Ready to host or attend a party but not sure how to deal from a zero waste perspective? I’ve put together this zero waste party guide with a few ideas to get you started.
The one thing you’re always going to need, though? More than any physical item, you’ll need to have the confidence in your zero waste practices to be the odd one out. I know it can be awkward to be the only one using real silverware at a picnic, but it’s less awkward than the slow demise of our planet…
On to less macabre things, here are my tips!
going to a party
I get the feeling a lot of people feel shame or fear at bringing their own items to a party. I have one main thought – and this goes for all aspects of zero waste life. No one cares as much about you do as you do yourself. People tend to be pretty wrapped up in their own selves.
Clarify what kind of party it’ll be (sit-down, formal, casual, large, small) with the host if you don’t know, and mention your zero waste lifestyle. Ask if there’s anything you can bring, framing it in the sense of saving them resources or helping them out.
If they’re offended by your BYO tendencies, that’s definitely their problem and not yours. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth being a bother. But do recognize the pig-headedness in being against an environmentally conscious endeavor.
Hopefully you know the host of the party well, which will make it much easier to decide on what kind of hostess gift to give. No matter the host’s interests, there is a low-waste gift option out there.
My general rule of thumb is to find a gift that is either: consumable or can’t just be thrown on a shelf and forgotten. That ensures your token gift won’t be a source of waste. (Hopefully.)
Taking those guidelines into account, gift ideas include:
- a bottle of local wine or alcohol
- something freshly baked
- a jar of local honey, jam, sauce, salsa, etc.
- beautiful napkins (bring me these if you need a gift for me!)
- a happy houseplant in a cute container
- a DIY consumable gift
what to bring
My biggest tip is to ask the host what their plans are regarding the options available. If they’re having a huge party with plastic cups and paper plates, you’ll know to bring a full zero waste kit. On the other hand, if it’s an intimate dinner party, chance are everything will be reusable.
If you’re attending a dinner party, probably nothing. Maybe a cloth napkin tucked in your bag as it seems even at fancier dinner parties, people are still hesitant to use real linens.
If you’re going to a picnic-style outing, it’s probably a good idea to bring cutlery, a small plate, and reusable bottle. People hosting larger outdoor gatherings usually don’t have enough ‘real’ things for everyone, so single-use items abounds.
If you’re headed to a rowdy college party, BYO cup. From my (ahem, hazy) recollections of college, nothing glass and nothing you’d be sad to lose if it went missing. Have you seen these reusable Red solo cups? Iconic!
hosting a zero waste party
Now let’s switch over to hosting a zero waste party. You have far more control over what goes on provided the guests still, you know, actually have a good time.
The best advice I could give is to keep everything simple. There’s no reason to go over-the-top, buying new decorations and tons of packaged food! Remember that parties are about getting together and enjoy people’s company.
NB: if you don’t have enough silverware or plates to go around, be sure to tell people to BYO as you invite them. Most people won’t have any problem with tossing a fork and a cup into their bag on the way – just make sure to remind them!
Paper invitations are so 1890. (OK, maybe not for very, very formal occasions – even though we did e-vites for our wedding and no one was scandalized.) Still, for most events a text message, phone call, or email is more than enough.
But if you’re having a more formal event, why not try an online service like Paperless Post? Not only can you send adorable invites online, but you’ll also be able to keep track of RSVPs easier.
Keep it simple and natural. Use items that would already be at a party (table linens, serving dishes, food) to serve as decorations themselves. Avoid single-use items and consider re-using decorations you have from previous celebrations.
- The tablescape: pull out your real plates, silverware, tablecloth, and napkins to make the table the main focus at a dinner party. So few people enjoy sit-down meals with a full set-up it will feel fancy without any extra decorations.
- Food and drink: use a variety of bowls, plates, and platters to arrange snacks on your table. A separate drink bar with cocktail mixers, wine, and a variety of glasses is also a beautiful way to dress up a bare counter.
- Candles: candles are a great way to add ambiance. Check out this gorgeous low-waste candle company who sends almost no trash to the landfill!
- Plants: have plants dotted around your house? Bring them into the rooms where you’ll be entertaining and let them serve as decoration. (Provided there won’t be any debauchery that might knock them over!)
Food is a critical element of any party and food waste is a critical element of good zero waste habits. At least 1/3 of all the food produced for human consumption in the USA is thrown away somewhere in the supply chain (source). Thinking critically about the food we prepare for larger events is really important.
It’s tempting to get excited and over-buy heavily packaged food as a ‘special treat’. But why when remaining low waste can be equally as delicious?
You can use a food servings calculator to get a general idea of how much of each food item you’ll need. I’m a fan of making a bit more than I think I’ll need. Then I get to enjoy tasty leftovers for a few days to come, whether it be appetizers or even a main meal.
Make sure to have varied appetizers – not a problem since so many things can be sourced unpackaged:
- olives, peppers, and feta cheese from the salad bar
- bulk nuts
- fresh baked bread and cheese
- sliced veggies with homemade dips
For main meal ideas, check out my Zero Waste Recipes board on Pinterest. There are tons of ideas for meals that are easy enough to source low-waste. Bowls (grain + protein + veggies + sauces) are always a good bet since people can mix and match to their preference.
Also, if you’d like to send people home with food, make sure they bring a container or have some you’re willing to part with.
For dessert, I’m a fan of baking something yourself. Or, if you’re not a great baker or will be having a large party, fruits dipped in chocolate is always a great option. Slice up different types of fruit (strawberries and peeled oranges are good), dip them in melted chocolate, and let them harden. You can make a ton and leave them out to be devoured.
Perhaps my favorite part of the party!
For non-alcoholic beverages, brew a large batch of tea or lemonade. Provide several different flavored simple syrups or fruit slices to drop in. You could also brew ginger beer or kombucha if you think ahead far enough.
For alcohol, consider getting a fill from a local brewery or – if you live in a state where it’s legal – a refillable bottle of wine. Otherwise, choose alcohols and mixers that come in glass bottles you can find another use for.
If you’re feeling fancy, why not create one or two signature cocktails? Source local, low-waste ingredients and get creative!
Make sure you have clearly designated trash, recycling, and composting stations.
If you’re having a small get-together, this is enough as you can direct people or take care of waste yourself. If you’re having a larger party, it may be helpful to have friendly signs showing what you can put in each bin.
No matter what you choose, make it simple and make the recycling and composting just as easy – if not easier – to find than the trash can.
Unless it’s a kid’s party (and even then), I’d say go without. If you must have party favors for some reason, go for consumables or reusable items people are likely to use.
I’d suggest sewing up some small bags made out of cotton. Then have a few bowls of bulk candy out to pick from. Or handing off some propagated succulents or herbs for party-goers to take home. Melting down old crayons and putting them in fun-shaped molds would also be a nice gift for children. (It could also be a party activity, if you ask friends to bring their old crayons.
All in all, I just have to reiterate: parties are about experiences, not over-the-top decorations or swag bags. Make only what you really think people will enjoy, throw on some times, and enjoy the party. Please drop any great zero waste party ideas you have in the comments – share the fun!