Family reunions. A dish best served with a case of beer, a bottle of wine, and a glass of kookamunga juice - at least that’s how we do it on the Tessier side. Each year at Oakledge Park in Burlington, Vermont my mom’s side of the family reunites for the annual Tessier Reunion - a gathering that has never once been missing laughter, my mom’s ear-piercing whistle to quiet the crowd, or alcohol. However, this year we offered the suggestion of getting a different type of wasted. Zero-wasted.
The idea to take an environmentally conscious spin on our annual celebration occurred to me while studying abroad in Rome, Italy this past summer. I was shocked to see how much waste covered the city on almost any given day. It littered the floors of market places, piled high on street corners, was scattered around famous fountains after breaking through plastic bag holders, and even decorated Via Germanico, the street I lived on where a one ton dumpster stayed flipped over - all seemingly invisible to most of the tourists and city dwellers who walked by. Yet, this was our doing. I watched countless times as people pushed Forno pizza slice wrappers into trash bags that were well over capacity. My most prominent recollection of these waves of waste being after Thursday and Friday nights when the streets of Trestevere were covered in plastic cups and straws from the night before - melting into cracks of the cobblestone heated by the morning sun. Not only recycles, but perfectly good food too - including fresh fruits and vegetables, were carelessly discarded. It turned out to be the perfect setting to study food waste. Similar to oil seeping into the ocean from a nearby spill, it was as if no path was safe from the mindless appetites and garbage producing habits of tourists and natives alike.
However, outside of my food waste course, food scraps and perfectly edible produce became only part of my focus in Rome. Anything that was tossed or dropped on the ground only to make its way to a landfill caught my eye. My overarching thought was that when large groups of people come together, they produced more waste, faster. On my own, I’ve found it easier to watch what I wasted. This is heavily influenced by educating myself on what happens when landfills are packed and covered, in addition to the fact that I am able to afford more sustainable practices, and I genuinely care about the future of our planet. I look into seeing what I don’t need to buy in the first place, buy in bulk, and I am interested in using Terracycle for my small pile of non-compostable or non-recyclable waste. However, when large amount of people come together, things get chaotic and waste gets out of hand. It was for this reason that I messaged Rebecca in the middle of my studies abroad to pitch the idea of the first ever 2017 Tessier Family Zero Waste reunion. I no longer felt that it was enough to just think about this issue on an individual level.
With that being said, here is how Rebecca and I did our best to guide our family towards the first ever zero waste reunion. We hope that these ideas and tips/tricks will help anyone who is looking to have a zero-waste event and inspire those who might not have thought about it but are now interested!
Plates - For plates, we had the idea of bringing about 20 of various sizes from our home in NY up to Vermont. We also used many from my apartment in Burlington. These were ceramic and reusable plastic. Just in case we bought 2 packages of compostable plates from Healthy Living Market & Cafe, which ended up being used.
Cups - All compostable and bought from Healthy Living Market & Cafe.
Forks, knives, spoons, serving utensils, etc. - All silverware was brought by myself from my apartment in Burlington, while several other family members brought tongs, grilling spatulas, and ladles.
Napkins and rags (for spills/to act in place of paper towels) - Most of the cloths were brought from home, other family members brought some as well, and we picked up a few extra at the Goodwill nearby.
Waste bags - We bought compostable garbage bags from Healthy Living Market & Cafe and Oakledge Park provided recycle bags.
*We encouraged family members to bring all of their own of the above materials but because several members fly in from places as far as Missouri and Kentucky, we made sure we had brought one for everyone just in case*
*We set up a wash station, with soap, a sponge, and a drying towel, just incase people did bring their own materials and wanted to bring them home clean*
*Yes, completely unideal that we we’re the ones who ended up purchasing the meat. Unfortunately, our family has yet to adopt a vegan lifestyle. There were also over 35 people in attendance which meant that the odds of letting people purchase their own meat would probably have resulted in not only styrofoam and plastic waste, but over purchasing and food waste as well. Be on the lookout for an article on having conflicting values soon because trust me - we have a lot to talk about in that area as well.*
Breads/rolls - All purchased from Great Harvest Bread Co. in Burlington, VT - they were incredibly helpful at making sure that the breads were put in a brown bag and that no plastic was involved.
Homemade dishes - We brought home made vegan chili and vegan bean salad in glass dishes with tin foil wrap. Others brought their favorite dishes in similar packing.
Drinks - We encouraged everyone to bring drinks in recyclable containers such as cans and bottles. This was one of the problem areas we discovered while at the reunion and have notes below on what to do differently next year.
Recyclable/compostable goods and packaging - Bins were set up on either sides of the outside pavilion where the reunion was held for recycle and compost. We also made signs that directed family members to sort their materials (whether it be food scraps or cans) to their correct homes.
The message - “We have been confronted with the fact that our actions must reflect our desire for future celebrations. Oakledge Park has been the home of the Tessie Reunion for 11 years. We can all come together to celebrate sustainable and continue to make the reunion a lasting celebration for years to come.”
Tricked out “I Got Zero Wasted at the 2017 Tessier Family Reunion” buttons (as pictured above)
*The rental for the pavilion as well as all the goods that we purchased from Bessery’s Quality Market, City Market Onion River Co-Op, Great Harvest Bread Co, and Healthy Living Market, ended up being about $15 a person*
Notes for the 2018 Tessier Zero Waste Reunion:
People not knowing to not bring things like plates, silverware, and hamburger/hotdogs and buns - make sure EVERYONE is called at least 3 days before the reunion
Small pieces of plastic from compostable plates and cups, bottle caps, etc. were not z-waste
People genuinely not knowing where things go…we need more obvious signs than the 3 that we had printed
Glass plates were heavy...compostable plates and cups worked better or using plastic ones that people already have
Make sure people know what wrappings that they use for their homemade foods are recyclable and what are not. (Tin foil = yes, plastic wrap = no)
What I really hope writing this article does is show how important individual efforts and ideas are. When I follow through with what feels right, it seldom goes unrewarded. Aside from myself feeling good about this reunion being the first ever zero waste reunion, it brings me happiness to know that my actions have impacted not only the future of the planet, but the lives of the people I love. Below is a paragraph from en email one of my family members sent out a couple of days after the reunion...♥