Efficient Group Packing: The Low-Down on Dishes

June 5, 2015 by Madeline Friend


Camping Melanine Dishes by Megan

Our group leaders do a tremendous amount of work before their trip even starts to make sure participants have a meaningful and enjoyable opportunity to serve. They spend countless hours managing paperwork, calming worries, gathering camping supplies, organizing insurance, and so much more. Many of our fantastic group leaders volunteer their time to facilitate these experiences.

Why does what you pack matter?

It can seem so much easier to cram bins full of styrofoam plates and plastic utensils than to bring dishes to wash and re-use. The short-term benefits of single-use plates, cups, bowls, and utensils seem to outweigh the benefits of reusable and washable materials. However, the long-term benefits of a durable kitchen set provide a simple, economical, and efficient way to run a kitchen.

Although it is cheap, styrofoam is classified as a human carcinogen. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is the fifth largest source of hazardous waste in the United States. This material takes more than 500 years to decompose, and is a leading source of urban pollution. Disposal of these materials truly never goes away, but is transported to foreign and domestic landfills at a huge cost — millions of dollars every year — to taxpayers. The United States produces 70 percent of the world’s solid waste. Out of all this trash that gets thrown away, 80 percent is recyclable. Styrofoam is not usually recyclable.

Creating justice requires viewing all of our actions through a holistic lens. Being good stewards asks us to examine the intersectionality of poverty alleviation, environmental stewardship, and responsible consumerism.

So, what can your group do? A great method for efficient and sanitary dish washing is to use the four-bucket system, which is the gold standard on backcountry river trips. This system uses four non-corrosive buckets, a solid surface,  water, dish soap, bleach, and sponges. Each person is responsible for their personal dishes, and each night a different dish crew washes the cooking dishes.

As you move down the line of buckets, first scrape off all food waste in the trash (or lick your plate clean)! The first bucket is a hot, soapy pre-rinse; the second bucket is a soapy rinse; the third bucket is a hot rinse; and the fourth bucket is a bleach solution (50-100 ppm, or about 1 capful) that you should leave the dishes in for 60 seconds. Let the dishes air dry, and you are all done!

This is one of many methods to clean dishes. One of the central tenets we use here at Amor is, “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.” Leave a comment if you have more suggestions on how to bring justice into your camping habits!

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Topics: Mission trip guides and resources