Greening Your Family Reunion

Every year, over forty members of my extended family–ages negative one month to 94 years–meet up at Lake Tahoe for a week of swimming, kayaking, hiking, and eating.  Little Audrey had a wonderful time splashing in the lake and digging in the sand with her cousins, and everyone enjoyed catching up over mounds of appetizers, cold drinks, and gigantic home-cooked dinners and breakfasts.  

One of the problems with cooking for such a large crowd is all the clean-up afterwards, and my green sensibilities were shocked upon witnessing bag after bag of bottles, cups, and paper plates pile up after each group dinner and breakfast.  That got me thinking: How could we “green” our family reunion?

Our reunion wasn’t a complete environmental disaster–we practiced many eco-conscious activities.  First, we crammed ourselves in large houses outfitted with kitchens.  Unlike hotels, we didn’t have housekeeping service, so we reused towels and sheets for the week.  We were also able to prepare all of our meals in the houses.  Best of all, most of my family members live close to Tahoe, so we saved on some carbon emissions traveling to our destination.  (I personally cannot take credit for this, as we drove each way from Portland.)

So how could our family reunion go even greener next year?  Here are some ideas:

Cut down on disposable products.  We used as many real dishes as we could, but we supplemented with paper plates and plastic cups.  With so many people and so few real plates, I am not sure paper products could be avoided entirely, but we could stand to cut down.   This year, we got lazy about labeling our disposable cups.  I myself am guilty of using more than one disposable cup a day because I kept losing track.  I hope no one took a picture of me committing this extremely non-green act!  Next year, I am going to vow to use just ONE cup all week.  And I’ll bring a pen for labeling.

Use recycled paper products.  In the future, we could make an effort to phase out any bleached paper plates made from virgin forests or colorful plastic plates and start using recycled paper products.  A quick trip to a main-stream grocery store revealed that Chinet’s plates are “made from recycled materials.”  Other plates were not labeled.  Here are some plates made with sugarcane fibers–they’re biodegradable!

Recycle.  I was surprised that there was no recycling program set up at our gathering place–this was northern California, after all.  About halfway through our reunion, we started sorting our bottles and cans from the rest of the trash so my dad could take them home to be recycled.  Next year, I will set up a recycling system right from the start.  My sister suggested bringing some cardboard boxes, labeling them, and setting them next to the trash bags from day one.  I am also going to write the rental company and ask why they do not provide recycling.

Surely I am overlooking many other excellent ways to conserve resources while entertaining large groups.  Please post a comment to help me green next year’s reunion!  I’m already looking forward to stuffing myself on food served on recycled paper plates and quenching my thirst with Pims punch sipped from my well-labeled cup.  


  1. That’s a great idea. We had an Olympic party last Friday and I used kiddie cups that I collected whenever we ate out at the restaurant. It’s the plastic cup for the kid meal. I used that instead of the plastic cup.. Guess it shows how much we had been eating out (I swear that we have cut that down considerably). But it helps with the waste and after the party I just wash it and save it for the next party. Also to help remember whose cup is whose I use put the tape on and write down the name.

  2. A pen to label cups is a good idea, but stickers might be more fun! I wonder if you can find a sheet of stickers with enough variety for 40 people.

    I don’t know how “green” your extended family is, but it would be pretty eco-friendly for everyone to bring their own set of silverware (or just keep track of the one set they use all weekend). I have a set of hiking utensils on a ring that has my initials engraved on them. I imagine everyone licking their fork clean and sticking it in their back pocket for next time.

  3. Mimi, your comment just inspired me. We could bring BLANK stickers, then everyone could label a cup. My family members could be traditional and just write their name on it, or go crazy and draw a little picture. Pride in their artwork would ensure that no one would lose a cup throughout the week.

    As for the silverware, we usually have enough to go around and rewash for the next meal. I am going to have to talk to the dishwashers about licking everything clean rather than sticking it in an energy-guzzling appliance. . . . I think they’ll go for it.

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