Dishing about a Squamish project

Local woman launches event-supply free service from her home

Squamish mom Sarah Drechsler can most often be found out and about on trails, Whistler ski hills or in her Garibaldi Highlands garden with her two children and husband, Richard. The geologist turned stay at home mom is also known locally for her posts on Squamish online forums about her side-gig — The Squamish Dish Project, which loans out items for events.

The project aims to help make private and corporate events more environmentally friendly by supplying reusable dishes as a free and easy alternative to disposable dishes. 

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The Chief caught up with Drechsler to find out more about this interesting Squamish resident and her innovative project.

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Q: Tell me a bit about your history in Squamish. How long have you lived here?

A:  We moved to Squamish in 2011. I grew up in North Vancouver and my husband grew up in a small town in the Interior.  After university, we were living in lower Lonsdale and working downtown, but we both found that the city wasn't our ideal place  — too busy, loud and fast-paced.  We chose Squamish because it allowed us to continue at our same jobs and to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.  It also brought us closer to the mountains, which is where we spend a lot of time.

Q: Tell me a bit about your family/life?

A: My husband and I have two children — Nate is six years old and Ellie is four.  We also have a dog and a cat.  We're an active, outdoorsy family and all have a huge appreciation for nature. 

Q: What made you want to start this dish project?

A: Organizing large birthday parties for my kids and attending parties for other children these past few years has opened my eyes to the incredible amount of waste generated by gatherings like these.  For my daughter's birthday this May, I almost succeeded in putting together enough dishes so that we didn't need to use anything disposable.  I raided our camping gear for extra plates and utensils and we used mason jars  — I have many from canning — for cups.  This experience made me realize that there must be other people out there who dislike the wastefulness of hosting events, but that it's unrealistic for an individual or family to have enough dishes on hand to serve a large number of people.

In mid-June, I put the idea of a free dish lending service out to the Squamish Moms Facebook page and asked if people would be likely to use it.  The answer was a resounding yes.  Within a week, the Squamish Dish Project was up and running.  I purchased as many dishes as possible from Squamish thrift stores, received several donations of dishes and cutlery from locals and purchased some new dishes to fill in the gaps of what I couldn't find second hand. 

My primary goal for this project is to help protect the environment by simply reducing unnecessary waste that ends up in our landfill.  What people often forget, myself included, is that even compostable paper plates take an immense amount of resources to produce.  So the environmental impact of disposable dishes is not limited to them ending up at a landfill, but also includes the process of making and distributing them. 

I hope that this project helps, even in a small way, to generate a shift in thinking about how we, as individuals and as a community, can increase sustainability and have a positive impact on our amazing natural surroundings.  A little creativity and effort can go a long way to reducing our environmental impact — whether it’s borrowing dishes, creating a tool library, biking or carpooling to work, changing how we buy clothing, sourcing food locally, etc. 

It is also an educational tool for my young kids, to show them a way of life that is sustainable — don't get me wrong, we're taking baby steps as they still want to buy every plastic toy they see. But fundamentally, they are beginning to understand that the level of consumerism in our culture isn't healthy for our planet.  I always let them know when we have more dish requests and ask them to help me sort the dishes.  The project has been a great conversation starter with them about the importance of respecting the Earth and ways that we can help minimize our impact on it. 

Q: How does it work?

A: So far I have been relying on The Squamish Dish Project Facebook page and word of mouth to advertise.  I just created an email address for people who aren't on Facebook (squamishdishproject@gmail.com) and am planning to make business cards that can be distributed at events where the dishes are used.

The process for borrowing dishes is simple:

1. Send a message through The Squamish Dish Project Facebook page or by email with your event date and what type/number of dishes you would like and I will follow up with you.

2. Pick up the dish box in Garibaldi Highlands a day prior to your event.

3. Host your waste-free event.

4. Return the dishes clean and dry within two days of your event.

A full list of the dishes available for borrowing is provided on the Facebook page.  I have a set of 20 ceramic dinner and side plates, mugs, mason jars (for glasses) and metal cutlery for events like dinner parties, baby showers, adult birthdays, small weddings and corporate gatherings.  The "kid collection" has been popular for birthday parties and barbecues because it includes only reusable, non-breakable plastic plates, bowls, cups and cutlery.    

Q: What has the feedback been like so far?

A: The dishes have been borrowed every weekend since the project's inception, for anywhere from one to four events per weekend.  There has been less demand during the week.  I initially tried to track how many dishes have been saved from the landfill, but quickly realized that the numbers were adding up quickly and that tracking them was causing more work than I had time for.  I decided to be happy knowing that the service has a high demand.

Q: What do you hope happens from here with the project?

A: I hope that the project continues to expand.  I currently have four large containers of dishes stored in our home.  I can probably double that number before storage and time spent replying to messages and organizing dishes becomes an issue.  If demand increases substantially, I will have to figure out a way to incorporate more volunteers or seek involvement from the District or an environmental organization. 

I hope that no matter what happens with the project in future that it continues to be free.  A free service is far more likely to attract clients and to be used repeatedly.

Q: How can people get involved?

A: The best way for people to get involved is to use the service and to help spread the word. 

Donations of suitable dishes and large Tupperware-type containers are happily accepted and any monetary donations will be used to expand the collection.

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