Church activities and environmental sustainability

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Last night, I went to a musical fireside. There were several musical numbers and a few spoken testimonies. It was pretty good. Two young women performed a duet of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. They did a great job.

Afterwards, refreshments were available in the gym. While they were pretty tasty, it did produce a lot of waste. All the dishes were polystyrene foam, and the styrofoam cups contained only water.

It got me thinking. I was contemplating several of the church activities I attended in the last few months and realized it was the same at all of them: polystyrene foam dishes.

So I have been wondering what sort of options are available to try making church activities more environmentally sustainable.

1. Use dishes from the kitchen

Pros: No non-food waste
Cons: Requires more cleanup. Uses more water and natural gas (hot water) than disposable dishes

2. Use paper dishes

Pros: Less cleanup. Decomposes faster than polystyrene.
Cons: Still contributes to landfill use.

3. User paper napkins for dessert-only refreshments

Pros: Less cleanup. Decomposes faster than polystyrene and paper dishes. Less distribution and storage costs.
Cons: Still contributes to landfill use.

Any other thoughts?

22 thoughts on “Church activities and environmental sustainability

  1. How about we quit having refreshments. Everyone will stay much thinner and much less waste of resources and time.
    Problem solved!

    The truth is I’ve found in many many years as a activities committee chair is that people want lovely activities and of course, food – but it’s always the same few people that do the cleaning up. Personally, I wouldn’t want to ask people to wash dishes for simple refreshments after an activity.

    Perhaps another solution would be to install dishwashers in our kitchens – then dishes would be cleaner and easier to clean.

  2. I’ve got to agree … skipping the refreshments is a good option.

    I have to admit though, I often make donuts for our deacons quorum presidency meetings. If I bring them in a rubbermaid container there’s no real waste associated with dishes/trash since the deacons wouldn’t get as far as using plates or napkins even if I brought them. :^)

  3. Amen to Pat, Dawn, Kim.

    It wouldn’t hurt to skip refreshments from time to time.

    Although I’m all for sustainability (hence my moniker) I am still very much in favor of disposable sacrement cups.

  4. If refreshments are a MUST< cut up fruits and vegetables, healthier, and use cloth napkins that can be thrown in with the wash.

  5. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go to McDonald’s (afterwards, or instead of? Where’s rick when we need him?)?

    Quitting having refreshments will never happen–or at least only over a bunch of dead bodies.

    Plastic sacrament cups make a lot of noise and plug up the bottoms of the trays–besides the disposal issues.

  6. Oh yikes. Don’t even GET me started on McDonald’s…oi, we never go there personally (don’t do fast food though once in a blue moon the children get Dairy Queen from primary teachers). But McDonald’s ahhhhhhhh!!!!

  7. The high costs of most sustainable solutions are generally the reason why individuals opt out of installation, but with the capital the church enjoys there is no reason to NOT install a couple PV panels and a solar hot water heater in every building.

    Those two options would reduce the footprint and would allow for a dishwasher and normal dishes to be used.

    I too am surprised that given the amount of exposure the average person has to the harmful effects of styro and poly foam items, that they continue to use them at all.

    Dan, I’m sorry but you lost me on the McD’s reference.

    On a completely unrelated note, would attendance suffer if the treats were not there at the end of the activity? I’m going to say probably… but that’s only in my experience with the few activities to which I’ve been present.

  8. Washable dishes are a great option, but I have only seen them used at fancy-dinner ward activities. And paper is definitely better than polystyrene, especially if there are recycling bins at each meetinghouse. Has anyone seen recycling bins at their meetinghouse? I have not come across any yet. Another option is biodegradable plates and bowls, like EarthShell ( that are available at Target – made of starch and limestone. They were even invented by a member of the Church. (

  9. Doctrinally, I don’t think that as a church we even need to worry about environmentally friendly activities since we believe that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

  10. JM- I totally disagree with you. And near as I can tell, the Church disagrees with you also. Check out this press releasefrom the newsroom at The audio clips make it pretty clear that the Church, and the Doctrine support environmentally friendly activities. Need more convincing? Check out my blog, or Green Mormon Architects blog.

  11. Re: #10

    There was a recycling box in the first chapel we attended after we married. Someone emptied it of his own accord.

  12. :-)

    Peraonally, I’d like to see the rooftops of our chapels covered with solar panels. Start feeding the grid and lower those electricity bills!

  13. 16 JM,

    I completely agree. In my “spare” time I’ve been working on a concept design for a sustainable chapel which would act as a ‘living building’ – generating all its own energy with renewable resources, capturing and treating all its water, as well as being efficient and beautiful. If you have any suggestions, especially as it would apply in an LDS context, I would love to hear them.

  14. I think there’s a reason why the church doesn’t install dishwashers. I thought it had to do with the temperature of the water (having to be super hot) or having commercial kitchen status…or something along those lines. They redid our stake centre kitchen a while back and considered a dishwasher but had to opt out for some reason. Perhaps it’s because they just wanted people to do their own dishes……I hate the waste of disposable plates but I also hate always having to be the person to clean up. Perhaps people need to bring their own plates and then take them home with them to clean….ha, as if that would ever happen!

    I like the idea of refreshments after an activity because people seem to linger a little longer and socialize. Our ward actually has activities called “linger longer” where we serve light refreshments after church simply to get people to socialize more!! So often we come and go all too quickly.

    Okay, back to lurking…….

  15. Lisa wrote:
    Perhaps people need to bring their own plates and then take them home with them to clean….ha, as if that would ever happen!

    Well, my wife ran a dinner for the families of her cub scout den during February. Since the cub scouts needed to help prepare a dinner for their families and help wash the dishes for their family to fulfill some requirements, my wife made the dinner a potlach and asked them to bring their own plates, glasses, and flatware then take it home so the cub scouts could help wash them.

    (How many of the cubs actually washed the dishes is a topic I’m not willing to pry into.)

  16. I would love to see churches built with more windows, like the old-fashioned ones were. If you could have more natural sunlight, you might not even have to use any electric lighting on some days.

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