Pesach is one of the biggest projects we undertake as frum families. One of the most powerful planning tools in my toolkit—one I use for managing projects both at work and at home—is the after-action report. While any project or endeavor I will undertake again in the future is fresh in my mind, I make notes about what worked, what didn’t work, and what could have worked better with a little bit of tweaking. This way, I can reduce, reuse, and refuse my way to a more sustainable, less stressful holiday.
To keep me both sane and on track to sit down at the seder in a state of non-exhaustion, I rely on two spreadsheets I created many years ago: a shopping spreadsheet and a cleaning spreadsheet. The shopping spreadsheet is the one that helps me create less waste throughout Pesach. I only buy what I need with it, and I don’t buy stuff I already have. (Here’s a template to get you started on your own list.) Pesach is almost a full year away, but on Sunday, I updated it, adding things that didn’t get eaten to the no-buy section of the list and adjusting quantities of items that I overbought or underbought. When it’s time to start shopping for Pesach next year, I’ll print it out and work through my errands.
I use the notes column a lot, putting in brands we liked and didn’t like, notes on where to check which items are KLP for this year, and anything noteworthy about hechsherim. Because it’s a spreadsheet, I can sort it and print it out a few ways, for example, sorting by source and then the column that tracks whether I already have it or not. Sorting by source makes it easy to see what I need to get at each place, so I don’t have to make return trips. We’re all very aware right now of how much gas costs, and not backtracking and visiting stores only once helps keep those fuel costs down while reducing carbon emissions from my car or van. As Pesach planning ramps up next year, I can re-sort it to show only items I still need to buy, saving me time.
What About Single-Use Items?
If HaShem blesses me with a bigger house and household help, I can see making Pesach without single-use products, but until then, it’s pretty much unavoidable. To reduce in this area, I try to buy higher-quality single-use plastics, whether it’s cups, plates, or utensils, which can be washed and reused throughout the chag. The year before last, I bought very high-end plastics for the sedarim, and though some have gone in the garbage because they were chipped, or the trim was wearing off, or they developed a crack, some of those dishes are being packed away for next year.
Other plastic items to think about reusing are the coverings for chametz areas. To close off my pantry shelves in the basement, where I keep bulk food items and containers I’ve prepared for reuse, I drape plastic table covers over those items to indicate their status. One thing I constantly remind myself of is that plastic is forever. It never decays; it just keeps breaking down into tinier and tinier pieces that are now found in the fish and animals we eat and now, it seems, in the human bloodstream. To put the covers away for next year, holding the short ends, one of my kids and I fold them three times, then roll them up, squeezing the trapped air out as I go. I can fit seven of these covers in a gallon ziplock bag and still have room left for some foil.
You’ve probably seen the memes that go around every year showing kitchens covered in foil. Because I have granite countertops that can be kashered, I use less foil than I did before we upgraded, but we do use foil to line the cabinets we were switching over for Pesach use. Ask your rav, but mine does say the foil used to line shelves can be folded up and reused. That’s also a time-saver since they are already cut to fit. I did put the foil away, but I’m also thinking about cutting up the corrugated plastic counter covers from before we remodeled for cabinet liners next year. Those can be used for years and are easy to clean up with a bit of detergent and water.
Once the house was set up for Pesach, I looked at all the single-use plastic to see if there was anything we could buy permanent replacements for. I need lightweight items that don’t take up loads of space in storage. Last year, I purchased metal water bottles that we were able to take along to shul and chol hamoed outings, eliminating the need to buy bottled water. This year, I went for reusable hot cups for coffee, tea, and cocoa and stackable plastic cups for drinking water and soda around the house. These items didn’t arrive in time for Pesach, but they’ll be ready for next year.
Getting in the Right Headspace
One of my mentors, Ruchi Koval, asked a thought-provoking question at a shiur earlier this week. She asked us what spiritual teaching we were taking with us throughout the year, stressing that it’s too easy to neglect our spiritual growth in all the being busy with Pesach. This year, I added Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zatzal’s haggadah to our Pesach shelf, and I’ve already put a reminder on my calendar for March 14, 2023, to start learning from it for next Pesach.
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