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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!