The idea of throwing a zero waste party might seem impossible. Think about it – how many times have you been to a party with plastic utensils, disposable plates, and those silly, single-use decorations? When you’re throwing a party, usually the first thing on your mind is convenience. It may seem much easier to just let your guest grab a paper plate and then toss it in the trash once they’re done. Less dishes to clean for you! But that doesn’t help the environment much. Truth is, you can have a zero waste party – you just need to plan ahead and have the right supplies on hand. And a little creativity of course. Here are 5 zero waste party tips that will make throwing one less daunting.
This is a guest post written by Sydney Montagna, a zero waste advocate and aspiring writer. This post contains some affiliate links. This means if you choose to purchase one of these items I will make a very small commission at no extra charge to you. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.
5 Zero Waste Party Tips
Why throw a zero waste party?
Parties are a social norm in today’s society. It’s safe to say most of us have attended one. Whether it was a big party like a wedding or a simple one like a birthday party – we’ve been there.
No matter the type of party, it can be difficult to imagine one where zero trash is produced. I mean, have you seen the trash bags at party events?
Parties are incredibly wasteful – at almost every event, especially house parties, there will be single-use disposables. And it’s unlikely people will stick to the same cup or plate all night – so even more waste will be generated.
Worse yet, single-use plastic takes forever to break down (and it leeches toxins as it does). Once it does break down, it just breaks up into tiny microplastics, which never truly go away. Scary to think the solo cup you use for 5 minutes will wind up outlasting you!
Single-use items aren’t the only waste factor at parties. Did you know that food generates 20% to 60% of waste at events? Food waste produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas, so if we can reduce food waste in any way during a large gathering, then we absolutely should.
In order to throw a party, you’ll need to invite guests. Whether it’s a couple friends or a huge blowout, an invitation needs to be sent somehow. When most people receive a party invitation in the mail, they’ll keep it up until the party and then toss it into the trash. Waste of paper much? Not to mention a waste of the carbon emissions used to get that invite delivered. It’s very possible to send an eco-friendly invitation. Here’s a few green alternatives:
- Send a text or photo- Why not just send a simple text message asking the person to come? Sure, it can be tedious if there’s a lot of people, but that’s why group messages exist. If you want to be more creative with it, create your own invitation and send it as a photo to your guests. It’s simple, but it gets the job done.
- Virtual invitation– There’s countless online sites that offer some ADORABLE virtual invitations. Most are pre-designed but there’s options to create your own as well. Evite, Greenvelope and Paperlesspost are a few virtual invitation sites that will help you save money, time and trees. You can get 100% creative with it- minus the unnecessary waste.
- Use Facebook- If you know that the majority of your party guests are your friends on Facebook, you can just invite them via a Facebook event. That way, you can keep everyone updated on what’s going down. They’ll also be able to tell you if they’re going, not going, or if they aren’t sure just yet. It makes for some easy communication, too.
- Use plantable seed paper- If you’re still adamant on sending out paper invitations for tradition’s sake, try Bloomin’s eco-friendly invitations that will grow into something beautiful and/or delicious! Each sheet of paper is made from 100% recycled paper and the colored sheets are dyed using natural vegetable based pigments. Bloomin offers a variety of different seeds. You can grow different types of wildflowers, herbs, and even vegetables just by following the instructions provided.
Planning ahead and knowing exactly what you need is essential for throwing a banging zero waste party. Take some time to think about the easiest ways to keep waste to a minimum.
- Ask friends for help– Having a few friends around to help with some planning may give you ideas you couldn’t come up with yourself. You should also check if anyone has any decorations that you can borrow rather than buying single-use ones. Always use secondhand supplies if possible.
- Go for a theme– Not only is throwing a themed party much more fun, it’s also much easier to plan. If you’re planning to throw a luau party during the summer and you know a friend threw one last summer, check in with them and see if they have any spare tiki heads or leis lying around. Having a themed party narrows things down a TON, so it’ll be much easier to reduce trash.
- Be the host- If at all possible, try to have the party at your home or the home of a close friend. You’ll have much more control this way. At venues, sometimes it’s harder to have a say in what supplies the employees are able to use and distribute. But if a party venue is necessary (i.e. for a wedding), then call the place ahead of time and see what you can negotiate with them. Thankfully, most places use silverware, glass cups, linen tablecloths and you can usually bring your own décor. But you never know what’s going on behind the scenes so it’s best to be prepared.
Purchasing single-use supplies and utensils for parties can be one of the most stressful parts of planning a party. Having to purchase new items for every party could get tedious fast. It’s not easy on the wallet, either. Thankfully, there’s so many innovative zero waste alternatives out there.
Opt for compostable or reusable dishes rather than disposable paper or plastic ones.
- Compostable plates– made entirely from sugarcane, bamboo and wheat straw. These plates are completely compostable and break down within 180 days. They’re soak proof, freezer safe, and perfect for hot or cold food. Also, these plates come with a cup holder so you can keep your glass nearby. Once your guests are done with them, they can just toss them in your compost bin and you’ll be stress free!
- Palm leaf plates– these compostable and biodegradable plates are sure to brighten up those party tables. They’re made with 100% natural materials that are able to hold any type of food. You can order up to 50 pieces in a set and they come in a variety of different sizes as well. There’s different kinds of palm leaf plates as well, like Patravali Leaf plates and palm leaf bowls.
- Ceramic plates– of course, if you don’t mind washing a few dishes throughout the day, you can just use your normal ceramic dishes. They’re reliable, reusable, and one less thing you need to worry about purchasing. Maybe ask a friend or family member to help with the dishwashing so you’re not stuck in the kitchen all day long. If you need more ceramic plates for a party than you have at home, ask a friend to bring some over, or hit up a thrift store for a cheap set you can designate for parties.
Single-use plastic utensils are some of the most frequently used and disposed plastics out there. It takes 1000 years for a single plastic fork to break down. Thank goodness there’s plenty of zero waste alternatives.
- Cornstarch utensils– At first glance, you’d never believe these forks, knives and spoons are made from cornstarch- making them completely compostable. You can purchase hundreds of these for an affordable price. Some offers provide the utensils pre-packed in eco-friendly paper bags.
- Bamboo utensils- Much like the bamboo and palm leaf plates, these utensils are completely natural and plastic-free. These are superior to regular wooden utensils since wooden cutlery requires cutting down trees and deforestation. These bamboo utensils are sustainably sourced from bamboo plants that are harvested once a year once mature.
- Avoplast utensils– Now here’s a creative one- cutlery made from avocado pits! Most avocado and guacamole manufacturers will throw away their pits at the end of production. But this brand takes those avocado pits and turned them into cutlery. Much like the corn cutlery, they look and feel like plastic- only they’ll break down after about 240 days instead of 1000 years.
- Edible utensils (spoons)– How about just EATING your utensils? Can’t get more waste-free than that. These edible spoons come in the flavors vanilla, chocolate, black pepper and oregano chili. Now, I wouldn’t recommend using these seriously for a big party, but they’re still super fun and an extremely low-waste spoon alternative.
Whether it’s for a glass of soda or a tropical piña colada, using straws is second nature to a lot of people. They can generate a huge percentage of waste at parties, so here’s how you can limit it.
- No straw- Of course, the best and most zero waste alternative to straws is to just not use one. Unless there is a specific reason that requires you to use one, you can usually get away without one. The less unnecessary plastic, the better.
- Paper straws- If you’d prefer to offer straws to your guests, paper straws are a great alternative. They’re biodegradable, compostable, and almost always affordable. They come in a bunch of different colors and designs, so you can have fun picking out the ones that will match your party best.
- Reusable straws- Offer your guests some reusable straws made of bamboo, metal, stainless steel, sugarcane, silicone or even glass.
Obviously, the goal here is to be as low-waste as possible, but that doesn’t mean no trash will be generated at all. Nobody is perfect and it’s best to prepare for these occasions rather than make promises you cannot keep.
- Reusable trash bag- These can be multi-purpose, but they’re perfect for a party that you don’t plan on generating much trash for. We go through hundreds of plastic garbage bags a month and it can be pretty costly. These reusable bags are sturdy, so they won’t break down with your waste and they come in different sizes, as well.
- Compost bags- You’ll want to have a sturdy compost bag to capture all the compostable items your guest will be using. These bags are plant-based and compostable themselves, so you know it will break down along with everything else inside it.
This is where you can let your true creativity shine. The amount of plastic décor people purchase and throw away after a party is astronomical. You don’t need items covered in plastic in order to throw a good party- especially a zero waste party. Here’s some tips and alternatives to decorating in a more eco-efficient manner.
- Use nature– Take advantage of nature’s beauty and use real items from outdoors such as flowers, branches, rocks, twigs, and leaves. Maybe gather some twigs and make your own mini tree as a centerpiece. Make a centerpiece using a thrifted vase and foraged flowers. Scatter some leaves onto the table. Use a pretty stone as a napkin weight. Just have fun with it.
With fall approaching, checking out my blog post about how to create zero waste fall décor in case you throw any fall themed parties.
- Secondhand items– Try and see if you can find some secondhand decorations at a local thrift store. You’re likely to find some hidden gems there you didn’t know you were looking for. You can also ask a friend or family member if they have any used decorations you can borrow.
- NO balloons!- It’s no secret that traditional party balloons are extremely toxic to our environment. They’re known to end up in our waterways, oceans, landfills and wildlife habitats. Animals will often be attracted to a balloon’s bright coloring and ingest it, mistaking it as food. The ribbons attached to balloons can also be dangerous as it may trap animals and they’ll become entangled. Instead of buying balloons, use alternatives like flags, bubbles, or pinwheels.
- Create your own- You can’t throw a zero waste party without at least one DIY project. Try creating a paper banner that you can recycle or compost, or personalize your own pompoms, hats or garlands. Upcycling your everyday household items can also work. For example, reusing holiday lights can work as garlands or using mason jars filled with rocks or flowers as pretty centerpieces.
5. Food and drinks
When it comes to food and drink, there’s several ways you can keep waste to a minimum. You’ll be able to have complete control over what’s being served, whether you’re the one cooking or not. But what you can’t control is the food waste generated by your guests. It’s important to consider all factors beforehand.
- Finger foods- A great way to reduce the use of cutlery is to offer finger foods. Some yummy examples are chips & dip, deviled eggs, shrimp, and finger sandwiches. They’re easy to manage and hard to resist.
- Less is more- You may be tempted to over-buy or overcook when it comes to parties, but it almost always leads to food waste and tons of leftovers. The menu doesn’t need to be as complex as you may think. If it’s a smaller gathering with no more than 10-15 people, just keep it simple. Maybe go a bit ham on the finger foods so that everyone can pick on them throughout the party.
- Shop in bulk- By checking out the local bulk food store/bulk section in your grocery store, you can choose all the items you need at once. You can get almost anything in bulk and it’s one of the easiest ways to avoid plastic.
- Farmers market- If you’re the one cooking, shop for your produce at the farmers market. Local produce has a smaller carbon footprint because it took less time to get to you. And tastes fresher! Your guests will taste the difference.
- Use pitchers- Since you’re trying to avoid any excessive unnecessary plastic use, provide guests with pitchers or water dispensers to refill their glasses with. This works with normal beverages and alcoholic ones too.
- BYOB- Ask your guests to “bring your own bottle”! They can bring glasses of their own or drink directly from a glass bottle or aluminum can.
- Potluck- There’s no better chance to initiate a potluck than at a zero waste party. Have everyone contribute and bring something of their own to the party, but ask if they can bring it in a reusable container and not covered in plastic wrap.
- Compost- This is a given but be sure that all the food scraps are being tossed in the right place and not the trash. The food scraps at the end of a party would be great for someone’s garden or chicken coop.
Do you have any zero waste party tips of your own?
If you’d like more tips, check out how to stay zero waste at a party.
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Guest post: Sydney Montagna is an advocate for animals and plastic-free living. She is studying English and is an aspiring writer. In her spare time, you can find her watching classic TV shows and researching all things Michael Jackson related.