Muslims in U.S. working toward greener Ramadan with less waste

5/27/2018, 9:54 a.m.

One recommendation is to ask mosques not to serve iftar meals in overflowing pre-packed containers. Instead, the ICCNC and other mosques now have volunteers serve the food, doling out half-portions to everyone and offering smaller plates to children. Worshippers are encouraged to come for seconds and thirds, rather than get their entire iftar at once.

To go a step further, Ms. Hamidi recommends first filling up on plant-based foods, such as salad and lentils, before grabbing carbs and meat. If you accidentally load up, Ms. Hamidi recommends setting up a compost.

“Even if they can’t afford reusable dishes, all mosques should at least switch their dishes to paper or bioplastics and set up a compost bin,” she said. When leftover food and dishes all go into one compost bin, it means none goes into landfills.

It might cost more, but organizers involved with these green iftar efforts say it’s worth it.

“As a Muslim organization, I believe we should be exemplary when it comes to social responsibility,” Mr. Amiri said. His center in Oakland has spent the past decade integrating green initiatives that reduce waste “and, instead, using our resources to help those who don’t have the means to feed themselves.”

This year, the ICCNC is joined by 18 other Bay Area Islamic organizations to reduce food waste as part of the San Jose-based Islamic Networks Group’s initiative to end hunger.

“Food waste and hunger go hand in hand,” ING’s Ameena Jandali said. “When you throw all this great food in the garbage, then walk outside the mosque and see homeless people, it stares you in the face that the U.S. isn’t immune to these problems.”

Some mosques have considered canceling iftars altogether because of the sheer amount of food waste, Ms. Jandali said. But the mosques ING is working with have come up with better solutions.

Every night this Ramadan, the ICCNC is distributing about 100 packages of food — about 1,400 meals total — to Oakland’s homeless population. And it’s not just leftovers. Before worshippers break their fast, volunteers box up food and deliver it to homeless shelters or those on the street.

A bigger problem may actually be food-associated waste. Unless the food has already been touched, “there’s always someone to give leftover food to,” Ms. Soma said. It’s the dishes, utensils, trays and boxes packaging the food that are harder to deal with.

When Mr. Amiri walks into a mosque and sees a plastic-foam cup, he can’t help but cringe.

“That should be a complete no-no,” he said. “I’m immediately like, ‘OK, I need to talk to these folks about Styrofoam and the impact it has on the environment.’ ”

Nearby, in Pleasanton, Calif., youths from the Muslim Community Center of East Bay ordered compostable dinnerware and utensils for Ramadan and ensured that caterers only use recyclable packaging to deliver the iftar meal, one organizer said.

At their first iftar of the year, organizers said, they diverted more than 400 gallons of compost and 130 gallons of recyclables from landfills.