Community Dishes (to Borrow and Bring Back)

Community Dishes (to Borrow and Bring Back)

I love it when a plan comes together. This one has taken rather longer than I intended, but finally, it is ready to go. Which means, I can tell you all about it. Introducing the Community Dishes, a set of reusable crockery, cutlery and glassware to borrow and bring back, free of charge.

Why? Because…

It means less waste. Less plastic wrap, less plastic utensils, less single-use disposables, less stuff in the garbage and less litter.

It means less stuff. Less people nipping off to the Swedish furniture store to purchase a huge set of glassware / plates for a one-off event that then languish in the sideboard for years until they are horribly out of fashion and can’t be given away.

It means growing community. Helping people connect with their neighbours, share what they have and consider re-use before purchasing new.

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the project, and how it works.

The Community Dishes Project – Who, What and Why

Have you ever been to an event where the cutlery was plastic, the plates were disposable and the coffee cups were non-recyclable takeaway cups? Me too. Yes, it is frustrating. Yes, I wish they used reusables too.

The Community Dishes project aims to make this easier for event organizers and hosts to choose the reusable option.

There are plenty of reasons why people choose disposables. Sure, laziness might be true in some cases and lack of knowledge around the plastics issue might be true in others, but I believe most people want to do the right thing. Sometimes, the limiting factors are time and money.

Solutions need to be convenient.

Borrowing large numbers of items is tricky. Most people don’t own party-sized amounts of crockery and cutlery, and borrowing a handful here and a handful there is a logistical (and time-consuming) nightmare.

Hiring is an option but small organizations and community groups can be priced out of this.

I wanted to find a solution, and the Community Dishes project is exactly that. A kit of crockery, cutlery and glassware that can be borrowed for free.

Disposables are viewed as cheap and convenient, so for a solution to be workable it needs to be cheap and convenient too. The Community Dishes kit is free to borrow. Yes, it does need to be washed up and returned clean, but the goal is to make everything else (the borrowing, using and returning) as convenient as possible.

There’s 50 each of cutlery, side plates, bowls, mugs, water glasses and large drinking jars. (There are no wine glasses as wine and liquor stores often provide free glass borrowing services.) The kit is packed into boxes similar to those used by hire companies for ease of transport and storage.

The crockery, cutlery and glassware is catering standard, white, and matching. Catering quality is slightly more expensive upfront, but less prone to chip, crack or break – and doesn’t change style or colour with the seasons as high street homewares brands do.

Whilst it might have been lower waste to fossick through charity shops, experience has shown me that caterers and coffee vans prefer to use standard vessels whose volume they know, and finding matching sets would be a struggle. Also, I wanted it to be as easy as possible for breakages to be replaced with matching stuff.

The funds to establish the kit were provided thanks to a Keep Australia Beautiful (WA), Community Litter Grant.

Community Dishes – How Will It Work?

In theory, anyone can borrow the Community Dishes kit. In practice, because it relies on trust and goodwill to ensure the items are returned (and clean), it needs to stay local and with a community focus. To begin, the word is being spread via the local Buy Nothing Groups, and also the various Perth Transition Town Network groups.

The administration of the kit is run by volunteers (me).

The plan is to record all the borrowing, and count the number of items reused and disposables avoided. In this way, we can measure the impact.

The plan is also to learn from the wins and successes and mistakes of this project, and use this knowledge to create a simple project template, so other people might be able to replicate the idea in their own communities.

It’s hard to talk too much about how it will play out as it’s early days, but by Christmas day 490 items will have been used and reused. That’s potentially 490 pieces of single-use and disposable packaging refused. By this time next year, the numbers should be well into their thousands.

I’ve put together a simple website (which I published yesterday) with some more info about how the kit works and what the project hopes to achieve. You can find out more at communitydishes.org.

There’s still some fine tuning to do, in particular with signage, record keeping, and logistics. The important thing though, is that the dishes are out there, being borrowed and reducing single-use disposables and litter.

I’m excited about the potential, and look forward to sharing more as the project finds its feet. I’d love to see other projects like this one spring up, and hope that the lessons I learn will help others.

Less waste, less stuff, and growing community.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything else you’d like to know about the project? Do you have your own experience with similar projects? Would you use something like this, if it was available? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Community Dishes to Borrow and Bring Back - a Less Waste Less Stuff initiative from Treading My Own Path / Less Waste and Less Stuff / Plastic-Free and Zero Waste - a Buy Nothing Project, sharing economy, eco friendly ideas, green living, sustainable living, library of things, eco minimalism, zero waste living, zero waste events, zero waste party, reducing plastic at events. More at https://treadingmyownpath.com

60 Responses to Community Dishes (to Borrow and Bring Back)

  1. I’d love to hear how it goes and to find out how much work is involved to run it (and how many problems you come up against). This is something I’d love to see happen in my area but would be keen to see how it goes first.
    Well done and thanks for documenting it all.

  2. Well done, a great simple idea that will hopefully filter its way into everyone’s hearts and minds. I’m in the UK in a small village which is having a new village hall built. This would be the perfect starting and storing point for community crockery. #communityspirit

  3. I will be sure to tell my best friend who has regular dinner parties for 30+ people and always uses disposable dishes. I have been considering declining lately because it does my head in!

  4. I eat at soup kitchens/charity meals a lot with the homeless, unfortunately these do’s are one of the worst offenders for single use plastic, waste & litter. I purchased a small thermos for soup, bring my own bag & bamboo cutlery & picked up a plastic plate, bowl & mug s/h (need to be light for public transport & walking) & plan which ones I go to from past experience…I am often complimented by surprised/impressed volunteers & slowly a few friends who eat there w/me are catching on…

  5. I live in an area where people tend not to be environmentally conscious. Do you have any posts or can you provide me with information about the “Buy Nothing” groups you mentioned in this post?

  6. Misty, buy nothing groups originated in the USA I think and are usually run via Facebook and limited to two suburbs in every group to make it local Run by volunteers,, ours in area SOR (Perth) is great

  7. I love the idea of Community Dishes!! I have been wishing for such a project in my own city (Vancouver, Canada). I would be more than happy to volunteer and support such a project in my community. Thank you for getting this started and posting the website with all the details!

  8. I love this!

    When we had Grandma’s funeral, the church hall didn’t have wine glasses – so I was able to borrow from my church and take to her church. It was great to be able to borrow these, a community resource. My church is able to feed 120 with ceramic dishes, including glasses and jugs. It’s quite a fabulous resource!

  9. Fantastic initiative! At our family Christmas dinner this year we are all literally “bringing a plate”. For those of you outside Australia “bringing a plate” usually means bringing a dish of food to share (like a pot luck?) but this year we will be also bringing cutlery and crockery each. Our solution to the challenge.

  10. This is great!

    I’ve thought about the same thing but with crock pots and foldable tables/chairs. Typical party stuff.

    I’m so glad to hear this has worked for you. Knowing it works for you means it can work for others!

  11. Hi Lindsay,
    Great initiative! Would love to replicate this here in Sydney. My biggest question is: where are the dishes stored while not in use?
    Cheers, Ruth

  12. Hi Lindsay
    I love the idea and I go picnicking with a group of 50 people often. And have been looking at getting something like this for the group to use and share, so yuol you will be hearing from me shortly .

    I’ve foldable tables and chairs tables clothes that are circulating in our own buy nothing group Carlisle. And so far so good.

    All The best

  13. Fantastic! How much time has it taken you so far to set this up? How much time will it take to run? How much money did the set cost to buy? I’m going to approach a local organisation to create a local version. Would love a bit more detail before then :)

    • Hi Debbie! All great questions, and ones I will get to eventually. I want to wait until it’s up and running properly and I can answer all the questions, including – how much time does it take to admin! A second follow-up post will come, I promise!

  14. This is briliant! I had been given a set of reusable plastic cups by somebody before Christmas and was contemplating a similar thing! I am delighted to see it has been successful! :0)

  15. Did you purchase the reusable crockery/cups/cutlery from anywhere in particular? I’ve looked to get this same things going in my municipality, and might still do so. It is on my wish list!! I would love your choice of stockist – feel free to email me if convenient.

    • Hi Lisa! I purchased them from a supplier that stocks catering standard items. Which means replacements don’t have to be purchased from there (they are standard sizes!). They also have a retail store in the centre of Perth, so it is easy for people to purchase replacements for breakages. It was slightly more than the blue and yellow furniture stoe but I think will last longer :)

  16. Awesome work!!! Love this :) I was recently the crazy person who at a party got a bucket and washed all the disposable plastics so I could at least recycle!

  17. Hi Linsdsay, I missed this post in December. We run a wash up trailer funded initially by Keep Australia Beautiful which we take to local events. This is certainly one to consider.

  18. My heart skipped a beat when I read the post, such a wonderful idea!!! I cannot understand why single use? That would certainly not pass here in Romania. A wedding, an engagement or any festive meal with plastic plates and cutlery? No way! We use the best china. Last year at my son’s graduation meal we were allowed to use the church hall and the plates, cutlery, glasses etc., which were very -very simple, but we dressed the tables with local and seasonal flower arrangements done by our friends, it looked really great. Most churches over here have enough dishes for a get-together. Sadly, plastic is creeping in. We should keep it OUT! Great idea, I hope it will inspire many.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Margit! And I totally agree with you – why would anyone want to use single-use plastic to celebrate? A few people have talked about churches lending out their plates cutlery etc – it is great to hear. We should be sharing more things!

  19. I am amazed with all your ideas and initiatives, whet another great idea. I have a look at your new website now, maybe I find ways to implement something like this in our country towns too :)

  20. I just been on the communitydishes.org website, well done Lindsay :)
    I noticed the 2 broken items and had a thought, what about the people who borrow the items would make a donation for somewhere the amount they save on buying disposables, that way there would be funding to replace broken dishes or lost cutlery.

    • Hi Monika and thank you! It i actually only one broken item – a bowl – and actually it is a tiny chip, so the bowl is still usable but might be rejected for certain types of events. The deal is that if someone breaks an item they either buy a physical replacement or pay a fee. In this case the person who chipped the bowl purchased two new ones! So I now have 51 bowls, plus the chipped one as a backup!

  21. Is there anything like this in the States? Seems other countries are a lot further along in their journey…

  22. Hi Lindsay,

    Do you have an idea of how much it cost to get this initiative going, buying all the flatware? Have you had any breakage? Did the grant money cover the website as well?

    What a great scheme, so happy to see all you’re doing in your community!

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