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As desi expats living far from families, we all host a lot, so many big+small gatherings in these various corners of the world we now call our home. This is one of our strongest traits as Pakistanis, our world famous hospitality (if you haven’t heard about it before, here’s an American travel blogger’s post about it that gives some idea) – which we then bring to our new home countries. The number of people who invited me over, welcomed me into their circles when I initially moved to Seattle and felt like a stranger was too many to count even. Because of this, I was able to make close friendships early on and never felt the need to have to “look for friends”! Alhamdullilah.
But there’s something that has started to bother me alot in recent years…
Because of the “barkat” (so hard to translate but the nature of Pakistani foods makes it easy to feed lots of people) of our typical menus + our big hospitable hearts, our gatherings are usual bigger than normal standards. To keep things manageable in our household-help free life away from Pakistan, we all have embraced disposables fully! Yes, it makes it easy to host and it’s so convenient BUT the amount of waste created at any of our gathering is huge. Multiplying that to the number of gatherings we host over the course of a year makes it even worse! For some reason there is also less awareness in our communities about reducing waste and switching to a more sustainable lifestyle (I am hopeful we all can together change that).
I have been so guilty of the same all these years but recently I have been trying to become more mindful and find ways to cut down on the waste at the gatherings we host! It’s been a few years since I started becoming more aware and wanted to share a few changes/ideas for you!
IDEAS TO MINIMIZE WASTE AT OUR DESI PARTIES
(all products + a few resources linked at the end)
1: USING DINNERWARE WHEREVER POSSIBLE // One can start over-using disposables sometimes even where there isn’t a need. I’ve seen that and done it myself too. But now for smaller gatherings, eg: just a couple of families, I now try to use my own dinnerware, which is what we use in our own daily life since I don’t own fancy dinner-ware. It helps to plan a little in advance and make sure that the dishwasher is empty and ready to be loaded after the party.
2: BUYING COMPOSTABLE OR BIODEGRADABLE // Since our garbage company offers compost collection (most places in developed countries do this eg: US, Canada, UK) I have switched to buying only compostable paper plates. (Just so you know : soiled paper plates etc cannot be recycled. And not all soiled paper plates are compostable – the ones with the smooth shiny coating are not). I also bought a pack of compostable forks and they ended up lasting me more than a year (bonus: they look prettier as well). I keep a paper bag (most brown paper grocery bags are compostable) next to the trash to collect soiled paper plates afterwards. Its a good idea to put a little sign about what needs to go in there to make sure compostables don’t end up in trash.
3: SWITCH TO PAPER STRAWS OR GO STRAW-LESS // I’ve stopped using straws altogether but if you really need to, switch to paper straws instead of plastic for your parties. They look so much more nicer and they’re a lot better for the environment as well. I like to keep them out in a mason jar instead of directly in drinks till the last second since they dissolve if left too long in a liquid. (here’s one dye-free option)
4: SIMPLE IDEA TO LIMIT CUPS PER GUEST // The number of glasses that get used per person (because they keep getting mixed up) is crazy so keeping a sharpie next to your disposable cups so people can write down their names really helps (here’s a pretty way to do this). (Also here’s a pretty washi tape that works perfectly for the above idea).
5: RE-USE OR DIY PARTY DECOR // Try to limit purchasing one-time decor for gatherings (all of those themed party kits from party stores basically) and just re-use what you have or DIY something using supplies you have on hand. My current favorite way to decorate for parties is to reuse glass jars for flowers & tealight candles; using homemade banners (+ a few store bought ones that can be reused over and over again) ; string lights ; a fun message on a letter board ; lots of flowers + greens from outside etc for simple but meaningful party decor.
6: INVOLVE KIDS + TEACH THEM // As I help kids put their plates for composting, I also make it a point to tell them why it’s important to do that. Being mindful about our surroundings starts young and from our own homes!
7: SWITCH TO CLOTH TABLECLOTHS // Avoid purchasing plastic tablecloths and instead invest in a few plain colored table cloths (or better yet get a few pretty linen ones made from your tailor on your next Pakistan trip) because they’re so much prettier and sustainable (sharing the one I have & love below).
8: Lastly found this right now actually in doing my research that aluminium foil can be recycled in certain places in the US at least if you wash the food residues off. You can go here to see if that is done in your area.
The whole point is to become more mindful of this. Recently an auntie around us observed how much waste is created at the iftars at our local mosque and made the change of taking her own reusable plate, cup, utensils instead of contributing to more waste. I loved that idea and what it’s all about at the end of the day, playing our own little part.
Also sometimes it can feel/or we might believe it’s more expensive to shop for more sustainable options but in my experience it really isn’t. For example, the plates I buy are in fact cheaper than all other options & I buy them in bulk which makes it even better. Even when sometimes you might be spending a few bucks more, in the bigger picture you are probably saving so much more (by buying less decor for example, being more mindful, using what you have etc).
THE FAITH ASPECT OF BEING MORE MINDFUL
As Muslims I think we should be worried about this even more because a good Muslim is never extravagant or one who doesn’t care about his surroundings or the blessing of this planet that Allah has blessed us with. More motivation including verses + hadith here & here.
For more information : Why disposables are bad for the environment AND us + alternative options to try out. / More helpful tips here on throwing a waste free party / Leonardo Di Caprio’s Before the Flood /
If you have any tips/resources to share, especially for areas like Pakistan where composting or recycling is not an option, please do share them in comments!
I also try to share more about moving to a sustainable living on my Instagram stories in case you’d like to follow along there.