If your family celebrates Passover, you can make a difference to the environment and your own peace of mind by considering a gentle reframing of your preparations this year.
Removing the chametz (“leaven”) from the house is, among other meanings, representative of removing the character trait of arrogance and conceit. By removing chametz in our lives, we symbolically reduce our own ego and internalize humility and faith.
Refocusing our Passover preparations away from anxious planning and stressful spring cleaning isn't just better for the environment—it can also leave us more time to become closer to God, our family, and our community, and to appreciate more fully the miracle of the exodus from Egypt.
If you’ve been wondering how to do Passover in a less wasteful and more environmentally friendly way, here are some ideas that might help.
Remember that the point of Passover cleaning is to eliminate chametz, not to sanitize or do spring cleaning (especially in rooms where you won’t be eating). Since harsh cleaning products can contribute to indoor air pollution and may negatively affect your family’s health, use more gentle products to get the job done. Use rags (in my house, we prefer hole-y or unmatched socks) to clean rather than going through rolls of paper towels or cleaning wipes.
Here are some cost-effective and safer simple homemade recipes to replace most cleaning products, as well as more green cleaning tips.
While disposable dishes may make cleanup easier, they create a tremendous amount of waste. Instead, try to use real plates and silverware for the seder and throughout the holiday. If you don’t have Passover plates and would like them, consider buying cheap ones that are easy to wash—inexpensive plates may even present an opportunity to teach your children to start doing the dishes! Alternatively, older relatives might have plates that they’d like to share with you when downsizing. If you must use disposable plates, look for compostable or paper dishes rather than Styrofoam or plastic.
If you find yourself using lots of disposable goods in place of pots, pans, or serving utensils, try adding a few of these more expensive items each year. To reduce aluminum or foil pan use, consider buying stainless steel cookie trays at a restaurant supply store. Another option is to buy new all-glass or all-metal pots and simply kasher them for your Passover use.
Will you be covering your counters for Passover this year? Stop with the aluminum foil. If you plan to stay in your current home for more than a few years, have counter covers made that you’ll be able to use each year. I’ve also heard that these can be made easily by contractors when creating a new kitchen. If you don’t want to spend money on matching counter covers, or aren't redoing your kitchen, you can buy thick plastic from a hardware store and have it cut to size—it's significantly cheaper and will still last several years before needing to be replaced.
When shopping for Passover food, it's easy to be tempted by the wide range of packaged meals and treats. But these products often look better in the store than they taste on our plates. So think carefully before buying food that is heavily packaged and likely to be wasted.
If you can eat closer to your normal diet during these eight days, you’ll likely feel healthier and waste less. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always best. Consider local or organic fruits and vegetables where available.
Efficient shopping can reduce the impacts of Passover by limiting car trips to stores. Look at what stores have in advance, and make careful lists to try to get everything at just a few stores, in one trip each. Some products, such as spices, can be saved and frozen from year to year.
For certain items, families might be able to form shopping co-ops, with each family offering to buy a certain category of items (such as produce, wine, meat). While each family still needs to pay for its share of the food, this can limit the number of trips each family has to make to multiple stores, saving gas and a lot of time!
While not changing the traditional narrative of the seder, where appropriate, it may be possible to talk about the environment during your seder. Some might feel comfortable discussing the plagues in the context of environmental challenges, how the “four children” relate to environmental awareness, or the Exodus in the context of our individual and communal relationship to physical resources.
Canfei Nesharim, a Torah-based environmental organization, provides additional resources for this and other Jewish holidays. For a full set of materials, visit www.canfeinesharim.org. Thanks very much to Ora Sheinson and the many other friends who helped contribute to this piece!
Evonne Marzouk is the founder and former director of Canfei Nesharim, an organization that teaches about Sustainable Living Inspired by Torah. She was also the leader of the founding team that created Jewcology.org. Evonne currently serves on the board of Canfei Nesharim and Interfaith Power and Light - DMV. She lives in Maryland.