Is it possible to throw a low waste party that’s beautiful, entertaining, and fun for all? Yes! I’ve hosted hundreds of gatherings, and over the years have learned that piling on decorations, food, and entertainment, doesn’t add up to a more successful event. It frequently means a lot of waste and a huge bill at the end. Instead of all that waste, with a little advance planning, you can host a party that’s environmentally friendly and enjoyable!
Getting Started: Invitations
Whether it’s a small gathering or a large affair, keep the waste to a minimum by opting for paperless invitations. In most cases, an email or phone call will suffice, but if you’re hosting a large event, one of the digital invitation services is very helpful. Here are my favorite picks for online invitations:
- Punchbowl e-invitations are free and you can choose from a large selection of online designs for any occasion.
- Paperless Post. To set the mood for that elegant party, Paperless Post has hundreds of gorgeous, customizable designs to create your own, unique invitation. There’s a fee for most designs, but some styles are free (up to 50 guests), and you can keep costs down by removing premium options.
- Greenvelope creates beautiful customized online invitations. Every e-invitation is delivered complete with personalized digital envelope, liner, stamp, and RSVP tracking. Prices are based on the number of guests and any custom design services. A percentage of every sale is donated to Mountains to Sound, a non-profit organization that maintains forests.
Low Waste Printed Options
If you have your heart set on printed invites, consider using recycled paper, or purchase invitations made from recycled paper. I’ve used Paper Culture for holiday cards, but they also have a line of invitations made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper. In addition, they donate a portion of every order to tree planting projects.
Another idea is to use seed paper products that when planted grow into wildflowers, herbs, or even vegetables! Botanical Paperworks or Bloomin are two online companies that sell a wide variety of seed paper products.
Planning a Green Menu
While planning your low waste party, be mindful of the carbon footprint of your party-prep activities. What’s “carbon footprint”? It’s the “mark” humans leave on the environment in the form of greenhouse gas emissions associated with an activity. In addition to the waste generated by a party, all your party-related activities, including menu planning, can increase the overall carbon footprint. Here are a few tips to reduce waste and minimize carbon footprint while planning your menu.
Making Green Food and Beverage Choices
When deciding what to serve your guests, try to avoid meat dishes in favor of a plant-based or sustainable seafood menu. In general, animal-based products that needlessly waste natural resources in their production carry a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods. According to a University of Chicago study, the greenhouse gas emissions of animal vs plant diets vary by as much “as the difference between owning an average sedan versus a sport-utility vehicle!”
For beverages, keep waste to a minimum by forgoing individually bottled beverages in favor of drinks served in pitchers or beverage dispensers. To continue the green theme, buy products from beverage and food companies with a sustainable ethic that supports a circular economy with regenerative agriculture and packaging.
Your product choices are a powerful message to the food and beverage industry of your priorities and they will listen. In fact, they already are, as food trends increasingly show a sustainability focus in response to consumer demand. Keep at it!
For a low waste party, keep food waste to a minimum. You’ll also help reduce the carbon footprint of your event: food waste is actually one of the main causes of increasing global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In fact, if food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases!
To minimize the risk of purchasing too much, make a list of what you need before you go shopping and stick to it. For guidance on how much food you’ll need for your event, try the Food Network’s party calculator and guide.
Low Waste Food Shopping
One high impact way to cut waste is to avoid packaging, particularly non-recyclable plastic packaging, which accounts for 40% of all plastic usage; the single largest use of plastic. Instead of reaching for packaged food, buy in bulk or purchase food products with minimal packaging.
To further minimize the carbon footprint of your shopping trip(s), shop local, and buy foods that are in season. Not only will you support local businesses you’ll also lessen the environmental impact of your purchases through reduced vehicle travel time. Even better, walk or bike to the shops!
And before you head out the door, don’t forget your reusable bags, including bags or containers for produce and bulk items.
A Low Waste Party Means Low Waste Partyware
When you’re planning a small gathering, your choice of party products is simple: reusable, durable serve-ware, plates, utensils, and barware. For bigger events, you may not have enough reusable partyware to accommodate all your guests. In those instances, try renting from a rental company or even borrowing extra plates and utensils from a friend. If you have the room (and budget), consider investing in an extra set of plates and utensils.
If disposable party goods are the only solution, purchase products that have minimal packaging, are made from biodegradable or compostable materials, and aren’t made from non-recyclable single-use plastic.
For a complete list of environmentally friendly party supplies, including plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, and service items, see the Green That Life Guide to Eco Friendly Party Supplies.
Reusable Decoration Ideas
Instead of disposable decorations, try natural and/or reusable alternatives. Some ideas to try for your low waste party:
- Pretty vintage linens for tablecloths.
- Potted, live plants instead of cut flowers.
- Solar LED lanterns, instead of candles, if you’re entertaining outside. I like the pretty Allsop brand handblown glass lanterns, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
- Reusable bunting, homemade or store-bought, instead of the plastic version.
- Bubbles, pinwheels, or streamers, instead of disposable balloons.
- Colored lights and lighting, to set the mood for an evening party. Try solar string lights, instead of the plug-in variety.
- Seed bombs, homemade or store-bought, instead of flimsy, disposable plastic party favors.
Party Cleanup: Keep Waste to a Minimum
Your low waste party was a hit! Even with the best efforts, though, you’ll still have unwanted items. Before you throw everything in the garbage, you can still cut the waste with your cleanup job.
If it’s a large, casual event, where you’re comfortable with guests cleaning up after themselves, set up clearly-labeled compost and recycling bins next to garbage bins. For smaller gatherings where you’re cleaning up yourself, remember to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (and “Rot”):
- Donate or sell any items — decorations, food, party favors — that you don’t want but could be enjoyed by others.
- Reuse decorations, partyware, and other items for future events.
- Recycle items that are recyclable. The Green That Life Recycling Resources Guide will help you determine what you can and can’t recycle.
- Save or freeze leftovers. Instead of throwing away uneaten food, store, freeze, or re-purpose food for future meals. My post on how to store leftovers will get you started.
- Compost or food recycle. If you can, compost unwanted food in a backyard setting or through a commercial compost facility.