Re-Greening Sukkot

hanging gourd

(Cross-posted at Mixed Multitudes)

I love sukkot, but one of the things that has always frustrated me about my favorite holiday is how wasteful and totally un-green it usually is.  Here’s a holiday where we’re commanded to live outside, to experience the outdoors in a personal and spiritual way, and we celebrate it with pounds of paper plates, plastic utensils and tablecloths, and even food decorations that basically amount to wasted food.

I would think that during sukkot we’d all be making an extra effort to be environmentally friendly, to leave a small footprint and all that, but in reality, I rarely see that happening.

I have some tips and ideas for those who want to try to re-green their sukkot, but I have to add the sad personal disclaimer that I won’t be able to employ most of these strategies myself this year.  Because of other things that have been going on in my life I haven’t been able to commit myself to making these changes right now.  I’m even ::cringe:: flying home for the first part of the holiday, which means that I’m feeling extreme guilt about my favorite Jewish holiday (and also buying a TerraPass to try assuage some of that guilt) and all of the carbon emissions I’ll be causing for my celebrations.  But for next year, here are some of my plans:
Tips after the jump!

Recycled and Recyclable Tablescape

I wish I could convince the other members of my sukkah to just use our regular dishes in the sukkah, and toss them in the dishwasher after yontif.  But I don’t see that happening, and I do understand the danger of trying to bring a set of glass dishes out to be used on our concrete patio.  So instead, how about Preserve Tableware, which comes in pretty colors, is made from recycled plastic, and can be recycled at the end of sukkot.  It also can go in the dishwasher if you are willing to use it in your sukkah from year to year.  (Also great for your Shavuot picnic).  Preserve makes cutlery, too, and you can get some biodegradable serving utensils at Bambu.

Reuse Your Decorations

One of my favorite parts of sukkot is making paper chains, stringing gourds, and doing all kinds of crafty things to be hung in the wall of our sukkah.  But all of these activities can be really wasteful.  If you are going to make paper chains, consider using newspaper instead of dyed construction paper, and remember to recycle then chains when you’re taking down your sukkah.  Gourds can actually be reused from year to year (they’ll be much lighter the second year when they’ve dried out) and if you’re not going to reuse them, at least toss them into the compost heap when you’re done with them.  And all of those decorations you make?  Get them laminated before you put them up, and then you can use them every year without worrying about having them ruined by the inevitable sukkot rain.

Yard Cuttings For Schakh

Yes, you can probably order a bundle of branches through a synagogue, youth group or Judaica store and have it delivered to your house for a pretty penny, but how about just collecting branches and leaves from your own garden for a month or so before the holiday.  A trip to the dumpster behind your local nursery or florist will probably yield some nice filler, too.

For more tips on greening your sukkah, check out the resources combined by ARZA and ideas for a simple and DIY sukkot at MyJewishLearning.

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8 Responses to “Re-Greening Sukkot”

  1. Joshua Says:

    Great suggestions for the chag.. I did want to suggest consider carbon offsetting with the Good Energy Initiative rather than Terrapass. Good Energy is organization which has worked with Hazon in the past and was recently given a high score from our friends at the Jewish Climate Initiative (http://climateofchange.files.w.....guide1.pdf).. Just something to consider. The money goes to supporting local grass routes projects in Israel. Not a bad way to complete the cycle!

  2. debby Says:

    Last year I painted fabric to make decorations. Once it’s painted and ironed, it’s weather-safe, and it’s a lot of fun. (Mine’s the 7 species, which felt right last year. Not sure whether I’ll have time to make another one this year.)

  3. Daniel E. Levenson Says:

    What a great post – I am always personally interested in finding not only ancient but modern ways to connect to the environment through Judaism. When you have a moment, I’d like to invite you to check out an online Jewish journal that I publish called the New Vilna Review ( which is focused on issues of modern Jewish identity. We have published several articles relating to Judaism and the natural world, which may be of interest to you.

  4. Kittysmith Says:

    I wanted to use some wood piled by the roadside courtesy of Hurricane Ike, but couldn’t scavenge what I needed. This year I’m using paper plates & will put them in the compost heap, but next year I’ll buy a cheap set of resale china & use those from year to year. I do have a real aversion to consumerism and over-spent this year in spite of myself! Most of it will be reusuable for next year, though. Happy Sukkot everyone!

  5. DM Says:

    When we finished building and decorating our sukkah yesterday afternoon, my housemates and I noted that we hadn’t bought *anything* in order to make it – except for a bag of fresh cranberries to string and hang (wasteful, true, but minimally – and beautiful!). Our sukkah poles and roof are made from bamboo that we harvested ourselves from the massive bamboo thicket at the dentist’s office. The walls are our picnic blankets and old sheets. We pruned our bushes and trees to make schach. We’re decorating with gourds we already had, a squash that we’ll eat later this week, and the aforementioned cranberries. The end result is a truly beautiful structure that I’m feeling really proud of, aesthetically and environmentally. (We promise, we’ll use real dishes, tablecloths, and napkins when we eat out there too.)

  6. Astra Libris Says:

    Thank you for the wonderful tips that are so true to the spirit of the holiday! Chag Samayach!

  7. Nina Says:

    Hey DM, if your cranberries still seem edible at the end of sukkot, you don’t have to waste ‘em. try drying them with the recipe at this link. It’s quite similar to one I’ve used before to great effect, though I use sugar, and since you heat them at a higher temperature before drying them at a low one, it should kill any bacteria that gets onto your cranberries in the sukkah.

    Here’s the link:

  8. Leah Koenig Says:

    I thought of this post a lot this holiday, Tamar, as I ate in a couple of sukkahs where EVERYTHING was made with non-dairy whip, and served on plastic plates and even a couple of styrofoam serving plates. I hate to be ungracious – and of course was happy to be welcomed in as a guest in someone’s home, but I felt like I had to stifle myself a good amount.

    Luckily, my “home base” (my fiance’s family’s house) was much more in-tune with the holiday, serving delicious, healthy, seasonal foods and using sustainable, reusable and creative sukkah decorations.

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