Zero Waste and the Jewish Home

Zero Waste and the Jewish Home | Chai & Home

Along with social justice, I think environmentalism is a critical part of tikkun olam and that is why this Tu B’Shevat I want to introduce you to Zero Waste.

Last year my employer hosted a talk for its employees on the Zero Waste Home. The speaker was Bea Johnson from the blog Zero Waste Home, who is credited with starting the Zero Waste Lifestyle with her successful book, blog, and speaking engagements. The gist of the Zero Waste Movement is to create as little waste as possible and waste means the stuff you can’t recycle or compost. The black bin garbage kind of waste. The stuff that gets taken into landfills.

This talk made quite an impression on me and has increased my awareness of the waste I have accepted into my life. That’s right…waste isn’t necessarily something you create, it is something you allow into your life.  Primarily, waste is generated by packaging. I highly invite you to explore Bea’s site where she has tons of tips, but I will summarize the key points and expand on the challenges for the Jewish Home. First is understanding Bea’s 5 Rs which are essential to eliminating waste:

Refuse what you do not need

Reduce what you do need

Reuse what you consume

Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse

Rot (Compost) the rest.

…in this order!

The most important R is Refuse and if you can start refusing more, you are pretty much 80% there. Because packaging is the main culprit to waste, this involves refusing to buy products which are packaged. So that means buying in bulk and transporting and storing in your own shissels. But it also means refusing the waste that is passively coming into your home, like junk mail and unwanted gifts. Here are the critical areas to Jewish Life that can be looked at through a Zero Waste lens:

Real cups and napkins for the Zero Waste lifestyle


When having a party for one of the many chags on the Jewish calendar, it is tempting to break out the plastic plates, cups, and cutlery but this is a huge waste generator that isn’t that much more convenient than using permanent items. Even if you think you will recycle the plastic, you know what happens…guests toss away things themselves and items are so soiled and disgusting you are hardly likely to dig it out of the trash and clean it in order to recycle it.

What I do is host all parties with regular glassware, cloth napkins, and dinnerware. It might mean a few more cycles of the dishwasher and doing more handwashing, but it saves at least a black bin of garbage, or maybe even two depending on the size of the party. My husband and I have party clean-up down to a science now. Even after 15 or more guests, we can typically turn the house back around to normal in an hour. And the real stuff makes your party look much, much nicer too.

The foil on Hanukkah gelt is reyclable!


Purim and Hanukkah are the hardest on the Jewish calendar in terms of waste generation. This Purim my mishloach manot will be entirely recyclable or compostable and I’m excited to share that with you later on. Some people avoid physical mishloach manot and do donations instead although whether that adheres to halalcha is debated.

Gift packaging and wrapping are big culprits at Hanukkah so reducing a gifting tradition can be the most effective solution to reducing waste.  At the very least, making sure wrapping and packaging, including ribbons and bows, are recyclable or compostable is also forward progress.  Fortunately, the tin foil in Hanukkah gelt IS recyclable!

Zero Waste for the Jewish Home | Chai & Home


30% of all waste in the U.S. is generated by food packaging. Bea stresses that the best way to eliminate this type of waste is buying in bulk and transporting and storing your food in reusable containers and bags. For example, buying bread from a baker and putting it in a cloth bag, getting the butcher to put your meat directly in a glass jar, etc.  Bea goes into a lot of detail on the containers that work for her. Fortunately for the Jewish home, many kosher markets don’t package their vegetables in styrofoam and plastic like many of the main street supermarkets. As for bulk foods (cereals, grains, etc.) you just have to search around for your best source. The kosher markets near me don’t have much in bulk but supermarkets do. The good news is that the labels on the bulk containers will explicitly state the kosher certification, even in a major supermarket.

Flowers without packaging for a zero waste gift


If you are doing the gift giving, consider consumable gifts with little packaging. Many of my recommended Kosher Hostess Gifts for the Jewish Home can be procured with minimal or only recyclable packaging. You can also choose to decline bringing a gift and instead informing your hostess about your new found interest in Zero Waste. It’s not like anyone hosts a party in order to get a gift, so it won’t be missed. If you are on the receiving end, Bea recommends informing all guests about your Zero Waste policy. I am certainly going to be trying this more often as my request to “not bring anything” is usually ignored by guests. I think they just think I’m being modest or something.

I know since becoming aware of zero waste I’ve had to take a hard look at the way my family lives and how I produce and package Chai & Home products. Although I certainly have a long way to go, awareness has certainly helped. I hope you go to Bea’s site, The Zero Waste Home and especially the Tips section to learn more about waste and consider how you can Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot for Tu B’Shevat and beyond.



Green house, cups, bread, and flowers photos from Unsplash; Die gelt cropped from the original by John Lodder (CC BY 2.0)


  • I love Bea’s blog and book! I try to be as zero waste as possible, though I’m no where near her level.
    I actually find that Passover is the hardest holiday for zero waste, largely because so many of the foods come plastic wrapped around the boxes (like matzah).
    Years ago, when I was little, my mom made large gift bags out of Chanukah fabric. I think it was because the Legos my sister and I got that year were a pain to wrap otherwise. But our family has used those gift bags over and over, and made many more! It’s a fun way to keep the gifts looking festive while eliminating the single-use wrapping paper.

    • That’s a great idea for Chanukah gifts. So true about matzah. Perhaps this year we should try and make our own?

  • How does one balance using so much water to wash a weekend’s worth of Shabbat dishes for 20 vs. using paper products that require no water to dispose of them? In a drought culture, like California, isn’t simple paper the better choice than water usage? I wish there was a way to figure which is the most ecologically sound approach to dinner dishes (and pots and pans) for 20.

    • It is a great question and I looked into it a little this morning. In our area, LADWP recycles much of water we use. I can’t find what percentage is recycled but I read it is the sanitation dept’s #1 goal to recycle as much as possible. Recycled water is then used for industrial, ag, and landscaping purposes as well as a portion being put back into the drinking water supply. The US and Israel lead the way in recycled water programs. That doesn’t mean we can let it flow freely from the tap, but if you don’t have a washing machine, filling the sink and then washing reduces the amount of water used. I suppose the question is which method, using water or using the black bin can be reused? None of the black bin is reused. If you are devoted to using paper then perhaps composting is a better solution. I don’t believe our green bin allows soiled paper, unfortunately.

      • I did not know any of this. Thank you! Actually, we were told that our dishwasher uses less water than hand washing with the water running. Bye bye paper~~unless we run out of dishes on Friday night. The black bin goes straight to landfill.

  • I think this is a perfect idea for Tu B’Shevat. It seems like this is another way to give a gift to the trees for their birthdays. It’s hard to remember to be so conscious all the time.

    • It is hard to be so conscious all of the time…at first. But like all change, whether it’s dieting or observing Jewish traditions, it gets easier and easier the more you do it.

  • Hello!

    Im trying to plan for a Zero Waste Passover. Do you know of any boxed Matzoh that DOESN’T have additional plastic wrapping on the inside? I swear I found some recently, but I don’t remember the brand. If you do find out, please let me know! I dont know if i have the time/strength to make it from scratch.

    Thank you!

    • Kudos to you on the Zero Waste Passover goal! I do vaguely remember a box without plastic too but it was some time ago so I don’t remember the brand…but wasn’t it a yellow and red colored box? Another option is to buy at a local bakery or even buy online with a vendor that only uses paper. says they wrap their matzah in paper. Of course, I recommend always inquiring about ALL the packaging.

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