How to Create a Sustainable Dining Room in 4 Simple Steps
Take your dining room from mundane to eco-chic with these easy steps. | Pixelfit / Getty

How to Create a Sustainable Dining Room in 4 Simple Steps

Create the sustainable dining room of your dreams: here's how to bring your zero-waste lifestyle to the dinner table.

The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but the dining room — the place where we break bread together, whether it’s with your family, yourself, or your COVID-19 bubble — is its soul. So, when you’re making an effort to live more sustainably, don’t forget this important zone. All you need are a few sustainable dining room tips to make sure you’re using the most sustainable materials possible.  

How to Create a Sustainable Dining Room in 4 Simple Steps

The below ideas will start you on your quest for a more zero-waste dining room (and home in general):

How to Create a Sustainable Dining Room in 4 Simple Steps
The most sustainable dining room table is the one you already own. | Alexander Spatari / Getty

Use FSC-certified wood

The most sustainable dining room table is the one you already own. But if the old one is on its last legs (literally), do right by your zero-waste dining room and buy one made of wood with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo.

FSC certification guarantees that the lumber was sustainably sourced with forest conservation in mind, such as protecting endangered species and old-growth forests. An “FSC 100%” label means the product is made from virgin materials from an FSC-certified forest, whereas an “FSC Mix” label means the product is a mix of recycled and virgin materials.  

Crate & Barrel has several options for dining room tables made from FSC-certified wood. Its Morris Ash Grey dining room table is made from FSC-certified reclaimed pine.

On the less spendy end, the brand Floyd uses FSC-certified walnut. You can also search for specific pieces of FSC-certified furniture on sites like MadeTrade.

If you’re unable to acquire a dining room table made from FSC-certified wood, the second best option may be to get one that is recyclable. IKEA notes that many of its wooden dining room tables can be taken apart and recycled. IKEA dining sets are typically much more affordable.

Let’s talk about dining room chairs. Once again, the most sustainable option for your zero-waste dining room are the chairs you already own. Otherwise, as above, seek out chairs made of FSC-certified wood, or ones made out of reclaimed wood. Zin Home offers several dining room chair options made of reclaimed pine in two styles. There are also a variety of reclaimed wood dining room chairs available on Etsy, as well as reclaimed wood benches (if that’s your thing). 

In general, avoid furniture that is made from plastics, which require the use of fossil fuels. Polypropylene is the plastic that you’ll most commonly find used to make dining room chairs (including the uber-popular midcentury-modern design style). Unlike some plastics, polypropylene actually is recyclable. However, a chair made of a wood-plastic composite isn’t recyclable.

Shopping secondhand is a great way to find a dining room table and chairs. Check out your secondhand options at Goodwill, thrift shops, your local Craigslist, and tag sales. 

How to Create a Sustainable Dining Room in 4 Simple Steps
Bring sustainable design to your sustainable dining room with GOTS-certified cotton linens. | Linda Raymond / Getty

Set your table with GOTS-certified cotton linens

From napkins to table runners to placemats, there are a lot of opportunities to bring sustainable design to your sustainable dining room. Pay attention to how the materials are grown and whether chemical dyes were used during manufacturing with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. A GOTS certification means the manufacturer has been independently certified to meet environmental and social criteria at every step of the supply chain. (Another independent certification for organic cotton is Organic Content Standards, or OCS, but GOTS is more common.) You can find 100 percent cotton dinner napkins and placemats in a variety of patterns from the brand Native. On the higher end, Coyuchi also sells organic cotton napkins.

There are also plenty of sustainable fabrics to deck out your dining room. Jute, for example, is a natural fiber that is the second most popular in the world after cotton. You may see jute referred to as hessian or burlap, although they’re all basically the same thing. As a natural fiber, jute is biodegradable and doesn’t require pesticides for growth. You can find a variety of jute or burlap table runners on sites like Wayfair and Etsy. 

Compostable napkins are another option for your zero-waste dining room. Seek bamboo that is sourced from USDA-certified organic farms and read labels carefully to ensure the bamboo was not blended with polyester. Look for products made of natural fibers like sugarcane, eucalyptus, and bamboo, or post-industrial recycled paper, like these ones by Bransio

Now, let’s talk about paper towels — after all, sometimes you have a dinner table mess that is more than a napkin can handle. Paper towels are made from wood pulp: either virgin wood pulp, recycled paper, or some combination thereof. Seventh Generation is one brand that makes paper towels that are 100 percent recycled, but even those often can’t be further recycled because the fibers are too small. So one meaningful swap you can make in a sustainable dining room (and a zero-waste kitchen) is to shop for reusable paper towels, like Swedish dishcloths

And if you just can’t quit paper towels? Remember to always recycle those cardboard tubes.

How to Create a Sustainable Dining Room in 4 Simple Steps
Opt for compostable cutlery. | Knork

Switch to compostable cutlery

We totally get it: no one likes washing dishes. And when you’re hosting a meal at your house, it’s tempting to use disposable cutlery to cut back on the washing up. 

The bad news is that a lot of disposable forks, knives, and spoons are made of plastics. Plastics are created from extracting and processing the Earth’s natural resources, including crude oil and natural gas. After all the effort (and pollution) required to create some plastics, they are very often used only once. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 300 million tons of plastic are manufactured every year and half of those plastics are intended for a single use.  

Plastics find their way back into our environment, in particular the ocean, in frightening ways. Specifically, plastics break down into what are called microplastics, and then consumed by sea life as well as humans. Plastic utensils (along with plastic bags) are the second most deadly type of marine pollution

Fortunately, you have sustainable options for disposable cutlery. Although reusable cutlery is still the best option when possible, consider using compostable cutlery instead of plastics. Look for products that are labeled “compostable” and/or “biodegradable” and made from a natural material, like this ÖKABODE set or this reusable, colorful cutlery made from sugarcane from Food52.  

How to Create a Sustainable Dining Room in 4 Simple Steps
Set the mood with sustainable centerpieces. | Maskot/Getty

Set the atmosphere with sustainable centerpieces

Real talk: Martha Stewart–level tablescapes are a little beyond most of our design skills. But we can all still set a pretty dinner table! A great place to start is with a centerpiece of fresh floral arrangements. But make sure that your cut flowers are sustainably-sourced. 

Maybe you’re one of those lucky green-thumbed individuals who can stroll into their yard, snip a few stems off your rose bushes, and come back inside with a beautiful bouquet. But most of us rely on cut flowers from florist shops and online services. You may have noticed that all of these places sell cut flowers year-round, even in the dead of winter. That’s because the vast majority of cut flowers are shipped from warmer locations, and travel many miles until they reach your home. 

According to the floristry blog Petal Republic, the Netherlands, Columbia, Ecuador, Kenya, and Ethiopia are the top exporters of cut flowers. The United States grows flowers as well; 76 percent of grown flowers sold in the U.S. come from California. It is true that growing flowers for export to other countries supports local economies — but we also have to balance that fact with the carbon footprint of our consumer purchases that travel a long distance by truck or plane. 

Keeping all that in mind, locally-grown cut flowers are the best option for your zero-waste dining room. (And if your flowers are bee-friendly, all the better.) 
Look for florists that can certify that their growers do not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Some pesticides pose a health threat to the human nervous system, among other health hazards. And one class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, has been banned in the European Union since 2018 for its role in honeybee colony collapse disorder.

With these steps in mind, you’ll be able to create the sustainable dining room of your dreams. Check out more tips on making your home more zero-waste:

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