By Loretta Rowe, UUCF Climate Action Group

Every week of the Plastic Free Challenge, we like to highlight additional voices in the Plastic Free and Zero Waste movements. Today we hear from Loretta Rowe of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax’s Climate Action Group.

With the amazing wealth of information and inspiration in the Plastic Free posts to date, it is challenging to think about what suggestions I might add to the mix. My assignment is to discuss life after the pandemic—yes—there will be life after COVID—someday! What will it look like? What lessons will we have learned and applied, individually and collectively?

My hope is that we will all not only be adopting the many earth-friendly ideas from these blogs in our homes, but also be adhering to Plastic Free and Zero Waste practices in our organizational lives.

At Climate Action Group (CAG) pre-pandemic events at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF), we already had been striving to make our vegan luncheons and dinners for 50 or more attendees zero waste events. And when we return to these in-person group dining functions at UUCF, our offices, and other organizations, we hope to include some tweaks to make them even more sustainable. I am happy to share the following CAG zero waste strategies, and I must acknowledge that we have been inspired and encouraged by Ed Sabo and his zero waste efforts at neighboring St. John Neumann’s Catholic Church.

Food and Drinks

To start, using Sign Up Genius we were able to plan for the anticipated number of participants, reducing the likelihood of excess leftovers. All food was vegan and thus gentle on the planet. We supplied tap water served in pitchers and urns provided by the church, and we requested juices through Sign Up Genius. In the future, we plan to request that the drinks be purchased in glass bottles or cans, since we did receive plastic bottles (which we recycled) at our pre-pandemic events.

Table Decor

Cloth tablecloths supplied by the church and washed by our volunteers covered the tables and were decorated with reusable items, such as baskets of attractive winter squash or small plants for later planting. These were shared as thank you gifts with the volunteers who helped with setup and cleanup.

We used cloth napkins loaned to us by a member, but it would be a simple matter to purchase fabric and hem squares of material to make napkins if a supply were not readily available

Plates, Cups, Glasses, and Utensils

UUCF provided reusable plates, cups, glasses, and utensils, and volunteers recruited through Sign Up Genius stayed and hand-washed these after the events. When church supplies of glasses or bowls were insufficient, we used compostable plastic cups that we also hand-washed and saved for future events and compostable bowls that we later took to MOM’s Organic Market for composting. MOM’s has a compost bin where you can deposit commercially compostable items. These must be brought to the store in compostable bags or containers. They may not be deposited in plastic bags. Also, if your organization is regularly conducting large events using compostable plates and utensils which might overload MOM’s, it is possible to contract with local commercial composting companies, such as Veteran Compost or Compost Crew.

Food Scraps

A member brought small composting bins for collecting any food scraps to take home to compost, and on several occasions, a member brought a worm-composting container. Had home composting not been available, MOM’s would have accepted the scraps for their composting program.


In sharing information about the climate-related topics being discussed, instead of printing stacks of handouts, we mostly used cardboard trifold displays with informational flyers so that folks could take pictures.

Admittedly doing zero waste events requires lots of planning and elbow grease, but that is far more community building and earth friendly than oil-based plastic alternatives, which have been so convenient yet so devastating for the planet.

If you have other ideas for zero waste events, share them on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #PlasticFreeDMV