-to’s, and collaborations. Closed-Loop Cooking is here to explore sustainable food systems at home through easy, mindful eating. Hawnuh is a designer / illustrator / scrappy home chef based in Portland, OR and has been rewashing plastic sandwich bags for as long as she could reach the sink. She believes in well built systems and the power of accessible educational materials.
Closed-Loop Cooking is for anyone who eats. Let’s have a meal, let’s close the loop.